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Today, Berlin is an upbeat city where people live, work, shop and celebrate in freedom. However this has not always been the case. Only a quarter century ago, East-Germans were shot dead if they tried to flee to the free west, and only half a century ago the entire city was ablaze. Many of the scars have gradually disappeared, but there are still many places in the city that remind us of Berlin’s turbulent history.
Two dramatic events in world history changed Berlin forever: the Second World War and the Cold War. Hitler had great plans for his ‘Welthauptstadt Germania’, with a new Chancellery (which was torn down after the war), a new airport (Tempelhof, which has now closed) and wide boulevards for which entire neighbourhoods were torn down. And the horror did not end with the war, especially for the residents of East-Berlin. The following 3 moving museums are dedicated to the darkest pages of Berlin’s history.
During Nazi rule, the Prinz-Albrecht-Straße was probably the most haunting street in the world; it was home to the headquarters of the Sicherheitsdienst, the Gestapo and the SS. In 1945 these buildings were bombed to smithereens. The monument ‘Topographie des Terrors’ now stands near the remaining section of the Berlin Wall, at the former location of the torture chamber. What started as a simple open air display about the atrocities of the Nazi regime has grown into a modern exhibition building and documentation centre.
The colossal headquarters of the all-powerful and much feared secret service of the GDR, the Staatssicherheitsdienst, now houses a museum. There are exhibitions which tell of the many covert Stasi operations, with display cases full of espionage tools such as tiny cameras that fit into the door of a Trabant car. Perhaps even more intriguing are the various rooms and offices that have been preserved in their original state. Visit the office and private quarters of the head of the Stasi secret police, Erich Mielke, as well as the offices of his spies, meeting rooms and the staff cafeteria.
This Wall museum was opened only a year after construction of the Berlin Wall began in 1961. Originally the museum was housed in an apartment on Bernauer Straße, where a section of the Wall still stands, but shortly afterwards the museum was moved to its current location near Checkpoint Charlie – the most famous and notorious border crossing station between East and West Berlin. Where people once gathered to plan their escape, you can now learn about the history of the Wall. The numerous creative ways in which some 5,000 East Germans managed to escape attest to the resourcefulness of people. It offers a welcome relief from all the horrors of war.