Posts Tagged ‘Ministry for State Security’

Hagen Koch marked off the Berlin Wall

Monday, October 30th, 2017

 

Hagen Koch, just 21 years old at the time, was a little known, yet important, player in the construction of the Berlin Wall. It was Koch who researched the exact location of the boundary between East and West Berlin. And it was Koch who painted the white line that would mark off the border. Hagen Koch walked 30 miles in a single day in August of 1961 of, hunched over to paint that line. Once finished, construction of the Berlin Wall began.

 

Hagen Koch researched the exact location of the boundary between East and West Berlin and then, in August of 1961, painted the white line that demarcated that border. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2015. www.walled-in-berlin.com

Hagen Koch researched the exact location of the boundary between East and West Berlin and then, in August of 1961, painted the white line that demarcated that border. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2015. www.walled-in-berlin.com

 

How did the Berlin Wall come about?

Since earliest times, man built walls to keep others out. However, the Berlin Wall was a rare example of a wall built to keep people in. It was constructed to keep East Germans from defecting to the West because between 1949 (the creation of East Germany) and 1961 (the construction of the Berlin Wall) over two million East Germans had done just that. They had left East Germany and fled to the West. For years, East German leader Walter Ulbricht http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/image-challenged-walter-ulbricht/ pleaded with the Soviets to let him close the border to put an end to the workforce drain. By August 1961, the Soviets agreed, and Ulbricht proceeded with his plan.

Berliners awoke on 13 August 1961, a beautiful Sunday morning, to find Operation Rose (Ulbricht’s code name for the construction of the Berlin Wall) in full swing. By the wee hours of the morning, most of the border between East and West Berlin was already primitively closed. Barbed wire and concrete posts severed streets. The underground and elevated trains terminated at the border. Armed soldiers stood guard. Within a few days, a block-and-mortar wall replaced the barbed wire fence. The Berlin Wall stood for 28 years. It split the city and separated families and friends. It became a symbol of the Cold War.

Hagen Koch’s Rise to Fame

Having graduated a technical draftsman, Hagen Koch joined the Ministerium fuer Staatssicherheit (Ministry for State Security) – better known as Stasi – as a cartographer. http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/the-stasi-and-how-it-worked/ Upon joining the Stasi in 1960, Koch made a speech, which quickly propelled him up the Stasi ladder. In his speech, Hagen Koch denounced “American imperialism” and emphasized his pride in East German socialism. Upon hearing Koch talk, Erich Mielke, head of the Stasi, remarked, “He’s the man of our future.” http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/erich-mielke-master-of-fear/ Soon thereafter, Hagen Koch was promoted to Head of Cartography.

Hagen Koch’s transformation

One hundred percent committed to East German-style socialism at the beginning of his career, Hagen Koch’s conviction began to fade when the Stasi insisted that he divorce his wife on account of her ties to the West. His commitment to East German ideology took a further plunge when Hagen’s father lost his job for protesting the expulsion of his Dutch father, Hagen’s grandfather.

After having fulfilled his service requirement, Koch left the Stasi in 1985. Four years later, the Berlin Wall fell. http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/the-day-the-berlin-wall-fell/ Thereafter, Hagen Koch began to talk openly about his part in creating the hated barrier. He had had a change of heart in the preceding years relative to East Germany’s political system. In 1990, Koch became Cultural Heritage Officer at East Germany’s Institute for the Preservation of Historical Monuments and was appointed Minister of Culture, responsible for the demolition of the Wall. After German reunification the same year, http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/germanys-unite-through-treuhandanstalt/ Hagen Koch began creating an extensive Wall Archive at his home and welcomed visitors to view his collection. Visiting dignitaries included the Queen of Sweden and the artist Christo. Over time, Koch turned self-styled chronicler of the Wall and became a sought-after speaker. As part of a Historical Witness Project, the Wende Museum in Los Angeles, California, invited Hagen Koch to tell his story. Click http://www.wendemuseum.org/participate/historical-witness-hagen-koch to watch the interview.

 

For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom, click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of http://www.walled-in-berlin.com. Walled-In is my story of growing up in Berlin during the Cold War.

 

 

 

Stasi Museum in former Stasi HQ

Monday, October 23rd, 2017

 

The Stasi Museum in Berlin, Germany, is located in House 1 of the vast headquarter complex of the former East German Ministerium fuer STAatsSIcherheit (Ministry for State Security), generally known as the “STASI.” Parts of the award-winning movie, The Lives of Others, were filmed here. The 1.1 million square-foot complex consists of 33 buildings, which housed offices, a travel agency, a hair salon, shops, a supermarket a movie theater and several cafeterias during Stasi days.

 

Model of Stasi Headquarters on exhibit the Stasi Museum. House 1 is located near the center of the photo. A covered canopy shelters the entrance from view. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017. www.walled-in-berlin.com

Model of Stasi Headquarters on exhibit at the Stasi Museum. House 1 is located near the center of the photo. A covered canopy shelters the entrance from view. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017. www.walled-in-berlin.com

 

History of House 1 inside the Stasi headquarters

The Stasi headquarter complex was erected in 1960-1961. House 1 became the heart of the Stasi and housed the offices of Erich Mielke, Minister for State Security from 1957 to 1989. http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/erich-mielke-master-of-fear/ At the height of Mielke’s power in the early 1980s, the Stasi employed nearly 100,000 secret agents and many more informers. There was nearly one informer for every 6.5 citizens.

The Stasi Museum – a Memorial Site

On 15 January 1990, shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall, demonstrators occupied the Stasi headquarters. After extensive renovations, House 1 reopened in 2012. The first and third floors of the building host a series of exhibitions about survivors of the East German regime, methods of surveillance and propaganda. The second floor contains the former offices of Erich Mielke, which are preserved in their original condition. Exhibitions document the genesis, evolution and activities of the Stasi. They also chronicle the storming and occupation of House 1 and the subsequent establishment of the research center and memorial site.

 

Erich Mielke's desk on the second floor of the Stasi Museum. Mielke used the different telephones to speak directly with important people and representatives of institutions in the GDR and the Soviet Union. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017, www.walled-in-berlin.com

Erich Mielke’s desk on the second floor of the Stasi Museum. Mielke used the different telephones to speak directly with important people and representatives of institutions in the GDR and the Soviet Union. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017, www.walled-in-berlin.com

 

About the Stasi Museum’s Exhibitions

In House 1 of the former Stasi headquarters, visitors will discover how the Stasi operated. Everyday items are on display that its agents used to conduct their undercover work. The exhibitions explain how informants were recruited, how citizens were controlled, and how the far-reaching surveillance impacted their lives. http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/the-stasi-and-how-it-worked/ Numerous, often unique, items such as special cameras, listening devices, burglar’s tools and devices for the clandestine opening of letters are on display.

 

This one tops is all: Battery-operated listening device built into a living room door. This family did not learn until after the fall of the Berlin Wall that the Stasi had watched them for 17 years. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017. www.walled-in-berlin.com

This one tops it all: Battery-operated listening device built into a living room door. This family did not learn until after the fall of the Berlin Wall that the Stasi had watched them for 17 years. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017. www.walled-in-berlin.com

 

Even patches of fabric, used by the Stasi to catch opponents of the regime, are shown in their glass jars. As you may recall from The Lives of Others,  Stasi dogs tracked down anti-communists after sniffing cloths impregnated with the suspect’s sweat. According to the Stasi manual, “The subject must remain sitting for at least 10 minutes if a reliable sample is to be obtained.” http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/why-berlin-cannot-forget-the-stasi-2002600.html The only things removed from the Stasi Museum are the Stasi files. They are still being catalogued. http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/reassembling-shredded-stasi-files/

The Stasi Museum offers Guided Tours

Guided tours in English are available on Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays at 3 pm. There is no additional charge for the tours aside from the purchased ticket, and no booking is required. Since Berlin’s borough of Lichtenberg, where the Stasi Museum is located, would like to see the buildings repurposed and the current government is talking modernization of the building, you may want to consider visiting the Stasi Museum sooner rather than later.

 

For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom, click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of http://www.walled-in-berlin.com Walled-In is my story of growing up in Berlin during the Cold War.

 

 

Erich Mielke – Master of Fear

Monday, May 1st, 2017

 

Erich Mielke headed the feared East German Ministry for State Security (Ministerium fuer Staatsicherheit – MfS) for over 30 years. The agency became known as the STASI. http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/the-stasi-and-how-it-worked/ From 1957 until shortly before the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, the Stasi was enormously powerful, making Erich Mielke the most influential man in East Germany, right behind Communist Party leader, Erich Honecker. http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/erich-honecker-berlin-wall-architect/ One hundred thousand full-time agents and up to two million unofficial “citizen helpers” were under Mielke’s control. His agency stifled opposition by using assassination, kidnapping, execution, denunciation and intimidation to keep the 16.5 million East Germans in fear. In a 1993 interview, Holocaust survivor and Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal said that the Stasi was “much, much worse than the Gestapo.”

Erich Mielke, head of the Stasi from 1957 to 1989. Photo courtesy of Bundesarchiv.

Erich Mielke, head of the Stasi from 1957 to 1989. Photo courtesy of Bundesarchiv.

Erich Mielke’s Pre-Stasi Days

Erich Mielke’s parents were founding members of the Communist Party of Germany (Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands – KPD, making Erich a second-generation communist. Born into poverty in 1907 in Berlin, he joined the communist youth movement at age 15 and the KPD at age 20. During the late 1920s and early 1930s, when the Communist party and the Nazi party were frequently involved in violent armed conflicts, Mielke was member of the communist paramilitary forces.

Together with another member of the paramilitary forces, Erich Mielke shot two Berlin police captains in 1931. Their names were Paul Anlauf and Franz Lenck. Mielke escaped prosecution by fleeing to the Soviet Union. He was not tried for the murders until 1993 when incriminating papers were found in his home safe during a search. While in exile in the Soviet Union, Erich Mielke attended the Communist International’s Military-Political School and the Lenin School in Moscow.

From 1936 to 1939, Mielke served as an operative in Spain’s political police. Upon the defeat of the Spanish Republic, he fled to France, was imprisoned, but managed to escape to Belgium. His activities during World War II remain largely unknown. In 1945, at he end of the war, a law enforcement agency closely associated with the Soviet Secret Police ordered him to return to Occupied Germany. His assignment was to build up a security force in the Soviet occupation zone, which involved tracking down Nazis, anti-communists and hundreds of members of the Social Democratic Party. The number of arrests exceeded the number of available spaces in existing prisons so that eleven concentration camps were re-opened or newly established.

Erich Mielke’s Stasi Days

With the establishment of the Ministry for State Security in 1950, Mielke was appointed deputy director of the institution. In November 1957, he became the head of State Security. At that time, the Stasi had 14,000 full-time employees. By 1989 that number had increased to near 100,000. Along the way, Mielke helped Erich Honecker to topple Walter Ulbricht http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/image-challenged-walter-ulbricht/ as the party leader.

Erich Mielke’s Final Stasi Days

On 8 October 1989, Erich Mielke and Erich Honecker ordered the Stasi to implement “Plan X,” a plan to arrest and indefinitely detain 85,939 East Germans during a state of emergency. On 13 November 1989, a few days after the opening of the wall, Erich Mielke gave a speech at the Palace of the Republic (Palast der Republik) http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/the-palast-der-republik-lives-on/ and in which he said, “I love all – all people.” On 3 December 1989, Erich Mielke was expelled from the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (Sozialistische Einheitsparty Deutschlands – SED). Four days later he was arrested and imprisoned on remand in Hohenschoenhausen. http://www.walled-in-berlin/j-elke-ertle/berlin/hohenschoenhausen-prison-part1/ Soon thereafter he was released due to medical reason and arrested again three months later for “crimes against humanity” and “perversion of justice.” He was moved to several prisons in succession. In 1993, the by then 85-year-old Erich Mielke was sentenced to six years in prison for the murders of Captains Anlauf and Lenck in 1931. At the end of 1995, Mielke was released due to ill health. He died at the age of 93.

 

For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom, click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of http://www.walled-in-berlin.com Walled-In is my story of growing up in Berlin during the Cold War.

The Stasi and how it worked

Monday, February 29th, 2016

The STASI was the secret police agency of the former German Democratic Republic (East Germany). The name stands for Ministerium fuer STAatsSIcherheit (Ministry for State Security). In keeping with their motto “Schild und Schwert der Partei” (Shield and Sword of the Party) the Stasi became one of the most repressive and feared institutions that ever existed.

How the Stasi got its start

The Stasi grew out of the internal security and police agency that was launched by the Soviets in their occupation zone of Germany in the aftermath of World War II. On 8 February 1950, four months after the East German state was established, the state’s new legislature established the Ministry for State Security. The agency’s initial responsibility was limited to domestic political surveillance and foreign espionage. Soon its power grew exponentially.

What made the Stasi so powerful?

Under Erich Mielke http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/erich-mielke-master-of-fear/, director of the agency from 1957 to 1989, the Stasi gained access to every aspect of the daily lives of East German citizens: Aside from foreign espionage, it suppressed internal political opposition; it imprisoned hundreds of thousands of citizens; it infiltrated every major East German institution; it even went so far as to analyze the garbage for suspect western food and/or materials. In addition, the Stasi maintained detailed files on family and personal relationships.

It accomplished these tasks with approximately 100,000 full-time Stasi officers, 15,000 soldiers, army officers and police in addition to a vast network of full-time and part-time citizen informants and unofficial collaborators. The number of these citizen-helpers has been estimated at somewhere between 500,000 and 2,000,000. These unpaid collaborators were often recruited from people whose jobs entailed frequent contact with the public. They included doctors, nurses, clergy, lawyers, teachers, trolley conductors, waiters, janitors and actors. In return for small incentives designed to make them feel important, they were asked to spy on and denounced colleagues, friends, neighbors and family members. By 1989 when the Berlin Wall fell the Stasi employed one full-time agent for every 166 East Germans. Adding full-time and part-time informers and collaborators, the Stasi relied on one informer per 6.5 people. https://www.nytimes.com/books/first/k/koehler-stasi.html The agency maintained files on more than one-third of the East German population.

By the 1970s, the Stasi decreased its number of overt persecutions, such as arrests and torture, and increasingly focused on the use of psychological tactics, called Zersetzung (undermining). Favored methods included gaslighting, which is a form of mental manipulation with the intent to make the victims doubt their sanity. Gaslighting tactics included breaking into homes and moving furniture, changing the time on the clock, removing pictures from walls or simply replacing one variety of tea with another.

End of the Stasi

Soon after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the East German legislature tried to rebrand the Stasi as the Amt fuer Nationale Sicherheit (Office for National Security). But because of a public outcry this agency was never established. Instead, the Stasi was formally disbanded in February 1990. But before the agency was dissolved, Stasi officials destroyed a vast amount of the organization’s files. East German citizens occupied the Stasi’s main headquarters in Berlin on 15 January 1990, stopped the destruction and saved the remaining files.

Attempted destruction of files by the Stasi and bags of files recovered - photos on exhibit in "Haus in der Runden Ecke", Leipzig.

Attempted destruction of files by the Stasi and bags of files recovered – photos on exhibit in “Haus in der Runden Ecke”, Leipzig.

Since 2015, East German Stasi files are open to the public online for the first time. Please visit http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/stasi-files-online-now/

 

For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom, click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of http://www.walled-in-berlin.com