Trip Start Jul 03, 2008
5Trip End Oct 29, 2008
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I found it interesting to consider how this was the biggest war then known to Europe, yet the monument was completed on the eve of a much larger conflict to come - the 'war to end all wars'. It's easy to forget how influential and traumatic Napoleon's rise to power was - I suppose they told stories about him like we now tell stories about the Third Reich.
I had just enough time to walk over to the Museum in der 'Runden Ecke' (round corner). This is the nickname for the building which once held the Leipzig Stasi secret police headquarters. All has been left pretty much as it originally appeared, so the exhibits of 1960s-1980s style office equipment looks on the outset quite banal and even amusingly antiquated. The really creepy part is the stories and explanations behind the objects.
The exhibition was entirely in German but I was able to hire an audioguide and participate that way. The museum was packed with a huge tour group which took over the narrow corridors so I often had to squeeze through and practice my 'entschuldigung's (excuse me) in the best German I could muster. Its so easy to forget just how invasive and omnipresent a government can make itself, and it terryfies me that this all happened so recently. And that to some extent my own government probably does some of these things too, especially with the whole war on terror. We could view the mail opening machines which allowed the Stasi to check internal and external mail. Especially at Christmas time they'd often 'confiscate' the West German currancy that was placed in the packages, as well as music tapes and any other contraband objects. Everyone knew mail was read, but there was also information in the museum of the secret raids that went on in people's houses. The Stasi would get a copy made of the key then when the occupant was out they'd break in and take polaroids of the place before pulling it apart for information. Once they'd checked everything out they'd use the polaroids to put everything back as it was and the person living there would have no idea anyone had been there, or guess that there might now be bugs in the rooms spying on everything they did.
There was an essay posted on the wall, written by a little boy and complaining how the GDR affected car prices. His teachers sent the essay to the Stasi, who insisted that the employers of the boy's mother discipline her. Worse still, this one essay would have destroyed this kid's chances at gaining an apprenticship or a government job before he even hit his teens! Huge, earthy looking chunks on the floor turned out to be dried pulped paper - destroyed Stasi records. You could see one of the pulping machines where they tipped the documents to be churned and mixed with water. There is now a special computer program which helps to reconstruct the bags of shredded documents the Stasi also left behind. Residents are now allowed to see their Stasi files - the level of detail kept is astounding. Steph told me her uncle checked his and was incredibly hurt when he discovered his best friend had been reporting on him after he made a small negative comment about the regime while they watched TV in his living room one night.
I think one of the more disturbing stories was how the government got more sneaky after signing treaties which promised basic human rights to the East German people. Which just meant that any discrimination and punishment of people they saw as 'enemies of the state' had to be more secretive - they began to set events up to discredit and demoralise their target, with the purpose of not only convincing no one around believed in them, but eventually to ensuring that the target themselves ended up doubting themselves. Of course everything had to be carefully manufactured so nothing could be traced back to the Stasi. It wasn't until after the Iron Curtain fell and these people could access their Stasi files that they could discover how much of their life's events had been orchestrated by the government. 1984 eat your heart out.
I walked back to the Thomaskirche to meet Stephanie - the famous boy's choir associated with the church had a performance that night and as it only cost 2 euro this was much more in my budget than the Leipzig orchestra! The program was set up as a service with sermon and prayer so I got to hear the Lord's prayer in German which was interesting. The choir created an amazing sound when the youngest boys' voices soured high while the older ones stayed low. The obligatory Bach fugue was intricate and a little too convoluted for me, but I loved the hymn by a guy called Johann Schelley who was Cantor 20 years before Bach.
We walked to the train station via a doner place to pick up dinner. I had my yummiest felafel pita yet, with halloumi cheese and red cabbage mmmm. At the station I met up with Danilo, who held my ticket to Dresden. There's a car share website here in Germany called Mitfahrgelegenheit; Danilo posted that he was travelling on a Lander pass, which allows up to 5 people to travel on the same ticket at no extra cost. So I found myself on the train with him, and a Slovak Erasmus student called Katerina shuttling towards Dresden for the cost of 6 euro instead of 20 :D
Interesting German language titbit I learnt today - to say you have a hangover, translates as 'I have a tomcat' in English. Strange, but I suppose it makes sense!
Where I stayed