Friday, February 24, 2012

Hohenschoenhausen Prison

The Hohenschoenhausen Prison was a recommendation from Trip Advisor. Not something in the guide books, but very worth it and interesting. You should look it up and read a bit about it. In short it was a prison used by the Soviets and then the GDR onward to detain political activists and other "unwanted's" right up until 1989.
In the picture to the left of Ashley is David and Mary. A lovely couple we met in Berlin through the local church. They came along with us. David worked for the US military in Wester Berlin during the cold war. It was really interesting learning some first hand stories from him.
The prison looks like any other prison really. However, the treatment of the inmates was horrific. We look at things like the concentration camps of WWII and think how horrible that was. Yet once the war was over, it kept going, just in a different form. Inmates were subjected to much more psychological abuse.
There was an exceedingly long list of rules. How to sleep, placement of sheets, how to wear your pants, a very long very nit picky list. Guards would constantly check on overcrowded cells. If any of these "rules" were violated they would bang their keys hard against the door. This of course would wake the whole cell block. Sleep depravation was a very big tool used. Other tactics such as not letting people sit or lay down for hours and hours on end. People were treated worse than animals to get coerced confessions from them to further political goals.
Below is one of the more modern cells. These would purposely be too cold or too hot for any possible form of comfort.
A number of humanistic laws were past which improved things. However the treatment was less physical and more psychological. Inmates would be put in isolation. To get any form of contact they would bang on the wall in sequences matching an alphabet. 1 for A, 2 for B etc. They would continually ask "Who are you?"if there was someone on the other side of the wall. Once the other figured it out they could talk. A more efficient banging system was used (put the letters in a 2d box) so less pounding was required. They could communicate this system with the more primitive one.

One catch though. The guards caught on. Guards would play the part of fellow inmates and communicate through the walls. They would then learn the inmates fears and desires. Once known they would be used against them during interrogation sessions.
Isolation was such a big deal that a light system was used to ensure no contact was given except with the inmates interrogators. These lights, you can see another a ways down the hall, would indicate if the hall was clear or not. Only when a hall was clear of all other people could the inmate be transported. This would ensure they only saw their interrogator. The wire you see running along side both walls at head height was a panic wire. If the inmate tried anything someone could pull this wire which would trigger an alarm knowing exactly where the wire was pulled. This was used to further drive home the fact that as an inmate you had absolutely no hope of getting out. Probably never used for their expressed purpose, psychological they worked great.
More solitary confinement cells. It was so bad that inmates would demand to see their interrogator, as bad as it was, just for some human contact. Oh, I should add that there were often 3 interrogators assigned for every 1 inmate.
This was one of the interrogation rooms. Our guide is on the left. Lots of psychological tactics were used here. Giving people the choice of something awful happening to their family, or to themselves. Being forced to make these decisions does nasty things with the mind.
This was the exercise yard. Problem is that you weren't allowed to touch the walls, nor were you allowed to stop, or really do anything but walk in a tight circle in the middle. Guards would be stationed above with guns. This was also used to put people in overnight in the freezing cold or rain. Near killing them.
Leaving the prison with a heavy heart. Brutal to learn all of this stuff, but felt it was needed. Keep in mind this was all going on until 1998! Also know this stuff is still happening today!
On a slightly more positive note, I snapped a picture of one of the trams. Just to keep that memory.
Also a really nice photo of David and Mary in Alexanderplatz. If you head the way the camera is pointing, you'd get to the tram stop that would take you to our house.

1 comment:

  1. They used those kind of tactics until 1998? That's after the re-unification of Germany. Shocking!