Hohenschönhausen

December 2014

Stasi (State Security) Prison, Berlin-Hohenschönhausen

Stasi (State Security) Prison, Berlin-Hohenschönhausen

Stasi (State Security) Prison, Berlin-Hohenschönhausen

Stasi (State Security) Prison, Berlin-Hohenschönhausen

Stasi (State Security) Prison, Berlin-Hohenschönhausen

Stasi (State Security) Prison, Berlin-Hohenschönhausen

Stasi (State Security) Prison, Berlin-Hohenschönhausen

Stasi (State Security) Prison, Berlin-Hohenschönhausen

Stasi (State Security) Prison, Berlin-Hohenschönhausen

Back from a long visit to the former Stasi (State Secur­ity) prison in Berlin-Hohenschönhausen, I’m still trying to stomach the input. I’ve pre­vi­ously seen the Stasi headquar­ters in Lichten­berg, a must see des­tin­a­tion for every­one inter­ested in history; but Hohenschön­hausen is cer­tainly a dif­fer­ent exper­i­ence. The former prison remained mostly unchanged since 1989 and is now a memorial. Guided tours by former pris­on­ers help to under­stand what happened in Hohenschön­hausen and how the Stasi acted until the end of the GDR.

Our guide was imprisoned in Hohenschön­hausen because he was involved in a failed escape attempt trying to cross the border. He never knew he actu­ally was in Hohenschön­hausen – the Stasi made huge efforts to leave pris­on­ers in the dark about their where­abouts. It was only in the 1990s during a visit in Hohenschön­hausen when he recog­nized his former prison. “A dif­fi­cult exper­i­ence”, as he recalled.

Most of the viol­ence was psy­cho­lo­gical – leading pris­on­ers in tempta­tion with more food or better living con­di­tions; faking severe illness of loved ones; threat­en­ing to forward people to even worse prisons.

Impris­on­ment con­di­tions overall were tor­tur­ous. Months and years of strict isol­a­tion, the nar­row­ness of their cells, a lack of day­light and sys­tem­atic sleep depriva­tion were meant to break the per­sever­ance of arres­ted dis­sid­ents.

Today, many of the former pris­on­ers are still trau­mat­ized. Our guide recalled how he was brought to a hos­pital with an ambu­lance a few years ago due to an injury. Not knowing where he was and where the ambu­lance was going triggered a full force panic attack he just barely managed to get under control.

He started to work as a guide in Hohenschön­hausen in 2009 after retire­ment. Since then he has received various threats from former Stasi employ­ees and gets insul­ted on a regular basis. He was even being spat at by people denoun­cing him as a “Märchenerzähler” (Fairy tale teller).