“Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two makes four.
If that is granted, all else follows.”
“Big brother is watching you”
― George Orwell, 1984
photos by Adrian Georgescu and Emiljo Jazxhi
These quotations from a famous novel by George Orwell could not express better the state of the prisoners who were kept in Hochenshonhausen prison in Berlin and its realities — a secret object in the middle of Berlin which served as a prison for secret Stasi police in GDR.
It was formed on the grounds of a Special Camp No. 3, a detainment and transit point for Soviet Secret Police which opened its doors after WWII in 1945. The living conditions of the camp were intolerable and although the official statistics lists 886 deaths at the camp between July 1945 and October 1946, independent source estimates the toll as high as 3,000. Some sources say that bodies were disposed of in local bomb craters.
|Inner patio of the prison
The camp was closed in October 1946, but then was reopened by the East German Ministry of State Security (Stasi) in 1953. The German Ministry of state security, notoriously known as GDR secret police was the successor of Soviet Union’s NKVD (People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs) who used the same methods to oppress people with different views, who might by their imagination harm the government.
A museum of Stasi is located in Leipzig and is also described in this blog
. Orwell’s novel is very relevant when describing this place, as a person could be easily imprisoned for having connections with relatives from the West and for committing a “mind crime” for even assuming some sort of democratic thoughts. Moreover, it is not a secret, that Stasi’s “Big brother” was watching GDR citizens day-by-day, listening to the phone conversations, unsealing private mail and recruiting vast network of agents to snitch on the family, neighbors and work colleagues.
Perhaps the most horrid block of the prison is the so-called “Submarine” which is located on a basement level and contains solitary cells and cells for 3-5 people. While sole cells had a great mental impact on a person, cells for 3-5 people with wooden beds and poor ventilation system, not enlighten properly basically drained people’s health. After 1951 prisoners were never allowed to lie on a bed — they could only walk around the limited space of the cell and avoid any verbal contact with other prisoners.
As in “1984”, the main aim was to erase the identity of the person. All personal belongings were taken away, even the glasses to avoid the chance of committing the suicide and a watch to loose the sense of time in a dimly lighted cell. A person had received not a name, but a number, a number to live with for a rest of a sentence.
After the erection of the Berlin Wall, the prisoners of Hohenschönhausen mostly became the unsuccessful fugitives who tried to escape over the wall. Nevertheless, the number of political inmates remained never decreased. The new block of the prison was built a bit later and the living conditions were slightly improved. The cord on the walls is the illustration of the simple alarm system – once the contact is damaged the alarm went off. As it was said before the prisoner was limited of any personal contacts, especially with other inmates. In this wing of a prison a queer system of “traffic lights” was functioning to prevent prisoners bumping into each other when they were led for interrogations. Red and green lamps at the end of the corridor indicated the availableness of the path cleared out of prisoners.
The prisoners transport vehicle is completely dark inside and has a limited space to prevent prisoners from knowing where they are taken to. Mostly the driver would ride around the block for a couple of minutes to confuse the passengers and make them loose the sense of orientation.
This is a photo and interrogation room. Sometimes prisoners spent a few hours there in a steady position. As it was discovered later, some of them were exposed by X-rays which in some cases resulted in deaths of prisoners after their release from Hohenschönhausen.
|Surveillance cameras, which appeared in 80’s.
The interrogations were held mostly to break the person mentally. The interlocutor might sit in front of you reading a newspaper and waiting for you to talk first and confess in a crime a person was not ever aware of. Peculiar methods of intimidation in a form of threaten to family members and close friends were used so an interrogator could always find an Achilles’ heel and break a person mentally. What was considered to be a crime? Practically any dissent with the official GDR position could be a reason to be imprisoned.
Stasi employee could press on by making fake calls during interrogations, demonstrating they had enough power to fire your parents or expel your brother from university. Being in a position of weakness, the prisoner would not bargain in the most cases.
As the Hohenschönhausen was a restricted and guarded area, even erased from city maps, after the fall of the wall it was not instantly stormed by demonstrations which granted a chance to Stasi to destroy all the evidences of their horrid crimes and documentations. Only from 1947 to 1953 about 2000 prisoners were kept within these walls, but the number of prisoners who died here still remains unclear but counts to thousands of inmates.
is opened all year round so if you feel interested, spare some time to visit it. The entrance fee ranges up to 5 EUR for guided tours.
The Hohenschönhausen Memorial (Gedenkstätte) was founded in the early 1990s by former inmates. The prison welcomed its first visitors in 1994 and some of the guides in the memorial were the inmates of the prison – they better then no one can express all the griew, horror and fear that dominated here.