Stasi Museum – Berlin, Germany - Atlas Obscura
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Berlin, Germany

Stasi Museum

A museum dedicated to the history of a terrifying secret police is now held in their former headquarters. 

An inside look at the operations of one of the most feared secret police states of the 20th century. 

The Stasi was the GDR’s infamous secret police force. Considering itself the “shield and sword of the party” it was from it’s maximum security headquarters on Magdalenenstrasse that it ran it’s covert war against perceived enemies of the state. Now converted into a permanent museum, it was from this building that head of the Stasi, Erich Mielke ran one of the most feared secret police forces the world has ever known. 

It’s estimated that one out of every ten East Germans worked as an informant for the Stasi, and the museum shows many of the bizarre ways the totalitarian regime used to spy on it’s citizens. Microphones hidden inside church hymn books, wrist watches with wire taps that ran up your sleeve, one of the most peculiar methods even involved the use of sniffer dogs. This latter method involved hiding cotton squares under seat cushions, then after the suspect left their seat, the cotton square was removed from the seat and placed in an airtight jar. Dogs could then be used to track that person based on the scent they left behind. 

There is a special section of the museum, on the 3rd floor, dedicated to the Stasi technique of ‘Zersetzung’ (corrosion) - the East German secret police method of dealing with problematic political dissidents by, for example, ruining their marriages, delivering pornographic material to their homes, and routinely deflating the tyres on their bicycles. All in order to drive their victims to the end of their wits.

The museum also highlights the Orwellian brainwashing that took place at school level; instead of cutout dolls with fashionable clothes, children of the GDR had cutout dolls with gas masks and AK-47s. Flash cards used to teach A, B, C’s featured lock picking, fingerprint taking, and camera surveillance. 

Look out for the painting at the head of the conference room, depicting the construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961, produced by the same artist (the unfortunately named Dr Frankenstein) responsible for the series of abstract political images adorning the walls of the nearby Magdalenenstrasse U-bahn. 

Today the odd methods the Stasi used to employ, waver between the amusing and the downright strange. But for the common people living behind the Iron Curtain, they were a ruthless, all-seeing force, the mention of which would send shivers down spines. 

Know Before You Go

U-bahn 5, station Magdalenenstr.