Bautzner Straße Stasi prison
A former Stasi
remand prison (and before that an NKVD/KGB
prison) in the city of Dresden
that has been preserved in its almost original state since the fall of the Berlin Wall
. Still under development this is already one of the prime dark sites in the region related to those comparatively recent historical phases.
>More background info
>What there is to see
>Access and costs
>Combinations with other dark destinations
>Combinations with non-dark destinations
The Stasi had many special remand prisons all over the country. This was one of the larger ones and served not only as a prison for the region of Dresden
but also as the regional administrative centre of the MfS (Ministry for State Security).
In the early years after WWII
when East Germany
was a Soviet
occupied zone, the NKVD, the predecessor organization of the better known KGB
, first had a prison here. Not only actual Nazi
war criminals were incarcerated here, also political prisoners as well as many a young victim who, after first being taken to Bautzner Straße prison, was then sentenced to hard labour in some gulag on often ludicrous charges (typically of being part of the Werwolf post-Nazi resistance group – which scarcely existed). See also the "Speziallager" (special camps) that the former concentration camps
were turned into in the immediate post-war period.
When the Soviets moved out of the prison in the early 1950s, the site became home of the newly founded Stasi
. New buildings were erected, including the present main cell block, and additional offices.
It is ironic that the name of the street that this prison is named after also has in it the place name of the most feared proper Stasi prison for political prisoners: Bautzen
. It would not have been unusual for a political prisoner first to have been sent here for interrogation and then, after a formal court ruling, to be transferred from Bautzner Straße to Bautzen proper.
But the road of the Stasi repression also ended eventually. When in 1989 the peaceful revolution in the GDR had finally led to the opening of the Berlin Wall
and the implosion of the whole political and societal system of the GDR
, protesters turned to the various seats of the Stasi where the old guard had already started destroying evidence of their decades of civil rights violations. To put a stop to such activities, demonstrators stormed and occupied the Bautzner Straße Stasi seat too on 5 December 1989 (as had also happened e.g. at the equivalent Stasi offices at the "Runde Ecke
" in Leipzig
). They stored the Stasi files in the now vacated prison cells to keep them safe. What an irony: first the prisoners themselves were locked up in these cells, then the Stasi paperwork that documented their cases had to be kept safe in the very same space.
The Stasi files were later transferred to the relevant bodies set up to formally investigate this aspect of the GDR's past – it's still an ongoing process (see e.g. the Berlin Stasi Museum
). The prison building was preserved in almost exactly its original state. Since the late 1990s it has gradually been opened up to the public. Since 1996 it has been designated a listed building and the city council designated it an official memorial site in the year 2000.
Parts of the complex facing the main road, however, were later demolished, in particular a wing to the west of today's memorial museum part, and also the former main gate to the prison complex. Apparently this also had to do with the roadworks necessary for the controversial new Waldschlößchen bridge (see under Dresden
). Just to the west of the turn-off to the current memorial museum a small section of outer wall of the demolished parts of the complex has been preserved and moved to its new location by the roadside, and a plaque commemorates the storming of the Stasi offices in December 1989. Not much, but better than nothing.
On the other hand, money was set aside to refurbish the remainder of the old prison building, which resulted in the present exhibition spaces and the all-new cafeteria area. More is to follow when the new reception area is finished. The main thing is that the cell block tract has been retained in its original state – the only one of its type in Saxony, by the way. The only real contender in this category of dark tourism in East Germany
is the infamous Bautzen
What there is to see: At the time of my visit in March 2013, part of the memorial site was undergoing a lot of work; apparently a new reception area/visitor centre was in the making. I was unable to find out when this is scheduled to be finished. When I visited I still needed to go round the back of the building to an entrance at the side of the main cellblock – i.e. practically the same place where prisoners would have arrived back then (only that they would not have entered on foot but would have been driven in by police van and would never have seen the outside facade of the building).
UPDATE 2016: furthermore the memorial "inherited" (parts of) the former Stasi exhibition in Berlin
, which closed when a new exhibition at the city's Stasi Museum
opened. Yet more new elements have also been added in the meantime. I suppose at some point I should schedule a re-visit ...
Inside the cell block and also the adjacent former administrative building there are a number of separate, though thematically slightly overlapping exhibitions.
Note from the onset that, with one exception, all informational texts and all audio-video soundtracks in these exhibitions are in German only. If you don't know the language sufficiently well, you'd have to make do with the folder available from a rack on the ground floor of the cell block (at least at the time of my visit – it may be more conveniently pointed out in the new reception centre). The English-language one was bizarrely labelled "Spanish" on the cover sheet, but inside were English translations. These seemed to be largely of quite good quality. You can borrow the folder for the duration of your visit but you cannot purchase a copy to take home. The numbering of the various stations in the main permanent exhibition will help you navigate your way through the maze … As an alternative to a visit that is thus self-guided you could also go on a guided tour, but that would have to be arranged well in advance (see below for details
). As I haven't been on such a tour myself I cannot say anything about what they're like, though.
For the self-guided tour I was advised to start in the old NKVD cellar – partly because it was freezing cold at the time of my visit (March) and the cellar was not yet equipped with heating, so it was better to do this first whilst still wearing a coat – also for seeing the outside part and the garage. For visiting the indoor exhibitions you could then leave your coat in lockers provided by the (self-service) cafeteria.
The NKVD cellar is suitably grim. First you pass through a long tunnel that leads to a different wing of the complex, then you get to some old (reconstructed) cells and exhibition rooms. The text panels are the product of a school project by ca. 15-year-old pupils, but look every bit as professional as the rest of the exhibition or similar commodifications
elsewhere. Well done!
Parts of this exhibition pick out a number of particular cases and are based on interviews with surviving ex-inmates. Some of these interviews can be seen on video screens later on in the upstairs part of the cell block. All the material is solely available in German, though.
But even without being able to read the explanatory texts you get the picture of what a chilling place this must have been. The interrogation room "furnished" with nothing but a small stool is totally creepy. The extremely basic cells aren't much better. One room is almost dark with some wall posters with paintings recreating the gloomy atmosphere these rooms must have exuded when there was no electric light. The bit of light coming through the tiny windows near the ceiling (located at street level outside), hardly let any natural light in. You can also pop outside into the bare courtyard of this tract, but there is nothing special to be seen out there.
Back in the main cell block you can first have a look inside the garage. This is where new prisoners would have arrived. An original van of the special type used by the Stasi
for such transports is to be seen here. Inside the van you can see the extremely tiny "cells" – somebody as tall as I am would hardly have fitted inside this tiny space! Next to the van are a couple of "standing cells". This is where blindfolded new arrivals would first have been held until the actual reception office in the prison proper was ready for them. You can see inside this office too, where the new prisoners would have been registered. This combined air of bureaucracy and repression is almost stifling still today.
You can then walk around the authentically preserved cell block freely, including all four levels on which rows of cells ring the central "atrium". This is clad out in wire mesh all the way round the upper floors. And at the far end on the first floor, a red police-car like light looked as though it might start flashing at any moment (no doubt accompanied by a deafening alarm siren).
Quite a few cells have been preserved in their original state too. They were hardly luxurious. One, two or three simple beds, a washbasin and a toilet, plus some small storage cabinets. Basic. There are also some special cells, such as one set aside for the writing of letters by the inmates – under supervision, of course.
You can also see shower rooms, a room in which prisoners' mugshots would have been taken and even an interrogation office preserved in its complete original state. This is possibly the most spine-chilling part of the site, as it hammers home the whole technocratic approach to the prison system on the part of the Stasi. The obligatory portrait of Erich Honecker
on the wall is also still there.
Many of the former cells are used as exhibition space. And there are several exhibitions. Separate topics include: everyday workings of the remand prison, individual cases, and the whole political contradictions with the GDR
system (more of this will be shown in the new parts currently still under refurbishment). On the top floor the fates of the early prisoners who were sentenced by the NKVD and sent to the gulags are picked up again too. There are video screens supplied with headphones on which you can listen to the interviews of the rehabilitated surviving former gulag prisoners (played in loops, German only). There's also a separate gulag exhibition which includes a few moving artefacts from Vorkuta, one of the most infamous gulags
In addition there are a couple of further exhibitions in the adjacent administrative tracts of the building. This includes a section about the actions of protesters in early December 1989 as part of the revolutionary turmoil that brought down the GDR.
Another section contains a special exhibition put together by a Slovak institute in Berlin. It chronicles the parallel development that brought about the equivalent changes in the former CSSR
(now Czech Republic
and Slovakia) in 1989/90. Unlike the rest of the exhibitions, this one is completely bilingual, with parallel texts in German and English!
Finally there is a small separate exhibition about the children of Hoheneck. This was the GDR's special women's prison, where babies born to inmates during their time in the prison were routinely taken from their mothers and given away for adoption against their mothers' will. The exhibition focuses on a small number of individual cases of such children and their subsequent fate. This exhibition, again, is in German only.
All in all, for the international visitor the language limitation is partly an issue perhaps, although at least the folder with translations makes the exhibition in the main part in the cell block accessible. But unfortunately the same does not hold for most of the separate special themed exhibitions. Still, even without all those details being accessible, a visit here is still worth it for the incredible authentic atmosphere alone. Those dark tourists into seeing such ex-prisons should not miss out on this one. It is in my view one of the most gripping sites of its sort. For all those eager to learn more about the unique political history of the former GDR
this site is a must-see in any case. Certainly one of the most significant sites in the south of the former East German state of Saxony.
on the northern banks of the River Elbe in an eastern suburb of Dresden
, some 3 miles (4.5 km) from the city centre.
Access and costs: a bit outside the centre but still fairly easy to reach by tram (or car or a scenic walk); inexpensive.
Details: To get to the former prison site you can get a tram, line 11, conveniently from either the main station, the Dresden Neustadt station or the city centre corner of Wilsdruffer Straße and Ostra-Allee/Postplatz near the Zwinger palace. The stop to get out at is called Angelikastraße and is right opposite the ex-prison building.
If you don't mind a bit of a walk you can also get there by taking a pleasant stroll along the northern banks of the Elbe, which takes about an hour. Recommended in good weather!
If you have your own car you can drive from the centre towards Neustadt on the northern side of the Elbe River and from there take the B6 main road east – this is the street called Bautzner Straße. Carry on for almost 2 miles (2.6 km) until you get to No. 112a on the right, where the access road to the memorial site branches off. There should be sufficient space for parking. At the time of my visit (March 2013) the building site of the new Waldschlößchenbrücke caused a lot of traffic disruption and diversions, also parts of Bautzner Straße within Dresden Neustadt were dug up for work on new pipes or something, so its access this way was restricted/tricky. But hopefully by the time you read this, all those roadworks should ideally have been finished.
Opening times: daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., closed only at Christmas, New Year and Easter Sunday.
Admission: 4 EUR (concession 2 EUR for students, unemployed and holders of the Dresden Pass); free for under-18-year-olds. Also free on the last Sunday of each month, likewise on Open House day on 5 December (the anniversary of the storming of the Stasi centre by the people in the peaceful revolution of 1989).
Guided tours (lasting 90 minutes) for groups can be arranged by prior appointment – at least two weeks in advance. The cost for this is 40 EUR for up to 40 people and includes the admission fee. This service is obviously more aimed at larger, mainly school groups, but in theory should be open to non-school groups of smaller sizes too. The online reservation tool, though in German, also offers a choice of other languages (English, French, Spanish). Alternatively you could try phoning (+49(0)351-6465454).
Time required: depends crucially on whether or not you know sufficient German to make use of the immensely rich information that is provided in text and audio-visual form in the various exhibitions within the site. If not, a mere 45 minutes may suffice for simply looking around, climbing the stairs to the upper levels of the cell block, exploring the cellars and taking in the atmosphere. If you do have the requisite language skills and want to take in all the info material provided, then rather allocate between two hours and the best part of a whole day to this extraordinary place.
Combinations with other dark destinations:
in general see Dresden
In the immediate vicinity of the former Stasi prison is the villa that used to be the Saxony HQ of the KGB
, namely at No 4 Angelikastraße that branches off Bautzner Straße to the north right opposite the ex-prison. It was here that a certain Vladimir Putin acted as the local chief of the KGB in the late 1980s. It was also here, during his positing in the former GDR
, that he acquired his pretty good level of German language skills, long before he became president of Russia
(and, for an interim period, prime minister). This still stands him in good stead PR-wise whenever he's visiting Germany
these days. It's amazing how even just a few lines in his fluent (though somewhat accented) German can gain him Brownie points in public perception … in a similar way that Germany's chancellor Angela Merkel, as a former GDR citizen who had to learn Russian in school, can still reciprocate when dealing with the big Kremlin
man and his country.
Also not far from Bautzner Straße, just a couple of hundred yards downstream (i.e. west) is the new bridge across the River Elbe, the Waldschlösschenbrücke, that so controversially led to the city's loss of its UNESCO world heritage status (see under Dresden
for more on this!).
Theoretically the Military History Museum
is also located not too far from Bautzner Straße (about 30 minutes' walk north-west along Stauffenbergallee). But to do both sites in one day you'd need some serious museum stamina! It's actually what I did: I visited Bautzner Straße in the morning, then walked into the city centre and in the afternoon got to the Military Museum where I stayed until almost 9 p.m. – I can tell you I was so knackered at the end of that day that I could hardly stand on my feet any longer. Not recommended. If you can afford it time-wise, do spread it over at least two separate days!
Combinations with non-dark destinations:
in general see under Dresden
– the location of the Bautzner Straße prison is quite a contrast to that dark place. It is only a few hundred yards from the banks of the River Elbe – and a stroll along the river banks towards the centre of Dresden gives walkers some of the best views of the skyline of the historic old town on the other side of the river to the south. On the northern side there are also plenty of architectural marvels to be seen, from very pretty private villas and estates to massive imperial-era representational piles facing the old town.
In the other direction, away from the city towards the east, is a series of riverside castles/palaces, and yet further upstream is the famed Elbe bridge called Blaues Wunder. The name literally means 'blue wonder', apparently because of the colour it was painted, but it's also a pun on the saying "sein blaues Wunder erleben" – 'to have the shock of one's life', or 'to get a nasty surprise (out of the blue)'.
- Bautzner Str 01 - from the road
- Bautzner Str 02 - back of the building
- Bautzner Str 03 - old NKVD cellar
- Bautzner Str 04 - interrogation room
- Bautzner Str 05 - no excessive furniture
- Bautzner Str 06 - old NKVD-era cell
- Bautzner Str 07 - courtyard
- Bautzner Str 08 - GDR-era police van
- Bautzner Str 09 - inside the van
- Bautzner Str 10 - arrival cells
- Bautzner Str 11 - GDR bureaucracy
- Bautzner Str 12 - registration office
- Bautzner Str 13 - cell block
- Bautzner Str 14 - cells
- Bautzner Str 15 - cell for writing letters
- Bautzner Str 16 - one of the cells
- Bautzner Str 17 - creepy
- Bautzner Str 18 - cell doors and loo roll
- Bautzner Str 19 - shower
- Bautzner Str 20 - mug shot room
- Bautzner Str 21 - view down into the cell block with red alarm light
- Bautzner Str 22 - interrogation office
- Bautzner Str 23 - Czechoslovakian exhibition
- Bautzner Str 24 - Vorkuta exhibition
- Bautzner Str 25 - work room
- Bautzner Str 26 - ex-KGB villa that Putin spent his Dresden years in