The stranger’s note arrived without ceremony. “I have a route into the big Stasi building on Karl-Marx-Allee.” An invitation to meet up the following day. “Not sure how long it will remain.”
Of course I* jumped at it.
Warning bells went off when he asked if I’d a chain cutter, but we met as arranged the next day opposite the great hulking building at Otto-Braun-Straße 70/72.
“We don’t need it,” Chunko assured me.
A high wall with overhanging ledge above the roof complicated matters but we scaled it before squirming under the ledge on our bellies. I grabbed his foot as he dangled precariously below to grab the construction barrier; lower, lower, lower – thoughts of losing grip and him plummeting to the ground – before he finally grasped it and I hauled him back over. The makeshift ladder was put to use again: up to a broken window; it swung open, I swung in, feet crunched down on broken glass, and we were in!
I looked around. An office, unfurnished, totally bare, remarkably unremarkable. We inched our way to the door, out to the corridor, completely dark, completely silent. We stopped.
“Just remember this is our escape route,” he whispered, “this door here.” I looked. Door 1043. All looked the same in the dark. As I was about to find out, they all look the same in the light. He flicked a switch; light came on. The electricity was still running!
We went on, around the corner, down another corridor. My shoes were squeaking like hungry guinea pigs – wiiieek, wiiieek, wiiieek!! Stupid rubber soles. I rubbed them with paper to desqueak de squeak but to no avail. Tip-toes from then on.
Tip-toeing towards the stairs, following signs for the library, suddenly there was the sound of whistling from below. Fuck! We froze. It stopped. We weren’t alone. We waited, waited for another whistle, but there was none. Perhaps they were waiting too, waiting for a squeak. We inched our way back, conferred in whispers – it must be security – but decided to try the other side of the building. Again on tip toes, we pushed on. My heart was in my mouth – I was sure we’d be caught – but on I went . May as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb.
On the laminate corridor floor, a chilling catchphrase: “Fiend ist, wer anders denkt.” The enemy is whoever thinks differently; perfectly betraying the philosophy of the Paranoia State. The Stasi motto repeated over and over and lining the floor as if marking a murder scene. In a way it was.
We** were the enemy now. We passed door after door after door, opening office after office after office, all the same, all empty. Horizontal stacks of uniformity.
The stacks went up too: we were in a beehive of offices 11 stories high. Wooden panelled walls lined corridors with big empty carpeted rooms at either end. Prying, prodding and poking, we made our way around the first floor stumbling across holding cells monitored by cameras, Stasi art and more propaganda – “Staatsicherheit, Garant der SED-Diktatur” – until we came back around to where the whistling had come from.
“That’s where I think the canteen is – down there,” said Chunko. “We’ve got to get down there!”
Tentative toesteps brought us closer and closer, and before I knew it we were down there. I examined a sole bottle of water left on a counter to see the best before date: it was still in date.
Chunko wandered in a bit when I stuck my head in a doorway. Shit. My heart stopped dead. Waves of alarm surged through my veins. I couldn’t move. Stunned. In front flickered a bank of monitors showing the very corridors we had just wandered, the gates outside, the windows, the entrances the exits... A desk stood before me, chair pulled out, and sets of keys labelled and arranged on hooks on a huge board on the wall. LEDs blinked as the monitors projected wavy images at the panic button in my brain.
That was it. I signalled to Chunko to get the fuck out of there. Whoever was manning the surveillance was obviously just around the corner. It was them who whistled earlier. Let’s go! Communication broke down with my frantic signals, however, and so he came back to investigate.
So so carefully, we made our way in, into the lion’s den, barely breathing lest we make a sound. In slow motion we made it through to another room, bare and white, a huge desk and single chair, out to a corridor on the other side.
There was nobody home, not for now anyway, but I still wanted to get the hell out. Doors to the elevator were open and lit up just around the corner from the security office.
Chunko, the mad fucker, wanted a look in the basement. As he made his way down an internal alarm sounded in the office. LET’S GO!
Back up to the first floor, to our way of escape, and there... we decided to go on exploring. Walking past door 1043, I thought, “This is the point I’ll remember later when I’ll say to myself I should have left then.” The point of spurned return.
On we went to the Far Side, up up up – up to the 10th floor, the very top, where more offices awaited. These offices were brighter than the ones below, with stunning views of the city. Alexanderplatz was spread out like a picnic cloth below, the Fernsehturm a candle in the middle. People-ants scurried around and tiny cars made their way to intersections to give way to little trams. No doubt the Stasi took great pleasure in observing their subjects below. I could have spent hours there.
But we still had to make our escape. We made it back down to the seventh floor, where office doors still had their workers’ names advertised, many with pictures of dogs underneath for reasons unknown even to the Stasi.
Chunko, who I’d ascertained by now was as mad as a sleepless squirrel in a Berlin winter, suggested the lift back down to the first floor. A potential kamikaze move – the lift was just around the corner from the surveillance office on the bottom floor. It could open to reveal security guards – but what the hell – may as well be hung for a Honecker as a Merkel.
Button pressed, and we waited for the lift. It arrived with a ring, doors opened slowly. It was empty. Thank fuck. We jumped in to the copper mirror-plated interior. Chunko pressed ‘1’ and we descended, inexorably slowly. It was then I knew security was waiting for us below. They’d observed us this whole time, discovered our escape route with the surveillance cameras, and would nab us as soon as the lift arrived. Dread swept over me.
Down we went. An eternity later, the lift beeped again, doors parted – no one there. I*** couldn’t believe it. We hurried to our door (not before trying all the others), scampered quickly out the window, ran along the roof, jumped down onto an electricity generator and off onto the pavement.
Walking hastily away, we headed back towards our bikes. We’d survived! The niggly feeling persisted though. It felt like we were still being watched. In fact, the feeling persists – they are watching me. And now they’re watching you too.
‘Haus der Statistik’, former statistics-gathering HQ of the German Democratic Republic (GDR, or DDR, depending on how good your German is), with the top three floors given over exclusively to the Ministerium fur Staatssicherheit, better known to you and me at the Stasi. I’ve written about these guys before.
Following German reunification, the building became ‘Die Bundesbeauftragte für die Unterlagen des Staatssicherheitsdienstes der ehemaligen DDR’, housing the Stasi files where natives could check the dirt dug and dished on them in East German times.
For legitimate visits to former Stasi buildings. I wholeheartedly recommend both the Stasi Museum and Stasi Prison. A tour of the latter is unforgettable.
Otto-Braun-Straße 70/72, 10178 Berlin, Germany.
How to get there
Walk from Alexanderplatz. It couldn’t be more central. Here’s a map.
This is the tricky bit. It’s genuinely difficult – first scale the high wall at the side on Otto-Braun-Straße north of the giant coffee cup, try to squeeze under the ledge without falling back off the wall, slide onto the roof, keep low as you run along the roof, and if the broken window is still there, use a ladder or ladderish device to get in.
When to go
Daylight is best for the views from the top floor.
9/10. The only reason I’m not giving this a ten is because I was able to get in. It’s difficult, and dangerous. If you find a better way to the way outlined above, use it!
Who to bring
Someone to hold your leg. Preferably someone who isn’t as mad as an insomniac squirrel at hibernation time.
What to bring
Camera. Quiet soles. I guess you should make sure the camera is quiet too.
Security. As far as we could tell this place is manned. The electricity is running, cameras too. Watch out for anyone and everyone who isn’t you. Fiend ist, wer anders ist.
Apparently these buildings’ days are numbered too. They just can’t leave anything alone. Plans have them making way for hotels, shops, apartments etc. Bah. It’s a race to the bottom to make Berlin as bland and boring as any another city.
Once they realise what they’ve done they’ll rebuild the Wall for money. In fact...
Best to enjoy it now before they feck it up completely.
* For legal reasons I does not refer to me in this instance, nor does I wish to have his or her name known. Any apparent similarities to real events, people or, indeed, illegal activities is entirely coincidental. I – in this case referring to me – cannot condone any sort of illegal activity (for self-explanatory reasons) nor would I – in this case referring to the author – want to. I stress once again: I ain’t me.**For similar legal reasons we is not us, nor is us in anyway connected with me, whoever me is. See the previous disclaimer, referring to I.
*** Again, I is not me, nor am I included in we who have nothing to do with us, whoever they are. He/she (the author) refuses to accept responsibility for any grammatical errors in this disclaimer, and neither do I (as in me).