Places of opposition and places of repression
Everydaylife in the former GDR was flanked by repressive structures of government power on the one hand and opposition movements on the other, which bravely raised their objections and thus caused the Peaceful Revolution of 1989. In the Berlin districts of Lichtenberg, Mitte, and Pankow, these two so different theme areas can be easily traced, in some places prepared as museums, in others less obviously hidden in today's urban landscape.
Many church buildings as open spaces had a special significance for the social transformation. Unlike apartments or studios, which were meeting places for opposition actors, they are now open to the public. The bicycle tour "Kontraste" stops at some of them.
The route connects nine places of German contemporary history in the former eastern part of Berlin and gives tips for additional sightseeing destinations:
From 1951 to 1990 the 'Berlin I' Prison was located here, the mostly overcrowded central men's prison in East Berlin, where 10,000 men were imprisoned, many of them for political reasons. Their supply situation was poor, while hard work was part of everyday life in prison. Today, a permanent open-air exhibition on the newly used grounds of the former prison is open 24/7.
The history of state punishment and repression on the site, dating back to 1878, is presented in German and English in the Rummelsburg memorial app, which accompanies a 40-minute tour with an audio guide. The app also offers tours in Easy Language and a playful variant for children.
- Städtisches Arbeitshaus Rummelsburg / Gefängnis Rummelsburg, Karl-Wilker-Straße, 10317 Berlin
- Bahnhof Rummelsburg (S3) / ca. 10 minutes walk
- Kosanke Siedlung, (Tram 21) / ca. 2 minutes walk
From 1982 to 1987, peace, environmental and human rights groups of the GDR met in the Erlöserkirche, consecrated in 1892, to form peace workshops. At blues masses, an unconventional combination of church service and blues concert, unadapted young people from all over the country flocked - and numerous Stasi informers, who irritatedly persecuted the religious format with its rebellious festival character and looked for suitable sanctions. The punk scene also found its way into the church with its music and protest. The SED leadership massively, but unsuccessfully, pushed the Protestant church to stop such events. In October 1989, the church heard voices from celebrities calling for democratic change in the GDR, including Christa Wolf, Stefan Heym and Heiner Müller. Today a steel stele commemorates the importance of the Church of the Redeemer for the development of a revolutionary situation in the GDR.
- Erlöserkirche, Nöldnerstraße 43, 10317 Berlin
- S-Bhf. Nöldnerplatz (S5, S7, S75) / ca. 3 minutes walk
- S-Bhf. Rummelsburg (S3) / ca. 5 minutes walk
- S-Bhf. Ostkreuz / ca. 10 minutes walk
- Haltestelle S-Bhf. Rummelsburg (194, 240) / ca. 5 minutes walk
- Haltestelle S-Bhf. Nöldnerplatz (194, 240, 396) / ca. 3 minutes walk
- Haltestelle Karlshorster- / Markstraße (21) / ca. 3 minutes walk
- Haltestelle S-Bhf. Rummelsburg (21) / ca. 5 minutes walk
It is advisable to follow Stadthausstraße, which is diagonally opposite Erlöserkirche, to the end. The Museum Lichtenberg, which is located in the corner building of Türrschmidtstraße, is always worth a visit with its changing exhibitions.
The building complex, on which the headquarters of the Ministry for State Security (MfS) of the GDR used to employ more than 7,000 full-time staff, is now a place of enlightenment. Guided tours of the site, archives and exhibitions, or individual tours, provide a vivid illustration of state repression, opposition activities and the peaceful revolution. In the courtyard, the open-air exhibition "Revolution and the Fall of the Wall", for which there is an audio guide, documents the peaceful revolution. The Robert Havemann Foundation, which supervises the exhibition, is located on the site with the "Archive of the GDR Opposition". The Stasi Museum is located in House 1, where the work of the Stasi is shown in the exhibition "State Security in the SED Dictatorship". The offices of Erich Mielke (head of the Ministry for State Security from 1957 until the end of the GDR) can be visited here. The Stasi archive of documents is presented on the site in the exhibition "Insight into Secrets".
There is also a small café on the area.
- Stasi-Zentrale. Campus für Demokratie., Ruschestraße 103, 10365 Berlin
- S-Bhf Frankfurter Allee (S8, S41, S42, S85) / ca. 10 minutes walk
- S-Bhf Lichtenberg (S75, RB 75) / ca. 16 minutes walk
- U-Bhf Magdalenenstraße (U5) / ca. 7 minutes walk
- S-Bhf Frankfurter Allee (U5) / ca. 10 minutes walk
- Magdalenenstraße (240) / ca. 7 Gehminuten
This is the site of the former central remand prison of the GDR Ministry of State Security (MfS), which used to be surrounded by a military restricted area. Critics of the SED such as the dissident Rudolf Bahro or the civil rights activist Bärbel Bohley were imprisoned here. In the city maps of East Berlin, the site was marked as empty space. The prison was closed in October 1990. In 1992 it was placed under a preservation order and declared a memorial in 1994.
The historical prison complex can be visited with contemporary witnesses and historians during two-hour guided tours. The permanent exhibition, open daily and free of charge, documents the experiences of the prisoners as well as the working and living environment of the prison staff. Changing special exhibitions are devoted to GDR history and topics of political persecution.
- Gedenkstätte Berlin-Hohenschönhausen, Genslerstraße 66, 13055 Berlin
- daily 9am to 6pm
- Freienwalder Straße (M5) / ca. 8 minutes walk
- Genslerstraße (M6, 16) / ca. 11 minutes walk
- S-Bhf. Landsberger Allee (S8, S41, S42, S85) / ca. 45 minutes walk
The Gethsemanekirche, built between 1891 and 1893, became known nationwide in autumn 1989 as an information centre and meeting place for the opposition citizen movement in the GDR. From 2 October 1989, the church opened itself to a permanent vigil for politically persecuted people who organised activists of the democracy movement. The hundreds of burning candles in front of the church entrance became a symbol of peaceful protest. Between devotions and intercessions, the many church visitors discussed the situation in the country. When on 7 October 1989 the state authority also massively directed itself against protesters in the streets of East Berlin, the church became the central place of communication of the opposition, also in contact with international media representatives who reported on resistance actions and repression measures. In front of the churchyard, a steel column provides audio information in several languages about the place of the revolution.
- Gethsemanekirche, Stargarder Straße 77, 10437 Berlin
- Schönhauser Allee (U2, S8, S41, S42, S85)
- Schönhauser Allee (M1)
At the corner of Kastanienallee/Oderbergerstraße, at the initiative of the neighbourhood, several courtyard sections were merged, cleared out, greened and opened in 1985 as the "Hirschhof". The huge metal sculpture of a stag, which the sculptors Anatol Erdmann, Stefan Reichmann and Hans Scheib created for the area, shaped the naming of the legendary neighbourhood project, which was set up with the support of the urban district.
With lots of cultural activities on the new green area, the Hirschhof quickly became a hip meeting place for the Prenzlauer Berger artist and intellectual scene. Accordingly, the Stasi intensively focused its attention on the actions of freethinkers and regime critics in the new green area between the dilapidated tenements. Today, at Oderberger Strasse 19, at the entrance to the new Hirschhof square house, a plaque with inscriptions informs about the historical events of which hardly a legacy remains.
- Friedrich-Ludwig-Jahn-Sportpark (M10, M2, 12) / 5 minutes walk
- Schwedter Straße (M1, 12, 50) / 5 minutes walk
- Eberswalder Straße (U2) / ca. 7 minutes walk
Teutoburger Platz at the corner of Templin and Fehrbelliner Straße is marked as a place of revolution with a steel column providing audio information in several languages, because a lively subcultural scene lived in the vicinity of the square before the fall of the Berlin Wall, which was important for the peaceful revolution. For example, Fehrbelliner Straße 7 was home to opposition members who founded the Environmental Library in the Zion Community in 1986. Bärbel Bohley's studio at 91 Fehrbelliner Strasse was the meeting place for one of the most important opposition groups, the Initiative for Peace and Human Rights, from 1986. On November 9, 1989, the legalization of the New Forum, the largest civic movement in the GDR, was announced in the courtyard of the building.
If you want to learn more about living in Prenzlauer Berg around the fall of the Berlin Wall, you should definitely make a detour to the Pankow Museum, which is 5 minutes away by bike. The permanent exhibition "Gegenentwürfe. Prenzlauer Berg before, during and after the fall of the Berlin Wall" documents the transformation of the district with free admission.
- Museum Pankow, Prenzlauer Allee 227/228, 10405 Berlin
1st Floor, Room 106-107
- Tuesday to Sunday, 10am untill 6pm
- closed on public holidays
The church, inaugurated in 1873 and whose priest was Dietrich Bonhoeffer in 1931 and 1932, became the location of the environmental library in 1986. Oppositional events such as regime-critical readings, exhibitions and concerts took place in the parish rooms and in the church. The opposition publication "Umweltblätter" was produced in the cellars of the vicarage with a small printing plant.
After the GDR state power stormed the opposition meeting point as early as autumn 1987, vigils took place in the church, which were successfully accompanied by GDR-wide and international protests, so that detainees were released again and the opposition network was ultimately strengthened. Info-Stele also provides audio information on the site of the revolution at the Zionskirche.
- Zionskirche, Zionskirchplatz, 10119 Berlin
- Rosenthaler Platz (U8) / ca. 7 minutes walk
- Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz (U2) / ca. 14 minutes walk
- Zionskirchplatz (12, 50, M1) / ca. 6 minutes walk
- Brunnenstraße/Invalidenstraße (12, 50, M1, M8) / ca. 2 minutes walk
Regime critics and non-compliant young people also found space for their activities in the Elisabeth Church. Especially the church from below (KvU) had its meeting place here. The Church von Unten was formed as a self-governing church congregation in the context of the 1987 Church Congress in East Berlin.
In May 1989, its actors played a decisive role in uncovering the electoral falsification and took part in the protests of the Peaceful Revolution. The foundation of the citizen movement United Left, which strived for a democratic, liberal and socialist GDR, was prepared here. As the site of the revolution, the church site is equipped with a multilingual audio-guide station.
- Elisabethkirche, Invalidenstraße 4A, 10115 Berlin
- Rosenthaler Platz (U8) / ca. 6 minutes walk
- Nordbahnhof (S1, S2, S25; S26) / ca. 7 minutes walk
- Nordbahnhof (12, 50, M1, M8, M10) / ca. 7 minutes walk
- Rosenthaler Platz (50, M1, M8) / ca. 6 minutes walk
The website www.aufbruch-herbst89.de (in German language only) is part of a first-class contemporary witness project that the Pankow artist Karla Sachse has developed for the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. In 150 interviews, she interviewed actors of the Peaceful Revolution and makes her current reviews and assessments available online.