My friend and I decided that we wanted to make at least one day trip to the outskirts of Berlin. We had decided on a few options: Teufelsberg (an NSA spy station on top of a man-made mountain), Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp, and Potsdam’s Sanssouci palace. At the end, the rain decided for us, so we went to Hohenschönhausen, a Stasi Prison.
History of Hohenschönhausen
A special Soviet camp was set up on the site of a former industrial kitchen in the north-east of Berlin at the end of the Second World War. After the camp was closed in 1946, a Soviet prison for East Germany was built in the cellar of the building.
In the following years, the building has expanded quite a lot. Thousands of political prisoners were incarcerated here included nearly every famous GDR opponent.
Speaking of “opponents”, on the website it says that the tour will be given by a former inmate. This wasn’t the case for us, but maybe that’s because we opted for the English speaking tour. The stories didn’t become less impressive though.
The first part of the tour is a video. We rushed through the streets of Berlin to make it in time, and we weren’t even impressed by it. The video was all over the place. Luckily, the tour was much better.
During the tour we were shown different parts of the process of taking a prisoner to and around the prison. We are shown the replica of little bus, which would drive for much longer than required to give the prisoner the impression that the prison is located far from Berlin & that the prison is actually bigger than it is.
Prisoners are given a cell number, which is much higher than the amount of cells. This place is all about deception and messing with the mind of the prisoners. So that they would not become hopeful & revolt.
The guards always took care that the prisoners wouldn’t see each other, so they would turn the red light on to indicate that one of the prisoners is on the move.
When the prison had just opened, the Soviet used small & claustrophobic cells in the basement of the building. They stopped using these, to show the world that they weren’t as bad as they were made out to be.
What made this prison very eerie in my eyes, is the 70’s & 80’s style that permeats the building. This style gives me the shivers, because it reminds me of Norman Bates. The old school horror movie style. Do you know what I mean?
Not to mention the overpowering smell of linoleum glue which spreads through the hallways.
My expectation of this prison was much worse than it actually was. I expected something like Tuol Sleng in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. We were never really taught about the aftermath of the Second World War for Germany in the Netherlands. Therfore, this visit to Hohenschönhausen was very informative.