Lichtenberg isn’t any old neighborhood. For years it was the nerve center of the Stasi, and on Ruschestrasse stands the former HQ of East Germany’s secret police, now the Stasi Museum.
It’s a chilling place. Inside this sprawling concrete complex, the regime ordered countless interrogations and imprisonments under an atmosphere of paranoia and fear.
I’m in what was once the office of Erich Mielke, Minister for State Security and head of the Stasi for over 30 years. According to author Anna Funder in her award-winning book Stasiland, he was ‘the most feared man in the GDR’.
Like many rooms, Mielke’s has been left almost as it was found. Tape recorders, telephones, chairs and desks exude a ghostly presence. There’s a shredder in one corner – one of many. The Stasi attempted to destroy whatever they could as they sensed the end was near.
Compare his office, an entire floor complete with bedroom, boardroom and lounge, to the surrounding Plattenbau. These prefabricated housing blocks were built after World War II and were where many people lived in cramped conditions during his stint at the top.
With an estimated one informer for every seven people, these offices contained an astonishing amount of information. In January 1990, after the Wall fell, people stormed the headquarters to secure their files. For many people, these and future discoveries meant the end of friendships, familial relationships and even marriages. It’s an extraordinary museum about an extraordinary era.