Travel

A World Of James Bond At East German Spy HQ

THE East German Ministry for State Security, popularly known as the dreaded Stasi, flourished during the Cold War. Its underground recruits used all sorts of ingenious technical devices in their trade to spy on real and imagined opponents of the regime.

Stasi headquarters, now a museum

The trade secrets from one of the most feared spy agencies in history are on public display at the Museum on the Round Corner, the Stasi Museum, at Dittrichring 24, in the old city area of Leipzig. The structure was built in 1911-13 as the head office of a fire insurance company. After the Second World War it was occupied by the American Army, followed by the Soviet KGB and then the Stasi in 1950. The peaceful revolution of 1989 transformed the building into a people’s museum.

Stasi uniform
Uniform patch

On my tour of the building I was amazed to learn to what lengths the secret police engaged in surveillance and control of the citizens of the German Democratic Republic (GDR).

The fascinating exhibit reveals the communist spy technology with its secret methods and apparatus that enabled them to infiltrate Western industrial and defense complexes to extract valuable information for the benefit of the communist economy.

On view are officer uniforms and armaments, as the Stasi was a military organization—even cooks and cleaners had military ranks—and everyone had a uniform and was armed.

along with such spy artifacts as hidden cameras and vanishing ink, and the reconstruction of jail cells and interrogation rooms. The disguise workshop featured false beards, wigs, makeup kits, glasses and even false stomachs. There were cameras in women’s purses, listening bugs of all types in a fountain pen holder, wristwatch and on a bedpost, and scent specimens from citizens preserved in bottles.

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Out of a total of 2,401 fulltime agents of the repressive apparatus of the Stasi in the city, a thousand worked in this headquarters building.

For an extensive knowledge of the Stasi you must read Seduced by Secrets: Inside the Stasi’s Spy-Tech World. Kristie Mackrakis, a professor of history, technology and society at Georgia Tech, Atlanta, delves deeply in the history, methodology and spymastercraft of “one of the most effective and feared spy agencies and secret police in the world.”

Mackrakis shows how the Stasi, whose chief target was West Germany, was so effective that “it was capable of helping its East Bloc allies as they fought the ‘imperialists’ abroad and extended communist influence. Clearly the eavesdroppers’ main focus was not dissidents; instead they took part in the worldwide espionage game of spy-versus-spy and targeted their counterparts in the West. It was a real surprise to unsuspecting politicians when they fund out so many of their conversations had been recorded.”

It’s an intriguing book that reads like a spy novel—only it’s Cold War truth. U.S. Naval Institute, softcover, 392 pages, $24.95 at usni.com/store/books.

Officer’s wardrobe
Photographing prisoners
Officer’s Room