Formerly a Hohenshcönhausen Prison was in use by East German Ministry of State Security (MfS), also known as the Stasi, starting in 1951. Using prisoner labor, the Stasi constructed new buildings which included 200 prison cells and multiple interrogation rooms. After the construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961, the prison was primarily used to house those who wished or attempted to leave the GDR, although political prisoners were also held there. The prison was used until the fall of the berlin wall in 1989 and officially closed on October 3, 1990.
Hohenschönhausen was a very important part of the GDR’s system of political and artistic oppression. Authors, artists and objectors were housed here, often for nothing more than expressing what was deemed a “subversive opinion”.
Although torture and physical violence were commonly employed at Hohenschönhausen (especially in the 1950s), psychological intimidation was the main method of political repression and techniques including sleep deprivation, total isolation, threats to friends and family members, and the use of water cells.
A suggested reason why the torture of East Germany’s own citizenry was permitted for so long was the Hohenschönhausen exclusion zone. The prison was located in a large restricted area bordered by a large military town. Additionally, it officially did not exist during many of the years it operated, being left off all maps. These two measures combined meant that few people who did not work there know what occurred inside. Because it was not well known, the prison was not stormed by demonstrators after the fall of the Wall. This allegedly allowed prison authorities to destroy much of the evidence of their activities. Today, much of our knowledge comes from former prisoners personal accounts and documentation from other GDR institutions.
Our team was led into the underground depths of the prison, known as the “submarine”, where prisoners of Hohenschönhausen were kept in complete isolation, with little to no sunlight, and routinely intimidated and tortured. A daisy-chain of electrical wire followed every corridor in the prison, if a prisoner were to cause a disruption, a guard or interrogator could simply pull the wire, detaching it from the next, immediately summoning guards armed with a sedative filled syringe to aid in controlling the wayward prisoner. Also of note, the “Tiger Cage”–an outdoor exercise cell, which was one of few respites enjoyed by the prisoners, where they might feel the sunshine on their faces, or see a passing airplane.