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Former Stasi Prison Hohenschönhausen

The leisurely walk through a nice residential area makes it difficult to prepare for our visit to Hohenschönhausen, the former remand prison of the GDR’s secret police–STASI. At the same time it underscores the secretive nature of this project: Over fifty years, this large compound in the Eastern outskirts of Berlin could not be found on any map. Residents of the area were told that a police training facility and a large kitchen are located behind the walls. The prison was first used by the Soviet Union, which had occupied Germany’s east after WW II and then functioned as protector of the newly created state, the GDR, from 1949 on. In 1959, the GDR’s secret police took over and, over the decades, “treated” at least 7,000 prisoners in this facility. In other words, they used a wide range of psychological forms of torture to manipulate prisoners–political dissidents, intellectuals, artists, etc.–into confessing “crimes against the people.”

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When you exit the M5 Strassenbahn at Freienwalder Straße, you find yourself in a quiet residential neighborhood east of Alexanderplatz. Private residences with saddle roofs alternate with conventional apartment buildings, some dating back to the public housing projects of the 1930s, some quite obviously reminiscent of the GDR Plattenbau. Nothing here provides a cue that just down the street was one of the GDR’s most notorious remand prisons, Hohenschönhausen. Continue reading

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