The Ministerium für staatssicherheit, or Stasi for short, was the GDR Ministry of State Security. It operated from 1950 until 1989 with the headquarters located in the Lichtenberg district of Berlin. Its main purpose was to ensure that the population adhered to the strict Marxist-Leninist ideology of the GDR, and in most cases, they conformed – outwardly at least. For those who didn’t there were various methods of making sure that they did.
The blocks of offices connected to the Stasi in Lichtenberg employed around 7,000 people, and the man at the helm for much of this time was Erich Mielke who presided over the organisation from 1957 to 1987.
His headquarters at Ruschestrasse 103 was built in 1960, and if you’re as inquisitive as me, then you might want to come and take a look at where the East German equivalent of the Russian KGB operated from.
This building, known as House 1, was where decisions were made to implement the wishes of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany, the only political party in a one-party state.
The crude and heavy-handed tactics that were initially used to keep the East German people in line, such as arrest and torture, gave way in the 1970s to psychological harassment, which as the phrase suggests, was a more subtle way of persuading people to do as they were told. The purpose of this post though is not to highlight the activities of the Stasi, but to show you what the headquarters were like where they carried out their business.
House 1 opened to the general public on 7th November 1990. It’s now called the Stasi Museum, but I wouldn’t call it a museum as such because it’s more about the rooms where the Stasi operated from than anything else, and fortunately they have been left just as they were found.
The rooms are certainly not opulent, and even Mielke’s Suite was quite frugal, so at least the people who operated out of here lived in accordance with their beliefs – or they did while they were at work.
Although I said I didn’t regard it as a museum, there is one room that displays some gadgets and gizmos that were used by the Stasi in their clandestine espionage affairs. These exhibits may have been used for sinister purposes, but some of them were quite laughable too.
The complex is huge, but the museum isn’t, and it didn’t take long to see what there was to see. I finished up by taking a break in the café which still seemed stuck in the 1960s. Whether it was intentional or not I don’t know, but it had a cold war feel to it with unsophisticated home-made cakes and old- fashioned prices to match.
Now that I’ve seen where this feared organisation operated from, I wondered what it must have been like for members of the Anti-Stalinist Action Group (ASTAK) who barged their way in here on January 15th 1990, just a couple of months after the fall of the Berlin Wall, and took over the Stasi offices before all the incriminating evidence was destroyed. They ransacked the cupboards and filing cabinets from which they were able to retrieve around 111km of paper files, 1.7 million photos and 28,000 recordings.
Some of these items were on display at the Stasi Exhibition in Zimmerstrasse before it was closed down in 2014. Since my visit to both the exhibition and museum in 2013 the Stasi Records Office took control of the archives from ASTAK and moved into House 7.
It’s also been reported that the Stasi Records Office will soon be integrated into the Federal Archives, and I’ve no doubt that the dilapidated buildings that once housed the army of state spies will be ripe for redevelopment. I just hope they keep House 1 and Mielke’s headquarters exactly how it was left – so that people who think that Marxist-Leninist ideology was a great idea might just want to think again.