Berlin Dark History: 2 Days with the Stasi (part 1)

The Stasi, the most efficient and merciless secret police service or our times, had been dominating East Germany in terror for 40 years.  However there is little coverage around it, and museums dedicated to its history are far from the city centre, kept away like a shameful secret. Here’s a list of places you could, and should visit, to learn more about how life was in the DDR.

 

Day 1


 

DDR Museum phone

Life in the DDR © DDR Museum, Berlin 2013

DDR Museum

Address: Karl-Liebknecht-Straße 1, 10178 Berlin
Opening Hours: Sun-Fri 10am – 8pm / Sat 10am – 10pm
Phone: +49 30 847123731 / Website
Tickets: €6 / €4

Let’s have a light start here: after breakfast head to the DDR museum, located near the museum island, opposite the Cathedral. This is an interactive museum where you can learn and experience directly how was life in the DDR. There are photos, and videos, examples of real life jobs and salaries, there’s a kitchen and a living room where you can sit, watch the telly and use the phone. There are lots of drawers to open, things to move, games to do… some people will probably still remember queuing after those two guys for two hours while they unsuccessfully tried to write their name in Russian. They have a few sections dedicated to Stasi, providing the most important fact and offering a reproduction of an interrogation room and a prison cell. They also offer guided tours in 15 different languages.
It’s conveniently located in the city centre, informative and safe for families. If you want to know more details and you’re not afraid of walking right where evil really happened, keep on with the tour!

DDR Museum Living Room

A “cozy” night in, East Germany, 1970 © DDR Museum, Berlin 2013

 

Stasi ExhibitionStasi Ausstellung

Address: Zimmerstraße 90, 10117 Berlin
Opening Hours: Mon-Fri 10am – 6pm
Phone: +49 30 232450 / Website (in german) / email
Tickets: Free!

A 30 minutes stroll from the DDR Museum, or a quick bus ride, and we’re in this sweet little exhibition which will educate us on everything about Stasi. Not to be confused with the proper Stasi Museum, it’s very neat and comprehensive, basically a 3D lecture on the infamous secret police. It’s quite hidden away, few steps away from Checkpoint Charlie and dangerously on the border of the tacky funfair the area is being turned into. Fence off the tourists, herded from their tour buses to the souvenir shops and the iconic selfie locations, pass by the other tourists sitting outside the Einstein café lost in their maps and travel guides and you’ll find the unassuming building hosting the Stasi Ausstellung to your right. The building itself, despite its modest looks, is rich of history: one of the most ancient trade building in town have seen the merchant replaced by Nazis first and Stasi agents later, and finally a museum. Which is a procedure apparently applied to most buildings in Berlin.
Not only the entrance is free but you can also pick a free audio guide (available in several languages) providing a detailed explanation of the whole exhibition, and a nice booklet summarizing all of its content. You will need all of this if you cannot read German.
The only other person visiting while I was there had the privilege of being personally escorted by a member of staff. He surely was a journalist or university professor, but next time I’ll give it a go and send them an email in advance.

Stasi Informer

This “master of disguise” might be risible now but how many he condemned?

That’s all for the day, enough culture to get us ready for tomorrow’s action. Now it’s time to head back to some nice café to read the leaflets and let the information settle in your brain.

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After being in Rome a few times without even looking at the Coliseum I realised that there's more to travel than sightseeing: meeting the local culture is what, 10 years later, determined the birth of this blog.

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