December 11, 2008

Lives of Others

Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they aren't all out to get you. We ventured deep into east Berlin to visit the former Stasi headquarters, now a museum of sorts.

Run by a group of volunteers, there are no flashy displays or over wrought curatorial statements. They don't need them. Just walking the halls made my skin crawl. Over the nearly 40 years of its existence, the Stasi (east german ministry for state security) kept the DDR populace in its place through a combination of psychological and physical terror tactics and bizarre propaganda. At the time of the wall's big tumble in 1989, it's estimated that the Stasi employed some 90,000 regular employees on top of 300,000 citizen informants.

Of the many categories of character flaws that could qualify one for Stasi investigation was this chronic catch-all "Malcontents and chronic complainers".

And the surveillance devices! The usual apartment, phone, car bugs of course but then there were the oil drums, garbage cans, tree stumps, bird houses. What a time.

Some photos of the ministerial living quarters. (Is it wrong to say I rather like the DDR decor?) I couldn't bring myself to photograph the interrogation rooms or the prison cell. Nor the specimen jar containing some poor soul's body odor sample.

If you haven't already, run out and rent a copy of the incredible German film The Lives of Others. Many of the scenes were filmed here.

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