Annabelle Mallia went undercover to unravel the truth about German espionage during the Cold War.
Uncover the truth about the East German Stasi and espionage during the days of the Cold War.
Spies, eyes, lies, and more spies! There’s a reason why Berlin is featured in many 007 movies: As an important Cold War center, it teemed with spies, from US and Russian agents to the East German Stasi, which maintained greater surveillance over its people than any secret police force in history – even more than its big brother, the KGB. With a vast network of informers, spying infiltrated almost every aspect of GDR life. To help the state root out its enemies, your spouse, your neighbors, or your colleague might well have been spying on you, and arrest and torture were common practice, especially in the early years of the GDR. The Stasi prison in
Hohenschönhausen (Genslerstr. 66. www. stiftung-hsh.de), with its endless corridors of interrogation rooms and horrific cells, can be visited today in the form of a two-hour tour, with a former inmate as your guide if you are lucky. By the 1970s, the Stasi realized that psychological harassment was far less conspicuous and extremely effective. Tactics employed included breaking into homes and messing with people’s belongings, mysterious phone calls, smear campaigns, and the deployment of devious gadgets, such as cameras disguised in coat zippers and bugs hidden in tree trunks, many of which can be seen at the
Stasi Museum (Ruschestr. 103, Haus 22. www. stasimuseum.de). The exhibition also includes the working quarters of the third Minister of
“Spying infiltrated almost every aspect of GDR life.”
State Security, Erich Mielke, arrested and tried for murder after the collapse of the GDR.
East German agents also infiltrated the West, which reciprocated with its own spying activities. Glienicker Brücke (S Wannsee station), a restricted border crossing between East and West Berlin, was used by the Americans and Soviets for the exchange of captured spies, while the Amerika Haus (p.42) was rumored to have served as a work space for US intelligence.
If Cold War espionage leaves you wanting more, Berlin Tours (www.berlin-tours.net) has a walking tour that also covers failed assassination attempts against Hitler and the British spy operation of Frank Foley, who secretly helped over 10,000 Jews to escape Nazi Germany. Seems it wasn’t all dirty work.
Three exhibits from the Stasi museum: a button camera, police evidence, and a 1980s phone from one of the the Stasi interrogation rooms.