Dr Julien Drouart
Stasi Prison Memorial: Into psychological horror
Updated: Jan 12, 2022
The Stasi Prison Memorial offers a chillingly authentic setting: that of a former political prison during the GDR. Only accessible on a guided tour, the place promises an intense and reflective experience. Join me on a guided tour of the memorial!
The Stasi Prison Memorial is a highlight.
The Second World War ended in Europe in May 1945 and the Allied and Soviet liberators were responsible for arresting and prosecuting the criminals of Hitler's regime. In the Soviet occupation zone, a network of prisoner of war camps was set up, which very quickly passed from a military administration to another, perhaps more devious one, that of the political police, the NKVD. In 1951, the authority of the former special camp n°3 was delegated to the new East German state, under the leadership of the Stasi.
The political police used the original premises and improved them over time, erecting new buildings, to turn Hohenschönhausen into a restricted zone, forbidden to the general public, which officially never existed. Initially dedicated to the confinement of political opponents, the prison became from the 1960s onwards the place where those who were likely to become such were interned. Before the latter were perhaps lucky enough to be bought out by West Germany. More than 40,000 people passed through here until December 1989.
Abandoned in 1990, the former prison became a place of remembrance and its support staff is partly composed of former prisoners.
A journey into dehumanisation
Located on the edge of a district of former East Berlin, the Memorial is situated in the original premises, untouched, preserved from destruction. The grim gloom emanating from the buildings and the configuration of the site creates a feeling of oppression. Two complexes face each other and complement each other. On the one hand, the first prison, used since the end of the 1940s, is limited to the basements of a former refectory, converted into cells with the most rudimentary confinement possible. On the other hand, the second prison, opened in November 1960, a few months before the construction of the Berlin Wall, offers a high-security complex, modern for its time, where the prisoner was subjected to daily and systematic sensory deprivation.
The harshness of the confinement gives way from one decade to the next to a terrifying psychological destruction. The visitor follows the journey of a prisoner from his arrival at the garage to his isolation cell. But really, the walk through the wing of the building where the "political" interrogations were carried out makes you aware of the very nature of this prison, which was no ordinary prison. The fall is inexorable until the edifying promenade cells.
A guided tour is mandatory
The Prison Memorial can only be visited in the company of a guide from the educational teams. For those who do not wish to follow a guided tour, there is also a documentation centre, which is freely accessible and free of charge. This rigour and inflexibility are, in my opinion, the guarantee of an adult and instructive discourse, thus avoiding the shortcomings of a tourist industry in search of strong emotions. Every day, guided tours in German and English are offered at very democratic prices.
The original locations have been preserved and walking through them is an intense process of introspection. It will also highlight the fact that, far from being a symbol of the state, the prison was a machine whose primary purpose was to enrich the GDR by selling off prisoners, far from the ideological considerations of either side. This is a shocking and revealing story. No one would presume to visit the place in the company of young children.
Reasons to go
The excellent preservation of the buildings
A perspective beyond the historical framework
A freely accessible documentation centre
Reasons to avoid
The rush caused by the accumulation of groups