German and Soviet Military Traces in Jüterbog

The area around Jüterbog, about 1 hour and 15 minutes south of Berlin by car, has enjoyed a long military tradition, dating from the years of the Kaiser and WWI, through the Third Reich and all the more than four decades of the Cold War, until the departure of the Soviet Army in the early 1990s.

Almost for the entire duration of the 20th century, the area has been scattered with barracks, immense training grounds, shooting ranges, officer’s houses, army administration buildings, technical depots, airports and military academies.

The town of Jüterbog is actually much older than the 20th century, but the Soviets, who grew to a much greater population than the Germans in town after 1945, did not pay much attention to this nice medieval town. Following their withdrawal and the end of all military operations around, the town center received substantial money for restoration from the Government of reunified Germany, and the result is really remarkable – Jüterbog is today possibly one of the most lively and nice-looking centers in the region, with medieval towers, gates and churches, hotels, restaurants and bright-painted houses all around.

However, one hundred years of military activities in this province could not be wiped out at once, and despite nature is now invading the old army premises after operations ceased, to a careful eye the heritage of the German and Soviet Armies stationed there can be spotted quite easily, immediately out the lovely historical town.

Perhaps the most prominent witnesses of the past activities are the old flight academy, installed in the Third Reich years and later employed also by the Soviets, who got control of the area after they arrived in 1945, and kept it even after the foundation of the GDR and the corresponding Armed Forces (i.e. the Nationale Volksarmee, or NVA). The flight academy is today a listed building, despite in a state of partial disrepair. Another example is the big airbase of Jüterbog/Altes Lager, which went on operating as an NVA and Soviet airbase until the very end of the Cold War, and is now being used as a sport airfield, a kart circuit track, an event venue and a solar power plant.

Both these two items are covered in another chapter.

In the following report, more locations in and around Jüterbog are pinpointed, photographed during two visits, partly guided by the knowledgeable Dr. Reiner Helling, in the Summer seasons of 2021 and 2022.

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Sights

The material in this post covers ‘Shelter Albrecht’, a one-of-a-kind private collection of items from WWII and especially from Soviet times, more views of the former airfield of Altes Lager, with a Granit bunker still in very good conditions, an abandoned military hospital with evident traces of Soviet operations, a Soviet cemetery, and a few more items, silent and overlooked witnesses of a recently bygone era.

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Shelter Albrecht

The airbase of Jüterbog/Altes Lager was selected by the Soviets for further development with the arrival of jets in the late 1940s-early 1950s, and grew to be a prominent attack aircraft and helicopter base in the territory of the GDR. Now reduced in size to the point that some taxiways have been turned into public roads, some of the incredibly many aircraft shelters originally in place in the peripheral parts of the base – mostly AU-16 – have been wiped out. However, a set of two to the east of the runway have been spared this fate, and have been redeemed by a private business. One has been turned into a venue for events, whereas the other has been employed to showcase a great collection of WWII and Cold War memorabilia. Actually, the two hangars are located inside a somewhat larger perimeter, with an original technical building and room for even more exhibits.

A first impressive sight is the original Soviet scheme of the base. Similar signs were typically put close to the gate of any Soviet base (as seen for instance here in Ribnitz/Damgarten), and with their Russian writings today they witness the Soviet tenancy of the base.

On the apron, an original military version of the ubiquitous Trabant, in army green color, is on display together with a field kitchen and a gigantic roadwork machine. The latter is Russian made, with tank tracks, and powered by a 12-cylinder Diesel engine.

A Mil Mi-2 helicopter, which for some hard-to-imagine reason had ended up on the Adriatic coast of Italy in a private collection, where it sat almost derelict, has been brought back to the other side of the Iron Curtain, and restored in a camo coat and placed in a prominent position. Not far, a wing from an old Lavochin La-5 Soviet aircraft can be found.

Still on the open air exhibition are a decorated panel once gracing a Soviet hospital – possibly the one described later (here) – and another celebrating the Warsaw Pact. But the exhibits are really countless, and include propaganda posters, and canisters for ordnance.

To the side of the main exhibition hangar, in the area of an interred fuel tank once serving the base, is an incredible set of Soviet panels, originally from this or other Soviet bases around. These panels are partly decoration/celebration signs, with portraits of Soviet soldiers and emblems.

Other are technically-themed, with explanations concerning driving habits and rules, hand-to-hand combat, and more. Similar items, including fake targets for assault training, can be found for instance in Forst Zinna, an abandoned Soviet base not far from Jüterbog (covered here).

Also part of the collection is a rare mural, apparently retracing the push to the west of a Soviet division (?) during the Great Patriotic War.

Inside, the aircraft shelter is stuffed with interesting memorabilia. From WWII, exhibits include remains of downed aircraft, including damaged engines, propellers and canopies. Among them are remains of an Avro Lancaster, a Focke-Wulf 190, a Junkers Ju-87 and the canopy of a pretty rare training (two-seats) version of the Messerschmitt Bf-109.

Four large scale models cover as many interesting sights around. The first is the former flight academy of the Third Reich (mentioned above and covered here), north of the Altes Lager airbase premises. Also on display are books and furniture originally from the library of the academy.

A second model portrays the entire area between the academy (north) and the airfield (south), including the latter. This area, now largely shrouded in the trees and partially in private hands, used to host technical installations and even factories connected with warfare business – all linked by an extensive network of roads and railways.

Another model is that of two airship hangars from the years of German tenancy. These had to be really huge, but are today completely gone. Among the factories in place in the area, were those for supplying gas for the airships.

Finally, a fourth scale model represents the older airfield of Jüterbog/Damm. The latter is not far from Altes Lager, and is today in private hands for some cattle breeding business. It features very peculiar concrete hangars, an interesting specimen of Third Reich construction engineering. Some aerial pictures can be found here. That airfield was not selected for further development by the Soviets, due to the limited potential for runway lengthening, in turn due to the proximity with Jüterbog town.

Soviet-related items on display range from painted tables, originally gracing the walls of the base, to technical signs in Russian, to a full array of personal and military items, all belonging to the Soviet staff stationed in Jüterbog. These include an interesting overall map of the Soviet airfields on GDR territory, with basic technical data.

Among the highlights, an official printed portrait of Stalin, and one of Brezhnev in a military uniform, parachutes and parts from attack aircraft, many direction signs and instructional panels for low-ranking military staff. Also very interesting is a radar scope with the three air corridors to West-Berlin and the position of Altes Lager printed on it!

Of special interest for aircraft enthusiasts are many pictures from the days of operation of the airbase, with many exotic Soviet aircraft seen landing, departing or taxiing around.

Other panels tells about the presence of rocket forces in the area of Jüterbog – in particular the 27th R.Br. of the NVA. They operated the SCUD-B system.

Back outside, the exhibition is completed by an original monument from Altes Lager, often employed as a background for official ceremonies, and more personal memorabilia of the owner of the museum, formerly serving within a tank division of the NVA.

Reconstructed shops and schools are on display, with much original furniture and everyday items of Soviet make.

Getting there and Visiting

The place is really worth a visit for everybody interested in memorabilia items from Soviet times, or for those looking for tangible traces of the military past of Jüterbog. The location is easy to reach by car, with a convenient internal parking. The address is Niedergörsdorfer Allee 4, 14913 Niedergörsdorf, Germany.

An updated official website with opening times is apparently not available. However, Mr. Helmut Stark, the owner of the place, may be contacted beforehand (in German only) to inquire about opening times and plan a visit – try Googling his name and that of the site for updated contacts. The place is regularly open at least in the weekends in the warm season. A visit to this site will be likely with Mr. Stark following you and giving explanations in German. This will take about 45 minutes.

Granit Bunker and Hangars in Jüterbog/Altes Lager

Some views of the Altes Lager airbase are provided in this chapter, and some aerial views can be seen here. The huge, flat-top hangars date from the Third Reich era, and similarly the control tower with its annexes. Some of the hangars were reportedly dismounted by the Soviets and taken to the Soviet Union soon after the end of WWII.

Besides all the aircraft shelters scattered all around the runway, a relevant and pretty secluded Soviet addition north of the airfield is a Soviet Granit-type bunker. This type of bunker was among the lightest in Soviet inventory, and could serve multiple purposes, e.g. storing movable radar trucks, tanks, other machinery, or weapons. Actually, its presence on an airfield may suggest the purpose of storing special air-dropped weapons, maybe tactical nuclear, high-explosive or chemical ordnance.

Bunkers of Granit-type are possibly the most frequent special constructions in former Soviet bases (see for instance here or here), but the one in Jüterbog is interesting since it is very well conserved, and its massive metal doors are still perfectly in place, providing a nice impression of how this technical item should have looked like in the days of operation.

Getting there and Visiting

The airport of Altes Lager is today pretty busy, with several companies having taken over much of its original premises now open for business. Multiple access points are available, and chances of looking inside the original installations are many. Given the still exceptional state of conservation of the Granit bunker, in order to protect this rare historical artifact from the impressive hordes of catatonic idiot spoilers and writers out there, no indication is provided on its exact location.

Military Hospital

Among the buildings now shrouded by the overgrown vegetation in the area between Jüterbog/Altes Lager airfield and the town of Jüterbog is a sizable military hospital. Totally invisible from the road, the hospital is basically made of a single, building featuring three long interconnected rows.

It is made of the typical German dark-red brick, a design which is way too elegant for Soviet occupants. The arrangement of the facade and the nice railings suggest a construction date from the years of the Kaiser and the German Empire, maybe early 20th century.

However, the years of Soviet use are witnessed by a big mural, portraying Lenin with some Soviet soldiers in the background, with a black and yellow striped ribbon and a red star, emblems of the Red Army.

To the more careful eye, a few graffiti in Russian can be found here and there, with a date as usual.

The aura is very silent and mysterious, and as such, this location is a mecca for urban explorers. Actually, the only noise came from a fast spinning ventilation fan in a window frame! This was pushed by an air stream however, not likely by a motor…

Some more buildings complete this complex, and original GDR-style lamps can still be seen around – the tall trees now surrounding the building were likely not in place when the hospital was closed, presumably in the early 1990s.

Getting there and Moving around

Not difficult to find in the trees between Jüterbog and the airfield of Altes Lager, there is no clear interdiction sign to access this complex from behind, yet vibration sensors planted in the ground can be spotted around, and some security cars can be seen sometimes parked on the main road. A walk around the hospital is not especially dangerous nor difficult, and may take about 25 minutes taking all the pictures. The building is architecturally nice and possibly listed. Yet it is in partial disrepair and largely sealed, and getting in is obviously not advisable.

Soviet Cemetery

The only relic of the years of Soviet occupation which is immediately visible to the general public in Jüterbog is the Soviet military cemetery. This is located to the back of the Liebfrauenkirche, in the historical center of Jüterbog.

Actually, a monumental part, with railings embellished with hammer and sickle emblems and a monument with writings in German and Russian to the back, is detached from the church yard.

However, possibly in later times, the limited space available in the lot originally planned for the monument meant some graves were dug right in the church graveyard, side by side – but not mixed – with German graves.

Getting there and Visiting

The exact address is Am Dammtor, 14913 Jüterbog, Germany. The place is well-kept, being part of the historical city center of Jüterbog. Parking opportunities all around on the street. A visit may take 10 minutes.

Railway Yard, School and Command Building

The town of Jüterbog acted as a ‘local capital’ for the many Soviet troops and their families scattered in the corresponding district. The hospital (see above) was not the only large installation in place. A district school was also installed, which served not only the very town of Jüterbog – with a Russian-speaking population of more than 70.000, greater than the German nationals – but also the residing Soviet population of smaller technical installations in the area. A notable example is the impressive nuclear depot in Stolzenhain (see here), where a dedicated staff and their families occupied four residential blocks now gone. Their children reportedly attended school in Jüterbog.

The school is today largely abandoned, and a quick tour around reveals typical Soviet decorations in the large sporting hall.

The school building is geographically close to the railway station. The latter had a passenger terminal dedicated to the Soviet population, which was completely segregated from the German one.

Furthermore, the railway in Jüterbog had also a primary logistic function, connected with the military activities going on in the area. Besides transporting tanks, vehicles and other material, also nuclear warheads arrived by rail from Belarus or Ukraine (both in the USSR at the time), for storage in the Stolzenhain Monolith-type bunkers (see here). A special railway track with a dead end in the trees featured a special interchange platform, allowing to move the sensitive warheads in their controlled canisters to trucks, and by road to Stolzenhain – usually at night. Since warheads were also sent back for maintenance or overhaul, the transport operated also in the opposite direction.

Very close to the railway station and the school is also a large grassy area, surrounded by a nice, old-style metal fence. This area is that of an older training ground, dating to the years of the Kaiser. A command building, now in disrepair, betrays the same origin, featuring decorations in a typical old-German style.

Getting there and Moving around

The school can be found in Jüterbog here. Cross the street from the school, the old training grounds and command building are immediately spotted. Walking north past the command building, you get access to a pedestrian bridge over the railway tracks, with a nice view of the station. An exploration of the railway tracks has to be considered extremely dangerous, since the railway line there is today a high-speed one, with bullet-fast trains appearing in just seconds. A walk around this spot in Jüterbog may take 15 minutes. Parking opportunities ahead of the command building.

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STASI Prisons and Headquarters in Berlin and the GDR

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Among the most unequivocal signs of the oppressive communist dictatorship in the former German Democratic Republic – ‘GDR’ or ‘DDR’ in German – are probably the many buildings once operated by the STASI, the German cousin of the well-known Soviet KGB.

Being a state security service by its very name – STASI stands for ‘STAat SIcherheit’, or state security -, this organization was responsible for the capillary control over the behavior of the citizens of the GDR, to the aim of counteracting any threat to the communist rule. It was mainly composed of a para-military staff and of an extensive network of informers – so extensive that actually about 1 out of 180 in Eastern Germany worked for the STASI, while by comparison in the USSR 1 out of 595 worked for the KGB. The main goal of this agency was keeping the statu quo, hence any suspect behavior of East-German citizens, deemed subversive with respect to the communist rule, was reported, investigated and usually suppressed.

People found guilty of acts against the State – i.e. against the communist government – were often sentenced to years of imprisonment. This meant that prisons and camps flourished in the GDR, as people got arrested and at least kept for interrogation just for having received western newspapers or having colored their rooms with posters of American pop singers. How the STASI came to know of similar ‘violations’ was by means of informers, who triggered secret investigations carried out with ‘James Bond gear’, like cameras and microphones hidden in coat buttons and bags. Microphones and cameras were also usually installed in the walls, chandeliers and doors of the houses of suspected subjects.

This huge institution was among the most feared and hated – as well as expensive to run – in the GDR, and soon after the reopening of the border and the demolition of the wall in Berlin in 1989 many of its buildings were occupied by the population. To deny responsibility in the unfair trial, imprisonment and confinement of many citizens, the staff of the STASI began ‘burning’ its archives immediately, but they were so extensive that this rapidly turned out to be impossible. The STASI was disbanded among the first governmental agencies of the GDR in the early months of 1990, even before the two halves of Germany were merged. Finally the archives were made publicly available during the process of the German reunification. Many people came to know they had been carefully observed and spied in every movement during their everyday life.

Today, some of the most prominent buildings once operated by the STASI are open to the public and represent an interesting and worrying memento of this chapter of the history of Germany. The following photographs are from some such sites I visited over the years from 2013 to 2023.

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STASI Headquarters, Berlin-Lichtenberg

The headquarters of the STASI occupied an extensive citadel composed of many big, multi-storey buildings. Like the KGB, the tasks of the STASI weren’t limited to internal state security, but also to border protection – a very serious business in Eastern Germany, as you can see from another page of this site dedicated to the German inner border – and espionage activities abroad. The various directorates occupied their respective buildings in the citadel. The place is in a semi-peripheral district of former East Berlin named Lichtenberg.

The main building hosts a museum of central relevance on the topic, where you can find much data about the history and the impressive size of this agency, as well as spy gear – for instance mimetic microphones for listening to conversations in private houses. The stories of some of the victims of the communist surveillance machine are also reported. Envelope-opening devices and rags for preserving the odor of those arrested for watchdogs are displayed in showcases.

Probably the highlight of the museum is the apartment and office of Erich Mielke, the director of the STASI from 1957 – well before the wall was erected in Berlin – up to the dissolution of the GDR. Many original directional offices have been preserved and nowadays can be visited.

The place is very evocative and retains much of the disturbing ‘GDR atmosphere’, typical to this and other similar installations. The number of visitors is much lower than close to Checkpoint Charlie and the DDR museum near the Berliner Dom, which are mostly cheesy tourist attractions with comparatively little content. On the contrary, in this museum you can still easily perceive the commitment of the GDR goverment towards its own survival, and the proportion of the oppressive apparatus that was created to this aim – here you clearly understand the STASI was a serious business and changed the life of many people.

After visiting the museum in the central building you may have a look around to the exterior of other buildings in the citadel, today mostly unused, abandoned or partially occupied by private businesses – I guess the place still retains for many people a very negative aura.

Getting there and moving around

Today the citadel can be reached very conveniently by car or with the U5 (between the stops Magdalenen Strasse and Frankfurter Allee). The museum is fairly modern and well presented, but as of 2015 when I visited the ticket could be paid only cash and some explanations were in German only. Inside the museum there is no air conditioning, and it can be very hot and uncomfortable in summer. Parking is not a problem in front of the main entrance or nearby. Website here.

STASI Prison and Restricted Area, Berlin-Hohenschönhausen

The second largest quarters of the STASI are located in yet another outer district of former East Berlin. Old photographs of the area clearly show that this part of the town was interdicted to visitors not connected with the business of the STASI – there used to be fences and gates all around, cutting some of the roads entering the district. Besides some directorates and administrative buildings, this citadel hosted a prison and a labor camp. The former was the main STASI prison in East Berlin, and those who were arrested on account of suspect activities against the State were usually carried here, where they had to withstand interrogations.

This place is really grim and appalling. It looks like the staff of the prison had just left. Everything from what you see to the smell of the cells, offices and interrogation rooms is totally evocative of the original GDR atmosphere.

The STASI became the owner of the place in 1951, after the Soviets, who had managed the occupied territory directly after the German capitulation in 1945, left control of many administrative functions following the creation of the GDR. Under the Soviet rule, in the years of Stalin between 1945 and 1951, a labor camp was set up here and the main building of the prison – a former canteen for Nazi staff – opened for business. More than 20’000 people passed through this installation between 1945 and 1951, many of them on their way to deportation to the USSR.

Under the control of the STASI, the camp was dedicated to non-political prisoners, where the prison, enlarged in more instances as the STASI citadel was growing up, was for the ‘enemies of the State’. More than 20’000 people were imprisoned here between 1951 and 1990.

The place can be visited only on guided tours, offered on a regular basis also in English. Following the tour you can see various imprisonment cells. The worst – and really inhumane – from the times of the Soviets are in the basement of the main building, with no windows and no ventilation, where many people were crushed together waiting for interrogation or deportation.

The majority of the cells date from the era of the GDR, and are more modern. As the main business of the prison was that of extorting confessions, the prisoners were progressively brought in a state of psychological prostration. Preventing any form of communication was part of the treatment, so most cells for newly arrested people were for one person only. To isolate those arrested even more, when moving from the cell to the interrogation rooms and back the wardens observed special red and green lights, telling when there was somebody else in the corridors. This way the inmate would not see anybody except for the warden and the officer who interrogated him during all his or her stay in the prison.

Padded cells with straitjackets like in asylums were used in the process of extorting confessions, when the inmates were treated with drugs causing hallucinations and loss of physical control. These can be seen in the basement of one of the buildings.

Also visible are some cells with open top for spending half a hour per day in open air.

An interesting item presented in the exhibition is a minivan that was used for taking people quietly to the prison. The appearance and markings are those of a normal cargo van for transporting goods, whereas the interior is structured with micro-cells for arrested people.

Interrogation rooms are aligned on a corridor, and are extremely essential, featuring a shabby furniture. Greasy traces on the wallpaper and the smell of old fake leather heated by the sun is make the original atmosphere come alive.

A further wing is where a clinic for inmates was located. The clinic was of good level, with much technical instrumentation to manage several regular or emergency situations. The office of the director of this wing is another example of pure East German design. Most notably, the once omnipotent Erich Mielke appears to have been interned here following his arrest after 1989.

A one-of-a-kind exhibit is a railway truck for inmates. Besides the rather uncomfortable compartment design, with small chairs in a very little space, this transport was made really inhumane through the lack of air conditioning, the windows with bars and even a white glass, which deliberately created disorientation. These trains were artificially put on the lowest priority, so as to make traveling a painstaking experience for inmates.

The memorial is not central, so only those really interested in the history of the GDR, and of East Berlin and the STASI usually come here. Nonetheless, it is managed like a good level international museum, with guided tours, facilities for groups and a serious bookshop. Before taking the tour you are offered a movie telling the history of the prison in brief and showing the testimonies of former inmates. All in all a very interesting – and instructive – experience, surely worth a detour from the more touristic districts.

After visiting the prison, you may have a look around to the other buildings in this citadel. You can find a map in a cheap but interesting booklet they sell in the bookshop (‘The prohibited district’, by Erler and Knabe).

Getting there and moving around

The correct address of the prison building is Genslerstraße 66, Berlin. You can reach it easily by car. The neighborhood is primarily residential and not central, so parking won’t be a problem. If you have not a car, you can arrive conveniently with the tram line M5 from the most central districts. The correct stop is Werneuchener Strasse, and from there it’s about 0.4 miles to the gate of the prison. Website here.

STASI Prison Lindenstrasse, Potsdam

Behind an elegant façade like many others you can find in central Potsdam there is a prison comparable in size to the ‘main’ prison in Berlin Hohenschönhausen described above, and mostly unknown to the general public crowding this small and beautiful historical town.

This building was used as a prison by the Kaiser, the Nazis, the Soviets and finally the GDR. It was renovated and modified in many stages during its long history, and during WWII under the Nazi rule, some sections of the courthouse in central Berlin were transferred here, when the original buildings of the Nazi courthouse got damaged as a result of Allied air raids.

Differently from Hohenschönhausen, the prison in Potsdam is not part of a ‘citadel’, even though the KGB headquarters in the GDR were not far – actually they can be found close to Schloss Cecilienhof, Potsdam, now partly converted to luxury apartments and villas.

Another difference with respect to Hohenschönhausen is the style of the building, which dates back to older times. This is reflected in the plan and in many details of the construction, which at least from the exterior is very elegant.

Inside you can find Soviet cells in the basement – also here the most inhumane – and other cells packed along narrow corridors on several floors. In the inner courtyard there is a central block of open top cells for ‘recreation’, and traces of the original cameras and surveillance systems.

Something you may appreciate is the fact that you can visit the place on your own. Paneling with data or telling the stories of former inmates are totally in German, but you are given a leaflet with explanations and a map of the place at the entrance. Also a few original interrogation rooms have been preserved and can be seen.

The entry price is very reduced, so visiting is of course a must for the committed tourist, and interesting also for the general public. The place is ‘mimetic’ and not much advertised, so you won’t find the usual flocks of visitors, unlike the royal estates in Potsdam… Much recommended.

Getting there and moving around

The precise address is Lindenstrasse 54, Potsdam. It is in central Potsdam, so you may park at your convenience for visiting the district and have a stop there if you like. Similarly, if you are coming with the public transport system just go to the central district and walk to the place. Website here.

STASI Pre-Trial Prison, Rostock

Similarly to the prison in Potsdam, the anonymity of the façade of this building in central Rostock, placed to the back of a section of the courthouse still working today, is really deceiving. A prison capable of hosting more than 100 inmates can be reached today via a small door leading mainly to the offices of the faculty of the local university. Once inside the building you will notice a worrying fence on the side of the stairs going to the first floor, where you can get access to the prison.

Besides the many cells, it is possible to find a very interesting exhibition on the history of the GDR and of the STASI, with much data and stories from the time. Also many artifacts can be found, like spy gear, rags for preserving the odor of inmates for watchdogs to make capture easier, state bonds used to pay informers, and more.

The main function of the prison was that of keeping those arrested for interrogation until they were sentenced. More than 4000 people spent some time in this prison, mainly for ideological crimes, in the years of the GDR.

The place can be visited for free with an audio guide also in English. Some parts, including the open-top cells outside and the rigor cells in the basement can be visited only in a guided tour – as far as I understood, these are offered in German only.

On the top floor you can see an interesting exhibition on people who escaped or tried to flee the GDR by sea.

Getting there and moving around

Centrally located in Rostock – a lively city on the coast of the Baltic Sea – at a walking distance from Rosengarten. If you are moving by car, you can park on Hermannstrasse, and reach the door to the back of the courthouse block (opposite a small market). The door is heavy, so press it hard, it may be open even if it looks closed. Website here.

STASI Maximum Security Prison ‘Bautzen II’, Bautzen

Originally designed as a pre-trial and short-term court jail by the local government, the prison of Bautzen II was erected under the Kaiser to the back of the courthouse in the homonym town in the southeastern corner of Saxony, today very close to the border with both Poland and the Czech Republic. A larger penitentiary, named Bautzen I and originally conceived as a juvenile jail, was built around the same time in town.

With the advent of the Nazi dictatorship, both facilities began to be exploited for the prosecution of political dissidents, or to isolate elements of ‘inferior races’. Violence, intimidation and extorted confessions began to be the rule. Both branches of the prison of Bautzen fell under Stalin’s control at the end of WWII, and this corresponded to an exceptional increase in the number of inmates, which included a substantial share of former Nazi staff and opponents of the Soviet regime.

After the creation of the GDR, the facilities in Bautzen went on working as primary centers for the confinement of political prisoners, together making for possibly the largest detention center in the country. The smaller jail of Bautzen II, with slightly more than 200 single cells, was turned into a maximum security prison intended for the most dangerous ‘subversive elements’ of the whole state. While Bautzen I is still an active state prison of todays Federal Germany, Bautzen II has been opened to the public as a memorial.

The dreary access from outside is through three gates, and this adds to the perception of the place as really ‘no hope’.

Similarly to the prison in Potsdam (see above), Bautzen II can be toured on a self-guided basis, without a group. Most parts of the prison are opened, and several cells can be accessed.