Sinister Stasi museum kills kitschy East German image

Mon Jan 16, 2012 5:28pm EST
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By Alexandra Hudson

BERLIN (Reuters) - Manfred Lehmann avoids Berlin landmarks such as the Brandenburg Gate where hawkers selling old East German medals or students posing in guard uniforms for tourists are a painful spectacle to the 71-year-old, imprisoned for opposing the Socialist state.

"For us victims it is a tasteless circus. The way the old symbols and flags are bandied around. It shows a lack of respect for those who suffered. East Germany was a dictatorship," said the former mechanic.

Lehmann joined several thousand visitors, mostly pensioners, at the reopening of the former headquarters of the East German secret service or Stasi on the weekend, a place he sees as providing a vital counterweight to the ever-increasing commercialization and trivialization of the former East.

"I wanted to see how this place is being preserved for the future, how the past is being represented," he said, standing outside the drab, 1960 pebble-dash block in the suburb of Lichtenburg, today branded the Stasi Museum.

A slight man in a red parka and wearing a rucksack, he walks around the museum with intense interest. Germany pays Lehmann a "victim pension" of 250 euros per month, to compensate him for his time in and out of prison and deep psychological scars.

Fears that the refurbishment of the offices used by Erich Mielke, the man who led the Stasi's campaign of surveillance and repression for 32 years, may have led to a loss of authenticity, prove unfounded.

The drab suite of rooms with mustard walls, wooden wall panels and parquet floors, with old telephones and switchboards on the desks, gives a vivid sense of a sinister, formidable bureaucracy, able to destroy citizens' lives at will.

Elsewhere in the complex are the millions of files in which Stasi agents recorded the minutiae of peoples' lives.   Continued...

<p>File photo of memorabilia of the former East German regime on sale at former Allied Checkpoint Charlie on the site of the former Berlin Wall in Berlin, July 27, 2009. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch/Files</p>