What began as a place of repression is now a campus for democracy: The former headquarters of the Ministry for State Security once housed thousands of employees of the secret police tasked with helping to secure the power of the SED-dictatorship. Today it is a place where these injustices of the past are addressed and connected to discussions about contemporary conflicts and values of society.
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The Former Stasi Headquarters
The Ministry for State Security (MfS), in short Stasi, had a dual function in the East German state. It was an intelligence service and a secret police. As an intelligence service it was tasked with protecting the GDR from threats and dangers by gathering information abroad and domestically. It however also was a secret police as it had the executive powers of arresting people considered “dangerous” to the system and keep them in pre-trial detention jails run by the Stasi. One of its main tasks, and that demonstrates its role in a dictatorship, was to put its own people under surveillance to search for criticism and resistance to the ruling system of the communist party in order to find threats to the maintenance of power.
The Stasi’s headquarters were in Berlin-Lichtenberg, along the Magdalenenstraße. While in the beginning the ministry was hardly noticeable, over time it began to dominate the neighborhood. An increasing number of buildings and places around Rusche-, Normannen-, and Magdalenenstraße were occupied and built up because of the ministry’s rapidly growing appetite for office and parking spaces.
From this site the Stasi organized among other things its system of repression. It spread out across the whole of East Germany supported by the 15 MfS district offices and 209 county offices and a total of 91,000 employees.
"Haus 7" was the seat of the main department XX. This unit surveyed relevant social spheres like the health service, the judiciary, the sports sector and the cultural sphere. Furthermore the main department XX ws in charge of fighting "oppositional forces". Today the building houses the offices of the archivists of the Stasi records archive.
Next door in "Haus 8" and "Haus 9", architecturally hidden from the outside world, was the most precious property of the Ministry for State Security: the knowledge storage - the archives. All records no longer needed for active work were filed in these two buildings that were finished in 1984. Much of the collected information about millions of people was centrally stored here and accessible through a complex card index system. The archives were in heavy use by Stasi employees for their work .
The Opening of the Records
In the course of the Peaceful Revolution of 1989/90 courageous citizens pushed themselves onto the premises of the Ministry for State Security, adding to the movement that ended the work of the Stasi and saved the records from destruction. “Freedom for my File” was a central slogan of the citizen’s movement. It expressed the deep rooted desire of many people to find out what types of information the Stasi had gathered about them and how that had changed the course of their lives.
Place of Repression, Revolution and Reflection
Today the written records of the Ministry for State Security are a foundation for the societal and judicial reappraisal of the SED-dictatorship. The Stasi Records Archive together with other civic society actors who chose to work on the grounds of the former Stasi headquarters turns the site into a Campus for Democracy.
In the building of the former offices of the minister for State Security - „Haus 1“, a central site of the system of repression – the Stasi-Museum has its home. In it the permanent exhibition “State Security in the SED-Dictatorship” illustrates structure, methods and effects of the East German secret police. The exhibition was jointly curated by the ASTAK e.V. and the Federal Commissioner for the Stasi Records (BStU) in 2014. The offices of the head of the Stasi Erich Mielke and the rooms of his closest aides as well as a conference room have been preserved in their original state.
Open-Air-Exhibition "Revolution and Fall of the Wall"
The permanent open air exhibition in the interior courtyard of the compound documents the most important milestones on the path to the revolution for freedom in East Germany – from the beginnings of protests to the Fall of the Wall on to German unification. It puts its focus on the people who pushed for a revolution and brought down the communist dictatorship. An English audio guide is available to walk you through the exhibition.
In support of students and teachers the education team at the Stasi Records Archive has a variety of offerings for school projects at the historic location to further the understanding of repression and resistance. These projects offer the possibility for an in-depth look at and a critical understanding of dictatorship, democracy and human rights.