Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Art, cells & dancing ... a big day

Day 40

Yesterday was a big day – and with a 10pm finish so here’s yesterday’s exploring edition.

On foot again (as usual) we passed Trabi World, the Topography of Terror with its section of standing Wall (and the monolithic Gestapo Headquarters next door) and headed for the East German border tower looking into the ‘Death Strip’ between the two lines of wall.  It’s apparently the only one left and although it is possible to climb up for a look, no-one was there so on we went after a couple of photos.

Trabi's were the only car made & sold in East Germany - and there was a decade long waiting list.

On the Ubahn train from Postdammer Platz  out to Warschauser Strasse and a bit of a walk to the East Side Gallery. The neighbourhood has a distinct grungy feel, some interesting street art and views along the Spree River in both directions.

It’s an open air gallery consisting of 105 paintings by artists from all over the world, painted in 1990.  Just over 1.3km long it’s a fascinating look at people;s interpretation of freedom.  Sadly, some of the works have been badly damaged by vandalism  graffiti (I cant get my head round why anyone would want to do that) A number have been re-done – either by the original artist or by a group trying to restore the wall to its proper glory. 

More views of the Spree as we headed back to the Ostbahnhof for our next stop.

After lunch we headed out right into the burbs to visit the Stasi Prison at Gedenkstatte Hohenschonhausen. 

The original part of the building was built prior to WW1. In June 1945, the Soviet Secret Police took over the Hohenschönhausen area and transformed it into a detainment and transit camp, called Special Camp No. 3. Over 20,000 people passed through Special Camp No. 3 on their way to other Soviet camps. Living conditions in the prison were deplorable, with death from malnutrition, disease, or cold common. The most infamous part of the prison was ‘the submarine’ so called because the cells were underground and received absolutely no daylight. As many as 3000, people died here and their bodies were disposed of in local bomb craters.

6x6' cell, slat bed, bucket toilet, shower once a week if you were lucky

The prison was reopened by the East German Ministry of State Security, also known as the Stasi, in 1951. The Stasi added a new prison building (using prisoner labour) in the late 1950s. The new building included 200 prison cells and interrogation rooms. After the construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961, the prison was primarily used to house those who wished or attempted to leave East Germany, although political prisoners were also held there. The prison was used until the Wall came down in 1989 and officially closed on 3 October 1990.

Those arrested were transferred to the Prison in urbane vans often disguised as delivery vehicles for bakers or butchers - complete with guards wearing appropriate company uniforms

Our guide (whose name I missed when she introduced herself) was amazing – hugely knowledgeable and the 2hr tour was peppered with anecdotes and fascinating (if gruesome) details.  Right at the end when we had one last chance for questions (we’d been encouraged to ask questions all the way through) I asked her if she had a connection to the prison.  Turns out her father had done 2 stints there.  The first as a 16yr old, totally innocent he’d been just being some other random man in a line for bread.  The Russians arrested tha man in front and thought the kid behind had something to do with whatever the guy in front did so they arrested him too.  2 weeks in the pokie!

After school/college her father worked for a mining company that mined uranium.  Long story short he was an early whistle blower who was giving the Poms info via ‘letter without a sender’ and on his last run got caught.  A couple of months in this prison undergoing pshychological interrogation and then shipped off to another prison for 12 years. 

Complete with padded & soundproof cell for those poor souls who lose it!

Ingenious but very simple alarm system - grab the wire and pull - once the circuit is broken the alarm goes off

Final stop was to see the fantastic ‘The One’ show at the Freidrichstadt Palast.  Lauren & Ainsley had given us tickets for Xmas.  With costumes by John Paul Gaultier, this all singing, all dancing, aerials and music show was incredible.  We were allowed to take photos of the curtain calls so that’s all you are going to get.  Just take my work it was fantastic and if you are even in Berlin – add it to your list of “must do”

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