New Stasi Exhibition Opens in Berlin
Enlarge image German President Christian Wulff opened the new permanent exhibit on the Stasi, or East German secret police, in Berlin on January 15, 2011. (© dpa - Bildfunk) German President Christian Wulff inaugurated a new permanent exhibition about the former East German secret police, also known as the "Stasi", in Berlin on January 15.
On that day 21 years ago, on January 15, 1990, civil rights activists stormed the Stasi headquarters in the former East Berlin and salvaged most of the Stasi files, the destruction of which had just begun by the secret police in an effort to remove all traces of them.
In opening the exhibition, Wulff cautioned against playing down their terrible deeds. It was outrageous the way they mocked and ridiculed their victims in an ever more audacious fashion before the former East Germany collapsed with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and German unification in 1990. He suggested that too few of those who were responsible have expressed shame for their actions, which included spying on their fellow citizens and keeping meticulous files on their actions and whereabouts.
Enlarge image Electronic gear (© dpa/pa) "We must speak up more loudly and clearly against them," said Wulff, as reported by German news agency dpa.
At the same time, activists who boldly stood up to the former East German communist dictatorship should be rememberd and honored for the courage they exhibited. Today they are often worse off, financially speaking, than their onetime oppressors, Wullf moreover undescored.
He also expressed astonishment at how easily too many people today dismiss the human rights violations and lack of freedom people were subjected to in the former East Germany. In an effort to counter this trend, Wulff announced his support of a new program featuring a series of events running through 2014 on the "Future of Democracy" which aims to bring young people together with Zeitzeugen, or witnesses to this tumultuous history in Germany's recent past.
Wulff stressed that without the courage of the opposition movement the former East German dictatorship would not have been toppled in 1989. It was thanks to these men and women from this vibrant citizens' movement that for the first time ever in history the files of the secret police of a dictatorship had been salvaged and made available to the general public.
"Every individual has a right to demand that this will be recorded and researched, that this will not be forgotten and that we can learn from this for the future," said Wulff.
Enlarge image Federal Commissioner for the Files of the State Security of the Former German Democratic Republic (GDR) Marianne Birthler and German President Christian Wulff at the new Stasi exhibition in Berlin. (© dpa - Bildfunk) Marianne Birthler, who heads up the Office of the Federal Commissioner for the Files of the State Security of the Former German Democratic Republic (GDR), also known as the "Birthler Agency", said it was problematic that this Berlin-based agency still had a few former Stasi people working at a technical level among its ranks. They were accepted as civil servants by a federal agency that predated the "Birthler Agency" and are on unlimited employment contracts.
Yet Birthler, who will leaver her post after 10 years in office next March, also said she did not perceive any reasons for concern as these individuals posed no specific current risk or danger to the agency.
Former GDR opposition activist leader and journalist Roland Jahn has been tipped as the next director of the agency. He is likely to be formally approved as Birthler's successor by the Berlin-based Bundestag, or Federal Parliament, later this month.
Enlarge image (© dpa / picture-alliance) The new Stasi exhibition is located near Checkpoint Charlie, the infamous former American sector border crossing point between West and East Berlin in the heart of the German capital. Using individual biographies, images and audio documents, it illustrates how the Stasi invaded the daily lives of many people in the former East Germany.
Wulff was led through the exhibition by former East German activitsts and seemed "emotionally touched" by the experience, according to dpa. The Stasi insidiously destroyed couples, families and friendships, Wulff underscored.
When GDR activisits stormed and occupied the Stasi headquarters on January 15, 1990 they sealed its fate and secured more than 100 kilometers of files from certain destruction. Some 16,000 bags with already shreded documents were also secured. The Stasi ministry employed some 90,000 officials as well as twice as many people in an inofficial capacity.