Berlin: 6 Museums that Teach Tourists and Locals about the Dictatorship of the GDR

At one point I have been asked: “Where can I best see the wall?” I had to disappoint that friendly smiling guy and said it fell many years ago. He looked at me like I was making fun of him. And this didn’t happen on the night of 9th November 1989 but only fairly recently. On the 9th November 1989 some citizens of the GDR took the first legal steps to freedom, and with these steps also towards Germany’s reunification. 

Guenter Schabowski, as the Secretary of the Central Committee of the Socialist Unity Party (SUP) for gathering of information a member of the Politburo (of the former GDR) announced the decision at a press conference one day too soon (since he wasn’t present when the regime agreed that the new policy would be valid from November 10 that year). This was the end of the dictatorship and its totalitarian methods.

schwalbe berlin germany
The Italians have the Vespa and the East Germans the Schwalbe

GDR citizens had to wait up to 14 years for a Trabi. Honecker was chauffeured in a Citroen CX

The GDR was all about fear and power

With the opening of its borders, the GDR loses all its power over its citizens and with that also the cold war is soon a thing of the past. Berlin is the capital again. From 1991 it takes ten years to relocate all government institutions from the former capital Bonn to Berlin.

The guys of the political elite that initiated all these inconceivable stuff in the GDR, were sentenced on the basis of the GDR criminal law. Most got away with only a few years behind bars after the wall fell. Those were the people responsible for ballot fraud, an economy of scarcity, spying on residents, forced adoptions, torturing humans, and the enforcement of keeping innocent people in political captivity.

Erich Honecker - Prosecution for 50 cases of manslaughter? No. He was too sick.

Erich Honecker, the leader of the SUP and the GDR, fled to Moscow to not be prosecuted. If he believed strongly in his ideas, and if he felt that he cares deeply for his people, why is it that he cowardly ran away? He obviously isn't known to be a man of integrity and hid behind his powerful status for decades. Bad luck for him, Russia handed him over to the reunited Germany. And sadly, due to his bad health, Germany had to waive his prosecution for 50 cases of manslaughter. He moved his family to Chile for good and died soon after. 

Other former East German ministers, officers and border guards founded a "Society for legal and humanitarian assistance" to prevent the punishment for their offences during the SUP regime. Many of them died already. It's strange to know that many of the perpetrators and all their many helpers are living and working in today’s Germany.

East German ministers, officers and border guards won't need fancy dress attire anymore, all work in nice jobs in reunited Germany

At the time there were 16.1 Million people living in the GDR. About four million people fled the GDR to reach the Federal Republic of Germany. Ideas how to best escape from the GDR were as desperate as they were fantastic. These attempts to reach freedom explain how terrible it was to live under the regime. Tunnels were dug, people hid in cars or built hot air balloons. Over one million out of the four million refugees arrived at a refugee camp in Berlin, in the Federal Republic of Germany. They were provided with housing and food.

Abandoned building in Berlin-Hohenschoenhausen

6 Museums that Teach about the Dictatorship of the GDR

It is not uncommon for people in the West to say that all people in the East are lazy and racist, whereas the people in the East believe that all people in the West are hedonists who have nothing but money on their mind. Many people in the East look back through rose-coloured glasses. They forget the oppressive elements and only see how wonderful everything was. Confronting the past of the second German dictatorship and processing all its events is something nearly all Germans still have to work on, even today two and more than a half decades later. There is so much to learn, for the ones from the former German Democratic Republic and for the ones from the former Federal Republic of Germany.

Look back. Focus on the present. Create a lovely future. Easy. Learning from the past is great. There is so much to discover in Berlin. Visit these 6 Museums to learn about the Dictatorship of the GDR. You will probably see Germany in a very different light.

1. Everyday life in the GDR (Alltag in der DDR in German)

Where: Knaackstraße 97 in Building 6.2, Staircase B. It is in the former Schultheiss brewery.
Hours: Tuesday – Sunday 10am - 6pm. Thursdays 10am - 8pm.
Tickets: free.

2. The Palace of Tears (Traenenpalast in German)

Where: This is the original border crossing point at Friedrichstrasse station (it is that building that looks like a public swimming pool next to the river Spree).
Hours: Tuesday - Friday 9am to 7pm. Saturday, Sunday and public holidays 10am to 6pm. Closed on: 23rd December, 24th December, and 31st December.
Tickets: free.

Visitor Center | Documentation Centre

Where: Bernauer Strasse 11,  13355 Berlin.
Hours: Tuesdays - Sundays 10am - 6pm. 24th December and 25th December closed. 26th December 12pm - 6pm. 31st December closed. 1st January 12pm - 6pm. Open-Air Exhibition and Memorial Grounds Mondays – Sundays 8am - 10pm.
Tickets: free. Guided tours every Sunday at 3pm: EUR 3.

Where: Marienfelder Allee 66-80, 12277 Berlin.
Hours: Tuesday to Sunday. 10am - 6pm.
Tickets: Free.

Where: Ruschestraße 103, Haus 1, 10365 Berlin.
Hours: Monday - Friday: 10am - 6pm. Saturday/Sunday: 11am - 6pm. Closed on 24th and 31st December.
Tickets: EUR 6. Concession EUR 4.50. You can also book group tours in advance. For details see website Stasi Museum.

Where: Genslerstr. 66, 13055 Berlin.
Hours: Visits of the prison are in a guided tour only. No pre booking required (please double check on their website). April - October: Daily tours every full hour between 10am and 4pm. English tour 11.30am and 2.30pm. /// November to March: Monday to Friday 11am, 1pm and 3pm. No pre booking required. Saturday / Sunday / holidays every full hour between 10am and 4pm. English tour 11.30am and 2.30pm.
Tickets:EUR 6 inclusive guided tour

Would you also like to learn about the National Socialist Dictatorship in Germany while in Berlin? Read: Berlin: 8 Memorials and museums that teach about the National Socialist Dictatorship in Germany

From Berlin with love