THE STASI PRISON
The most fascinating of the places I visited in Berlin was the STASI prison. I’m not sure if it is because the topic of the German Federal Republic interests me hugely or my interest in crime and punishment, but this part really stunned me. The tour guide was incredible. She was German herself, from the West of Berlin. It was clear her knowledge of the prison was not only driven by passion and intrigue but also emotion.
The prison, situated in East Berlin, was used by the Soviet government to imprison ‘enemies’ of the East. This includes any political enemies, former Nazis and generally anyone who didn’t hold the correct ‘mindset’ of an East Berliner. Our tour guide told us a very personal story of a man she knows, also a tour guide at the prison, who held captive there himself. He was a member of the Hitler Youth during the Nazi regime and once the Soviets occupied East Germany, he disappeared one day and his mother never saw him again. I can’t remember exactly how long he was kept at the prison, I think she said around a year, I can’t be sure. His Mother knew he would be taken and so each day, even in the height of Summer, she made her son leave the house wearing a full outfit, coat and warm boots in anticipation of what fate he would meet. She was right, her parental instinct saved the life of her 15 year old son. When he eventually was freed from the prison, the first thing he bought was a bouquet of flowers for his mother. Once he arrived home, he knocked on the door but was met with the face of a stranger; his mother had died shortly after. He said even now, at 85 years of age, the saddest truth in his life is that he never got to say thank you to his mother, or kiss her goodbye.
One of the methods the STASI used was to capture prisoners in an ice cream van in disguise or a milk truck. After this, they would drive round for hours so you lost all sense of direction, time and location. The torture methods used in the prison to extract information from prisoners don’t seem as bad as one may think, but hearing about in in the very location it happened made it seem all too real. The cells were small, cold and isolated. They controlled everything inside the cell from the outside so that prisoners were never met with any human contact. Guards would often tell prisoners their family members had died to emotionally torture them into a state of disrepair. Even after being freed, prisoners would still be psychologically tortured. The STASI would come into their houses, move things around, make you think things had gone missing. Spy on you, destroy relationships and friendships until you were completely and utterly alone in your head.
I can’t comprehend what that would feel like. I don’t want to.
Maybe this is why we enjoy this dark element of tourism this much? It is SO incomprehensible in our own reality that we have to experience it through the tales of others to be able to truly grasp the intensity of it.