Category Archives: 07.11.2014

Life changes behind bars

Reading about the WW2 german prisons, I had ‘high’ expectations from the former prison that we went to visit. Mostly reffering to the treatments applied and the ‘housing’ conditions. A huge change, a different approach, but still based on wrong and immoral reasons.

When it comes to the reason(s) why some get behind bars, how those moments change their whole existance, how it affects all around them like a domino game, at least let the man be guilty of something! Those who got there will forever hate the system. Or themselves.

All in all, a prison is a prison, and those who don’t belong them shouldn’t be there. That’s one reason why the changes that took place in Eastern Europe have made the world a bit better.

In Prison

I had heard mainly negative things about the way the Gedenkstätte Stasi-Gefängnis Hohenschönhausen dealt with history and actors opposing their strictly anti-communist way of remembrance. Still, I was interested in seeing the place myself when we went, thought I am not sure what I expected, really. After all, a prison without inmates is not much different from any other abandonded concrete building – unless it contains some “special” rooms as well, which, to be honest, I’d rather not see.

Hohenschönhausen turned out to be just that. A bleak, intimidating wall of concrete, a big gate and some buildings without any special traits. From the tour, which was not given by a former inmate but by an energetic young historian, many details could be learned: what type of food was served, how prisoners had to behave day and night,  privileges and punishments… Historical background was not touched upon too much, and when the conversation with the guide turned to comparisons of this particular prisons with other ones in different times and places it became tangible that there is really not that much to learn in Hohenschönhausen, except that the GDR wasn’t exactly nice to the people they incarcerated (but then again, where have prisons ever been nice), and that arrests were often made at random and prisoners rarely had the chance to get a proper trial and legal advice (again, not exactly unique in history and in the world).

What bothered me about the presentation was not so much the perceived waste of time (I would never recommend a visit to the place to anyone), because in our context it still made some sense to see the prison, but the lack of questioning in the presentation. We, like all the other groups who go to this place, got a complete story presented, without grey areas, open questions, or space for controversy. Not a very good way to deal with historical places and events, in my opinion. Especially because in connection to the space around the prison Hohenschönhausen has the potential to open up new perspectives on the organization and functioning of the Stasi, without demonization and ideological prejudice.

How close should you get: visiting the Hohenschönhausen prison

Visiting the Berlin Hohenschönhausen memorial, the main political prison of the former East German Communist Ministry of State Security, the Stasi, cannot be done on your own, but only part of a guided tour.

And on this early November day, our guide is a German historian in her early thirties, with a Club Mate in her hand, friendly and straightforward, and very engaging. We are taken on a tour through this prison which seems to have functioned as a huge mechanism of isolation. The guide has a way of making you aware and curious about the stories, and somehow allowing you to cope with the emotions by not adding extra drama to a context that is dramatic enough.


However, the interesting part comes afterwards, as we gather to talk about our visit at the Hohenschönhausen prison. There is a comment made about the guide having been  a bit disrespectful about those who suffered there, particulary in reference to a comment she made, but also by generally employing a certain distance in her presentation. Thus, a point is made that there is no place for distance when talking about traumatic events.

I disagree with it in the beginning. I’ve appreciated the guide’s abbility to stir your curiosity and envolve you in the story without recurring to emotions. In this case I feel that leaving the real emotions to those who actually suffered is more decent and honest, than actually feeling that you can share a bit of that trauma. Because truly speaking, you can’t. But what I can do is learn more about it, through a good documentation. And that’s what the guide did; in a vividly way, she helped me understand a bit of this big story.

But that was only my perspective. And I’ve slowly understood that just because the guide’s presentation style was right for me and my understanding framework, it didn’t mean that there was no place for dilemmas and debate.


As the discussion went on about the right way/ways to transmit such knowledge about past events , valuable questions arose. Why do we go to these memorial places in the first place?  Is it better to keep a distance when talking about emotion-ridden events, or is it actually ok to involve emotion? What if the guide was an eyewitness, as it’s the case of some tour guides at the Hohenschönhausen prison, that  were actually prisoners there. Is his/her input more valuable? What do we search for in these memorial places?

And then a great point was made. Are we going to these places to feel that the Ugly and the Bad of our history belongs to the past, and we can breathe relieved after the tour ends and we go back to our lives? Or do we want to live these stories the way we experience Hollywood movies, in search of thrill, may it be a negative on?



Discourses of museums/places of rememberance are always problematic

B, C: I found it is very important to deconstruct the discourses of both museums and tour guides, because of the different agendas of the hegemonic cultural and political discourse. There are many layers of meaning stashed on top of each other, like many filters superimposed on the original meaning: the official story of the current regime, the agenda of the museum and its goals, the interpretation and subjective outlook of the tourguide and the public’s own subjective reception. As a pedagogical method, I find it very important to have a critical discussion after all ready-made inputs, especially when they come from the ruling  ideology.

First day

The training started. The group seems to be really diverse, which is a promise for the days to come.

We went to the Hohenschonhausen, the former hidden Stasi prison in Berlin. It was kind of a mixed feeling experience, both shocking (realizing again the cruelty of humans against humans) and a bit lacking (since I need the time and solitude to really feel and reflect on what I’m experiencing), but definetelly an overall emotional one.

A very emotionally exhausting first day ended in good exchange of opinions, leaving me looking forward for what’s going to happen next.

Hohenschönhausen: a memorial place

Our first day of training starts with the visit of Hohenshönhausen, the most important GDR Stasi prison and, now, a fundamental place of remembrance and memory. In 1994 the build becomes a museum and, since  then, with many guides and eyewitness, is visited everyday by a lot of people.  I was impressed by the way everything has been museum-exhibited, as it were frozen in time: cells, interrogation rooms, corridors.Only a cafe and few information image

board bring us back to reality. Also the private memory of the witnesses, I think, is usefull to drive visitor in a sort of estrangement. Visitors feel deeply touched and they don’t want forget the conditions in which the detainees were and the deep injustices that were the basis for arrests and convictions.  This is the reason, in my opinion,  of museification of a place like this: touch the reality of what has been and remember.


The experience of the first day

I can divide today in two part: theoretical and practical.
1)The first hours of our hours were  about  history of Berlin as a separated city and it was very good to repeat and to get to know more with aspects of life during the cold war period

2)And the second one is practical
It was my first time visiting the prison and ,being surprised by myself,I’m not horrified a lot.This prison seems to me like other ordinar prison without ability to see other world(because of windows).In my mind, we have something like that in Russia nowadays(but with good windows and toilets),but I’m not sure,of course.Despite that I was wondering by “relaxing  room” and the toilet in the center of cell….It is awful.WP_001810

All in all I’am very satisfied with my day,because I don’t think that I would be able to get those knowledges and expereince in some other place

So thank you a lot : )

Reflections of the visit to GDR Prison Hohenschönhausen

The visit to the GDR Prison on the first day of the training draw a critical picture of the political division and its consequences during the Cold War in Berlin. My expectations towards the visit related to my own images and readings of the Cold War period in Germany and frankly speaking I expected that the athmosphere and the look of the prison would have been different. The facs that surprised me were the cleanliness and punctuality. For me, the prison looked more as a hospital than a prison. Further, it seemed as a hospital to cure political diseases.

As a student of Media Studies I paid attention on the Mediums and Communication devices and practices in the prison. Most of the rooms had no furniture or decorations. However,  I noticed that medium devices were placed punctually, for example each of the interrogation room had still a telephone. For me, it represented the need to show how everything in the prison was under control and that they used the most advanced technology of that time.

The thing that I learned today was the difference between reading history books and the actual visits to the places. By reading we can only learn the facts that are told from the perspective of the writer. Whereas by visiting to the sites we are able to sense the athmosphere ourselves and create our own connection and understanding towards the places and stories that we have heard.