Germany as a whole has so much history to unpack as a result of both World Wars. However, Berlin in particular has a very unique history all to itself thanks to the Soviet occupation following World War II. We spent the day visiting a few sights dedicated to that era in the city’s history. First on the docket was The Stasi Museum.
The Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED) established the Ministry for State Security (MfS) to protect the “workers’ and peasants’ state” in the Soviet occupied zone; however what they actually did was control all aspects of people’s lives in order to maintain Soviet order. Those who did not conform to Soviet values and contribute to the Soviet cause were punished. People were arbitrarily arrested and taken to camps for “anti-Soviet crimes.” The MfS modeled themselves after the discipline and loyalty practices used by Cheka police force in Soviet Russia.
Of course, fear was their strongest weapon to try to maintain people’s loyalty. They insisted that the GDR’s economic failures were a result of Western sabotage. Any form of deviation from accepted lifestyles and behaviour, such as listening to Iron Maiden, were seen as “hostile-negative manifestations” of the “Western manipulators.” The enemy was everywhere, and so they had to be forever vigilant. Any visitors from West Berlin to the GDR were viewed with great suspicion.
When people didn’t buy this and continued to head back to the western part of Berlin, the GDR took it upon themselves to build a wall. (Sound familiar? Building walls out of a groundless fear of others?) Surprise, surprise, people all over protested the material shortages, salary cuts, and political persecutions. Soviet tanks had to be brought in to restore order, and people were hired as secret informants. People spied on their colleagues, friends, and family.
And when the Soviet economy showed continued signs of decline in the mid-80’s and the introduced huge political reform, the GDR chose instead to double down on their attempts to maintain power and control. They used “psychological harassment” to coerce certain leaders to leave the country.
Of course, this all makes sense when you find out that most members of the MfS only had a Primary school education.
Working for the MfS had its ups and downs. The benefits: Nurseries, senior homes, shopping centres, recreation centres, and of course, better salaries. The cons: Keeping secrets from your wife and children, mistrust between colleagues, a fear of wiretapping, and a tendency to become an alcoholic because of the stress of the job.
Sign me up!
We left the Stasi Museum rather exhausted. That was a lot to take in. We needed something a little more light-hearted to follow that up. What about some cows?
Unfortunately, access to the building has been closed off for construction, so you can only see it from afar on the sidewalk. It was still a cool piece of art, though.
After learning about the Stasi, of course Trevor and I had to go visit the Berlin Wall itself. Man, was that an experience. It was so uplifting to see artists from around the world gather to collaborate and turn what remained of a once symbol of tyrannical rule and inhumane abuse of power turned into a work of art. This was the perfect way to follow up the Stasi Museum.
Our last two sights had nothing to do with the Berlin Wall and the Soviets. The first was a visit to the Ramones Museum. The museum is actually just a Ramones-themed bar with rooms in the back that house the owner’s huge Ramones collection. He had article clippings, records, concert footage, interview footage, documentary footage–everything. He even had Johnny’s high school yearbook! It was pretty cool. A must-see for any punk fan. I mean, where else can you get a museum entrance and a beer for 6 Euros?
On our way to the last stop for the day, we were treated to this performance to everybody’s favourite song on the subway. I felt like I was in New York City.
We also came across this structure, which commemorates the man who almost killed Hitler.
Like I said, though; our last stop had nothing to do with war of any sort. In fact, this man was all about saving people, not killing them. He saved countless lives and always managed to catch the bad guys on Baywatch and Knight Rider respectively. He brought people together through his music, rather than dividing them. In fact, he was partly responsible for bringing down the Berlin Wall.
I’m talking, of course, about the man himself: David Hasslehoff, aka the Hoff.
Like the Ramones Museum, this place was created by a huge Hoff fan. It lies in the basement of the Circus Hostel. (Note: Don’t confuse this with the Circus Hotel across the street.)
You know, I love a city with a lot of culture; but I have to hand it to Berlin. Where else can you dig into war history, punk rock history, and David Hasselhoff history all in one day? Only in Berlin, that’s where. Only in Berlin.