HOHENSCHÖNHAUSEN

State Security Prison - Former East Berlin - DDR

In 1951, after its founding, the East German Ministry of State Security (MfS) established the Soviet cellar prison at Berlin-Hohenschönhausen as its central remand prison. In the 1950s, upwards of 11,000 people regarded as obstructive to the communist dictatorship were incarcerated here.

The list of those arrested range from the leaders of the June 17th uprising in 1953 to Jehovah’s Witnesses. Still, many others also spent months in the tomb-like cells, from reformist communists such as Walter Janka, head of the Aufbau publishing house, to politicians who had fallen from grace, such as former GDR Foreign Minister Georg Dertinger, a CDU party member, and even one disgraced ex-SED Politbüro member, Paul Merker. Moreover, during this period – long before the Berlin Wall, – the Ministry of State Security (MfS) kidnapped critics of the SED Party who were in the West and brought them to the Hohenschönhausen prison. The most famous case, perhaps, is that of Walter Linse, a West Berlin lawyer, kidnapped near his home in 1952 and executed a year later in Moscow.

At the end of the 1950s, the prisoners of the neighbouring labour camp "X,” which was located at the back of the site, were forced to build a new prison building with over 200 cells and interrogation rooms. Until 1989, this U-shaped building served the Ministry of State Security (MfS) as their main remand prison. After the Berlin Wall went up on August 13th, 1961, the prisoners here were held primarily after applying to leave the GDR or attempting to escape. However, the prison continued to house SED Party critics, such as dissident Rudolf Bahro, writer Jürgen Fuchs, and civil rights campaigner Bärbel Bohley. This building was designed to hold around 200 prisoners. The Ministry of State Security (MfS) had an additional remand prison at its headquarters in Berlin-Lichtenberg as well as one in each of the GDR’s 15 local authority districts.

Over the years, physical violence, commonly used in the 1950s to wear down prisoners’ resistance, gradually gave way to sophisticated psychological interrogation methods. Prisoners were never told where they were being held and were given the feeling of being at the total mercy of an almighty state authority. The prisoners, hermetically sealed off from the outside world and usually kept in strict isolation from their fellow prisoners, were subjected to months of interrogation by trained experts with the sole aim of extracting incriminating statements

Until 1990, the Genslerstrasse remand prison site also contained the Ministry of State Security (MfS) prison hospital. The original building was single storied, housing the laundry facilities and garages that served the neighbouring canteen and food store.
Towards the end of the 1940s, the central Soviet administration for detention and transit camps in Germany moved their administrative offices into this building. In the 1950s, the building was extended and converted into a hospital.

The prison hospital was positioned under the Ministry of State Security’s Central Medical Service. The hospital provided out-patient and extended-stay treatment for prisoners from all three Berlin remand prisons as well as the regional MfS remand prisons. The hospital had a total of 28 beds, which remained in cells. The other facilities included an X-ray ward, treatment and operating rooms and laboratories. In 1989, the hospital was run by Dr. Herbert Vogel with 28 full-time MfS staff.

While working on the final extension to the building in 1972, three enclosed exercise cells were added to the hospital’s eastern wing; the exercise cells were left open to the sky but covered with barbed wire nets, leading the prisoners to call them the "tiger cages."

Only after the non-violent revolution in autumn 1989, which ushered in the end of the SED Party dictatorship, was the State Security Service dismantled and its prisons disbanded. On October 3, 1990, when the German Democratic Republic was incorporated into the Federal Republic of Germany, the Berlin-Hohenschönhausen remand prison finally closed its gates.

Story shot on the Leica Q + Summilux 1:1,7 / 28mm ASPH
 

Thank you to Bodo Philipp at Leica Store Berlin

Photography  © Dominic Verhulst 2020