This museum, along with the DDR and "Checkpoint Charlie" museum, gives you the feel of the Cold War, but also how far Europe has come since the fall of the Berlin Wall. While the museum is depressing and cold, it provides a lesson that few museums can regarding how the East German government operated and attempted to "control" its people. My interest is this museum as heightened after watching the excellent film German film "Das Leben der Anderen - The Lives of Others" to understand the pervasiveness of the STASI. While I would not recommend it for young children, I noticed several high school classes on escorted tours through the museum
Having been inspired to visit Berlin by the wonderfully human account in Anna Funder's book "Stasiland" I'd pencilled in a visit to the Stasimuseum on my very short "Things to Do" list - the other two on the list being: drink beer, eat sausages ;)
"The Stasi" is the commonly used term for the East German Ministry for State Security(German: Ministerium für Staatssicherheit - MfS for short). This was the state's political police whose remit was to ensure a happy, ideologically-correct thinking, populus and to protect its citizens from the propagandic temptations of the fascist, capitalist, western degenerates.
Founded in 1950 and modelled on the Soviet ministry of the same name (which later became the dreaded KGB) the MfS was relatively benign during its early years - in fact its first Secretary Wilhelm Zaiser was deposed for not being ruthless enough in quelling the 1953 worker's uprising . Its next Secretary Wilhelm Wollweber was forced to resign because he seemed to think that the Stasi's role was to protect the state from external threats rather than those from within.
Behind the scenes for those seven years had been the diligent deputy Erich Mielke, a staunch Stalinist, who took on the role as the head of the MfS with gusto and who turned it into the protector of the regime by employing totalitarian methods against the perceived internal threats.
During Meilke's reign, and a "reign" it was, the Stasi became a ruthless suppressor of the state's populus. From its inception it had always been outside normal judicial procedures but Meilke took that one stage further. Records were meticulously kept regarding potential dissidents and citizens were actively encouraged to become informers on those who may have ideological weaknesses.
No detail was too small regarding record-keeping and during the 30 years of the Stasi's terrorism of the population several kilometres of file shelves were needed to store the cross-referenced multi media records of those suspected of even having thought crimes.
One of the most bizarre pieces of record-keeping were the "Scent Jars". When a person was suspected of being a possible escapee they would either be arrested and questioned at a Stasi office, where the chair they were interrogated on would have a piece of cloth attached, or their home would be burgled to obtain a piece of clothing (usually intimate such as a sock or piece of underwear). These would then be put into sealed jars, duly labelled and the appropriate cross-referenced file cards made. In the event that the suspect managed to evade their surveillance these could then be used to send sniffer dogs on their trail.
In the 1980's the Stasi had about 90,000 full-time employees. Estimates of the number of informers vary wildly - some sources estimate 170,000 whilst others peg the figure at possibly half-a-million. Informers were variously those who were ideologically committed, some who were variously cajoled by threats or blackmail and those who were simply paid to so.
From the 1950's until the late 1980's the MsF had the country under its leash. People could be arrested without formal charges. Civil courts were rarely involved. Suspicion was proof enough of guilt and the penalties for crimes against the state, actual or those of thought, punishable by execution.
As the Communist system began to collapse in the late 1980's the Stasis' recruitment of informers also waned. The Alexanderplatz anti-government demonstration on November 4th 1989 marked the beginning of the end for the regime and on January 15th a crowd of tens of thousands assembled to demonstrate outside the Berlin Stasi headquarters on Ruschestraße. This was a vast office complex which at the time housed about 8,000 staff working in over 20 separate blocks with House No 1 containing Mielke's offices.
What was supposed to have been a peaceful demonstration turned into a riot as the demonstrators found the guards offering no resistance to them storming several of the office blocks. Windows were smashed, graffiti was daubed and office equipment vandalised and looted. It was only the personal intervention of GDR Prime Minister Hans Modrow, along with SPD spokesman Ibrahim Böhme, Pastor Rainer Eppelmann from Democratic Awakening, and the press spokesman of Democracy Now, Konrad Weiss, that prevented the mob taking over the whole site.
One week later the Zentrale Runde Tisch (The Central Round Table) decided that a memorial place and research centre should be established in the former House No. 1. However none of the government departments were willing to accept the role of running such an establishment and so the the association "Antistalinistische Aktion Berlin Nomannenstraße e.V." basically squatted in the building and on November 7th 1990 opened it to the public as the "Forschungs- und Gedenkstätte Normannstraße", which later became the Stasimuseum.
At the time of writing (Oct 2010) the museum has been temporarily relocated to House 22 (which housed the canteen and the employees shopping centre) whilst House 1 is being refurbished. Work is expected to last about 18 months and so the next tip is going to be out-of-date before it has even been written. I assume that the basic museum set-up will still be the same in its temporary quarters but things like Meilke's office will not be part of it.
NOTE: If you reading this after reading the previous tip then you'll be aware that this one is out-of-date.
The location of the Stasimuseum when I visited in June was the former House No 1 (which contained the offices of the long-serving Stasi head Erich Mielke) of the Stasi headquarters at Ruschestraße 103. Since then it has been temporarily moved across the square to House No 22 which was the former canteen and shopping complex for the staff.
However the main exhibits and character of the museum seem to be the same except that they are no longer "in situ" and so hopefully this tip will be useful as a guide as to what to expect.
The complex itself is striking in its immensity, the equivalent of a medium-sized city's main square surrounded by bleak grey concrete office blocks. This was obviously built to be functional and to be seen to be too.
The museum's exhibits are sort of divided into three sections: a quick overview of the complex and its function, some really interesting stuff about the day-to-day methods employed by the Stasi agents and finally a look at the events that led to the collapse of communism in East Germany and the fall of the wall.
There's some odd digressions including about the persecution of Jehova's witnesses - but that's far too political for me to comment on.
Having the museum housed on the floor formerly occupied by Erich Mielke was quite enlightening in that it shows how relatively spartan workplaces were even for the top bosses and hopefully this will come through during the period that the museum is in its temporary quarters.
I found my visit fascinating and spent almost two hours here. I've noticed some people reviewing it complain about the lack of "English" signage but all the info is there - it's just a matter of knowing a bit of background and letting the exhibits speak for themselves. This isn't a "Tourist Attraction" (or at least it shouldn't be) but more of an educational and thought-provoking resource.
Website below has all the up-to-date info re opening times, prices and will keep you informed as to the relocation back to house 1.
Until 1989 the entire building complex (it is quite vast) was top secret. Today it is Berlin's most visited political museums.
It has been left, preserved in its original state. The lingering smell in the offices & board rooms adding to the atmosphere of this places, once to be feared.
Exhibits are constatnly being worked on but you can see various operative equipment (hidden cameras etc..) which gives a little insight to just how paranoid the Stasi were - even amongst their fellow Stasi members!
Jars filled with material - material prisoners/detainees would have to sit on during interrogation - to gether their sweat so that on the off chance they managed to escape the dogs could sniff em out!
mON - fRI 11HRS - 18HRS
sAT & sUN 14HRS - 18HRS
aDMISSION 4 eUROS
The Stasi Museum seems like a very interesting museum with lots of information boards and artifacts in display cases documenting the East German state security from 1957 to 1989. There are old hidden cameras, wires for wire tapping, stamps and postal artifacts and much more. Unfortunately, as of August 2009, all of the display boards and descriptions of items were entirely in German. There are free booklets at the front desk that translate all of the boards into English, but it doesn't have translations for the most interesting things, the actual items, and took quite a long time to read. I was disappointed that everything was in German because the Stasi Museum seems very interesting, so hopefully one day they will be able to add some translations. I would definitely recommend this museum if you are a German speaker.
Admission is free.
Monday to Friday: 11am – 6pm
Saturday, Sunday: 2pm – 6pm
The old STASI headquarter now posses as a grim reminder of the time of the communist regime in the DDR. Before the reunification.
The museum offers an insight to the methods used by the regime to monitor and subordinate its citizens. I like to recommend buying a hot coffee or tee and a cake and watch a DVD about the STASI in the old café with its special interior of power.
The museum is best for the ones who can read germane as there is a lack of translations to other languages.
If you have not seen the film "The life of the others...HGW XX/7" I can highly recommend it.
Open 11-18 mon-friday,
Sat, sun and holidays 14-18.
Stasi is short for "Staatssicherheit" or "State Security Service", the "Sword and Shield" of the communist party that ruled the GDR. Everyone who has seen the Academy Award winning movie "The Lives of Others" (go, get a copy if you haven't) knows that "Security" was an euphemism for spreading fear and anguish among members of the opposition - and a couple of million people more.
The Stasimuseum is inside a huge complex which was formerly the Stasi HQ and the Ministry for State Security Service. The complex is so huge that it was difficult to spot and identify people coming and leaving. Next to the museum is the "Birthler Authority," the unofficial name given to the office, headed by Marianne Birthler, responsible for researching the history of the Stasi. Here, all Stasi documents are freely available to individuals, including secret files on Stasi's victims. But I digress.
What you'll see inside the museum are somewhat clunky and older spy devices: cameras behind buttons and in birdhouses. The latter one may be a bit obvious, but perhaps the Stasi wanted to let some of its victims know that they were spied on. Maybe it was more important for them to spread fear than to actually gain some information.
Other exhibits include smell samples in jars; pieces of cloth holding the odor of the suspected. Sometimes it was a stolen bit of used underwear (perverts, aren't they!?). If need be, Stasi officers would let a dog sniff the rag, hoping the dog would discover a trace the suspect had left.
But the highlight is certainly what was Minister Mielke's office. While it is quite big, it's certainly not luxurious. It reminded me of a principal's office at an East Berlin school I visited shortly after the wall fell. Perhaps every office in the GDR was decorated by the same guy.
And then there's this distinctive smell that was omnipresent in offices or rooms in general and seems to be a combination of linoleum, dust and cheap polishing mixture.
Last time I was there (2007), the smell was still trapped in the building; apparently the likewise distinctive 70s-style cushioned chairs work like a sponge. (Those cushions were made of rags which they shredded, colored and impregnated with whatever agent. Looks ugly and feels even worse - a bit like chewing on tinfoil).
Unfortunately, descriptions of the exhibits had been in German only but maybe this has changed by now. Tours (1.5 - 2 hours) in German, English, French, Norwegian or Swedish are possible, even outside the museum's normal opening hours, but you need to be 10 people or more and book in advance.
Undiscounted admission is 4 Euro for adults.
The STASI was the notorious East German secret police during the Cold War which kept tabs on everyone and everything. It is rumored that there was one STASI agent for every four East Germans during the years of the Iron Curtain. Not long after the wall fell in 1989, the people stormed and ransacked the STASI headquarters.
Today, the STASI headquarters is a museum located in the Lichtenberg neighborhood, deep in East Berlin. Among the numerous exhibits, visitors have access to the offices of the former STASI chiefs.
Price of admission varies from 2-3.50 euros.
Formally known as the Forschungs-und Gedenkstatte Normannenstrasse, the "Stasi" museum is tucked away secretly on a side street in the former East Germany. From here the Stasi exerted Gestapo-like control on the majority of the East German people. Lives were often controlled and destroyed from this banal yet ominous HQ of the GDR state security ministry. Check out the actual office once occupied by former head Erich Meilke. You can even take tea in the former rec room next door. English tours are only available by appointment. I was lucky to gate crash a school trip from Nottingham who graciously allowed me to join their group. There is very little info in English so best to book ahead for a tour. Be wary of the ticket seller who also doubles as the gift shop clerk (he is rough and gruff. I wonder what he did in the good old days of the GDR?) Although I did not, one can also visit the Stasi prison: the Gedenkstatte. It is a former Soviet "special" camp later used by GDR as a reprimand prison. It appears to be a very grim reminder of the price of one party-one state politics.