The Berlin-Hohenschönhausen Memorial is a product of the peaceful revolution in eastern Germany. If the people of the GDR had not demonstrated in the streets in autumn 1989 and had not forced free elections, the site might still be the GDR's main Ministry of State Security (MfS) remand prison today.
Creation of the Memorial
In the early 1990s, former inmates took up the cause of turning the remand prison into a memorial. In 1992, the prison compound became a listed historical site, and in 1994, it first opened its doors to visitors. In December 1995, the Berlin Senate Department of Science, Research and Culture initiated steps to establish a foundation, marking the start of the Memorial's work as an institution. The Federal Government and the Berlin State Government contributed equally to funding the Memorial. A working group of scholars and researchers produced a report detailing the overall concept for the Memorial's future work. This report formed the the basis for the initiative passed by the Berlin State parliament in June 2000 that set up the "Berlin-Hohenschönhausen Memorial" Foundation. For the first few years, the Memorial was headed by Dr. Gabriele Camphausen. Afterwards, Mechthild Günther took over as acting director until September 2000, when the Board of Trustees appointed the historian Dr Hubertus Knabe as the first Executive Director.
Photo: Manfred Haferburg (left) during an event with deputy director Helmuth Frauendorfer. Haferburg was one of the last political prisoners. He was released on 1. November 1989.
© Gedenkstätte Berlin-Hohenschönhausen, 2014
The Berlin-Hohenschönhausen Memorial complex is comprised of a number of buildings: the former canteen block and food store (Old Building), which was first used as a detainment and transit camp in the years immediately following 1945 and later, in the 1950s as the GDR's main remand centre; the three-story prison building, which dates back to 1960 as well as the adjacent Interrogation Tract (New Building); the Stasi prison hospital, which was extended several times over the years; the Workshop Yard, containing workshops accommodating around 25 male prisoners, who were employed for a variety of skilled work and an extensive row of garages for those working there. There are also the external security structures including three watchtowers, an entrance with a security gate and a four-meter high wall topped with barbed wire.
© Reimer Wulff
The entire Memorial complex became a registered historical monument in 1992. To protect the complex from deteriorating, the Berlin Senate building authorities appointed a construction group in 1999 with the task of recording the details of the complex as specified under the registed buildings law and noting any damage that may have occurred. One of the major problems faced in refurbishing the Memorial is distinguishing between the various historical layers that intertwine and overlap. Even under the East German Ministry of State Security, key areas of the building were left unused and their structure so altered that it is now no longer possible to always see the original prison design. Hence, the measures taken to preserve the Memorial always involve decision-making concerning which particular historical stage of the building will be restored. Moreover, using the complex as a Memorial requires substantial modification. Providing a cafeteria, bookshop, visitors' toilets and seminar rooms are equally important as ensuring that the buildings are equipped with IT networks, adhere to fire safety regulations, and provide fire escape routes, none of which were an original part of the prison.
In 2000, extensive construction work was initiated to preserve the buildings, reconstruct their historical character and make the necessary modifications. In the meantime, work on the prison hospital has been completed, along with refurbishment of the walls, roofs and windows, so that the buildings are weatherproofed. The offices and seminar rooms needed for the Memorial's work have also been finished, along with the visitors' toilets. In summer 2002, the extensive costs involved and discussion of new plans to create a larger exhibition space brought a temporary halt to the construction work. In 2005, extensive construction work was done on the entrance section, on the way to the cell wings and the front of the prison hospital.
Between 2011 and 2013, the former garages were converted into film and seminar rooms, a modern visitor's desk, a bookshop and a cafeteria. On the ground floor of the old building, a hall for the new permanent exhibition was installed. In addition, new space for events and school seminars were created.
Since the Berlin-Hohenschönhausen Memorial was founded, 4,4 million people have visited the former GDR Ministry of State Security (MfS) main remand prison (as of January 2017). Over the years, there has been a notable increase in the number of visitors. The Memorial has more than 455,000 visitors annually, including many prominent figures. Many visitors later write to thank us for our work and share their feelings with us about their visit here.
It is only possible to visit the extensive prison complex on an official guided tour. Visitors require detailed guidance in order to understand the various sections of the prison and we do not have sufficient personnel to have staff constantly stationed throughout the complex. The majority of visitors register for a group tour prior to their visit, although we do have significantly increasing numbers of people who have not booked a tour in advance, especially on weekends. We have responded to this growing interest by extending our visitors' service. Here you will find all of the details regarding time schedules and entrance fees.
Photo: The 4-Mio. visitor, a student from south of Germany, November 2015.
© Gedenkstätte Berlin-Hohenschönhausen