We know who you are and what you did
Bezirk Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf, Germany
Its hard to reconcile that nearly 30 years ago this city was two cities East and West Berlin. Today we are headed to the epicentre of control in East Berlin the Stasi Museum. We decided to walk to the museum, as it didn't look that far away, but it was in the end.
Our journey started at Alexander Platz where the huge Telekom tower can see all Berlin. The tower was intended as both a symbol of communist power and of Berlin. It is easily visible throughout the central and some suburban districts of Berlin. With its height of 368 metres it is the tallest structure in Germany, and the second tallest structure in the European Union. We used this tower as a navigation aid as it was only a short distance from our apartment.
We headed down Karl Marx Avenue which is a monumental boulevard built by the East Germans between 1949 to 1961.The Avenue is 89 metres wide and nearly two kilometers long, and lined with monumental eight-storey buildings and the facades are covered by cream tiles. Legend has it that that during the time of the GDR the road had acquired the nickname "Stalin's bathroom" due to the buildings' cream tiled facades. Our taxi driver informed us that these apartments had become quite trendy for modern day Berliners and rents have climbed to an average E1000 per month, which is well above the city average.
Navigation in the northern hemisphere conspired against us again; with left being right and the tall buildings obscuring the sun it was difficult to gain our bearings. A kind passerby advised us the catch the train, but we decided to walk on but soon gave up and caught the UBahn to the museum.
We hopped on the UBahn and I found a woman who was taking her cat for a train ride in the most unusual cat carrier I've ever seen. The carrier had a plastic bubble for puss to look out. The cat was a Devon Rex and looked quite comfortable, I can't see any of the cats I've had being as compliant.
The Stasi Museum in the former Stasi headquarters is a particularly sever example of the already severe East German architecture. The architect clearly hated life. The Stasi probably carried out the normal activities of an intelligence gathering service but their real claim to fame is the enormous scale of surveillance on the ordinary citizens of East Germany. The Stasi had 91,000 full time employees and several times that number of unpaid operatives. It was like a sinister version of neighbourhood watch. They seem to have victimised people for minor deviations from their idea of normal and for anyone who criticised the system.
The museum featured dozens of surveillance devices and hidden cameras. In recent times as people have renovated their homes they have found microphones in the walls, ironically using western technology like Duracel batteries and West German cameras. They used childish character assassinations like sending subscriptions to pornographic magazines to shame people they didn't like.
As the regime needed hard currencies in it's the last years they sold jailed dissidents to the West Germans, it is estimated they made 3.8 billion marks from this activity.
In 1989 when the Stasi headquarters was thrown open leading Stasi officers were found to have gold and jewellery which had been confiscated from people who were trying to leave the country. The administration offices are much as they were left. One is reminded of the "banality of evil" as the offices could have easily been mistaken as greeting card manufacturer. The torture, misery and death was ordered from these banal offices, just like the Nazis.
After a couple of hours Tess and Rob had made their own way for their own adventure. You can only have so much time with a totalitarian regime in one day so I had to pull Greg away from the museum. So now what?
We had passed a museum two days earlier in Die Mitte called Knoblauchhaus which is a museum devoted to the Biedermeier era in Berlin. The museum was the former residence of the Knoblauch family and is one of the few remaining 18th century town houses in Berlin. The museum provides an example of the life of this well-to-do family as well as information about the architecture, economy, culture, social life and excellent examples of furniture from the Biedermeier era.
It was an interesting visit but I put up the white flag and told Greg its "wine o'clock," so we headed back to our apartment for our last meal there gathering provisions on the way.