A Travellerspoint blog

26 July 2015

Berlin, day 3 of 3

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The next morning, Sunday, I went with a few classmates and Saskia (a professor from Essen, Germany who taught a course at FHSU last summer) to the Stasi Museum and the DDR Museum (DDR = Soviet East Germany, known as the GDR in the USA). The two museums are a great complement for each other—one outlines the Soviet-based Stasi organization, infamous for its spying on DDR citizens, and the other is an interactive experience describing everyday life in the DDR.

The Stasi, officially the "Ministry for State Security," was the secret police of East Germany. They focused on spying on citizens, to the point where other citizens were recruited, coerced, or forced into spying for them. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, the headquarters were swarmed by citizens, who caught officers in the act of destroying their records. Most were saved; to this day, any German citizen has the right to come here and request to see any records the Stasi had kept on them. People are shocked to discover that their neighbors, babysitters, even spouses, were reporting on them to the Stasi.

The headquarters building interior is very much as it was when in use, with original furnishings and items still in their original locations. This is the lobby, with original flags and statues. The trio of flags are for the DDR, the Socialist Unity Party, and the "red flag of the working class." The statue on the left is Karl Marx, the one on the right is Felix Dzerzhinsky--a particularly bloody Russian known for founding the Bolshevik Secret Police, the Cheka, and orchestrating the Red Terror. By the way, Vladimir Putin recently restored the title of "Dzerzhinsky Division" to a unit of his special forces police. Hmmmm.
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This is one of the umarked vehicles the Stasi used to grab people.
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Western music like Iron Maiden was believed to be an attempt to lure East German youth.
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The conference room of the Stasi decision makers, all original and intact. Who knows what horrors were conceived here?
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Before this museum, I'd had no clear idea of what the relationship was between the East German and Russian governments, or what really went on. Seeing these things, especially within their own environment of the hated Stasi building, made it all crystal clear. Now it was time to learn what life was like for the average East German citizen, at the very interactive DDR Museum. This museum really comes alive; visitors can try on clothing (uniforms, fashions), thumb through books (approved schoolbooks, novels), play with children's toys (wooden hand grenades, not balls), sit in a typical East German home (watch what you say!), and listen to the radio or watch the TV of the time. http://www.ddr-museum.de/en

Welcome home! This is part of a typical East German living room--come on in! Sit down, relax, watch some TV. Just be careful of what you say...
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...this sign is posted on the wall behind you. Visitors in the Stasi portion of the museum can sit at an actual listening machine the Stasi used and listen in on the conversations in this living room, just like the real Stasi did to real citizens in real living rooms.
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Children's schoolwork and toys were war-themed.
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Saskia is a fabulous guide; she expanded on the museum information with stories about her family’s personal experiences during these times--for example, because they lived not far from the DDR border, her family's TV signals were often jammed when East Germany jammed signals from the West. She has personally studied this era of her country's history, and has extensive knowledge on the subject. We were SO very lucky to have her with us!

Me and Saskia with Ampelmann.
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This green man is the Berlin-specific “walk” sign at intersections. He’s famous! You’ll see Ampelmann (“traffic light man”) on merchandise all over the city. He was briefly replaced in the 90s as the city sought to get rid of previous East German icons… but, using the protester's slogan of “we are the people,” a committee successfully saved Ampelmann. He’s the star of the city’s traffic safety films, and he even has his own store/website! http://ampelmann.de/html/geschichte_english.html

The Berlin bear is also seen everywhere, a beloved symbol of the city. When I asked Saskia if the bear had anything to do with the Russian bear, she responded with an emphatic, "No," that Berlin had always been symbolized by a bear. Subsequent research has informed me that these particular bears are "buddy bears," with arms outstretched in a gesture of welcome, peace, and hope. No wonder I like them!

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I spotted this Buddy Bear from across the street, and zoomed in, several floors up, to snap his photo.
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Berlin. Before this weekend, the word conjured dark images of barbed wire and burning books, urban grit and foreboding buildings. Now, the images are much brighter: the peaceful Brandenburg Gate and smooth Spree river, great Indian food and a friendly bear. Although I had done some research before travelling here, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I really enjoyed it. The graffiti is both depressing and impressive; the construction is both encouraging and frustrating. There is so much to see-do-learn-experience that it’s impossible to do them all in a lifetime of weekends. Would I return? In a heartbeat.

Posted by OhMissLia 08:51 Archived in Germany Tagged germany berlin summer_2015 26_july

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