Ministry of State Security (MfS) Memorial Museum

Ministry of State Security

MfS Memorial Museum, Leipzig

History

The building is located on the site, where around 1000, the first German castle was built in a mainly Slavic / Sorbic populated area. The old city wall of Leipzig ran just outside this place. 1911 to 1913, the new office building of the “Alte Leipziger” Fire Insurance Company was built.

Rumor has it that the Gestapo used the house in the time of National Socialism. In April 1945, shortly before the end of the Second World War, the American army moved into the “Runde Ecke” quarters, temporarily. A few months later, Leipzig was handed over to the Soviet military administration, and the building became the property of the Soviet occupying force. It was used by the Soviet secret service, NKVD, and the predecessor of the Stasi, “K 5”. In 1950, the building became the district headquarters of the Stasi until 1989.

For nearly 40 years, the “Runde Ecke” was a threatening stronghold in the middle of the city. All conversation ceased when people passed this place. During the Monday Demonstrations, this building became the target of the anger and outrage of the demonstrators.

On the evening of the 4th December 1989, Leipzig citizens occupied the building. Several weeks previously, the Monday demonstrators had demanded “Krumme Ecke – Schreckenshaus, wann wird ein Museum d’raus?” (“Crooked Corner – horror house, when will it become a museum?”). In August 1990, this demand became a reality with the opening of the permanent historical exhibition “Stasi – Power, and Banality.”

Today the Leipzig office of the Federal Commissioner for the Records of the Ministry for State Security of the GDR Bundesbeauftragte für Stasiunterlagen, (BStU) uses a large part of the building for archiving Stasi files and doing research on them. There are ten kilometers of files in the building! Any citizen can request a search to determine whether the Stasi had a file on him, and can inspect it if one exists.

Exhibition

Listening and surveillance devices, counterfeit stamps, badges and passports, equipment for opening mail, a disguise workshop and body-scent archives – these are just some of the numerous artifacts of the Stasi displayed by the Citizens Committee in the permanent exhibition of contemporary history, called “Stasi – Power and Banality.” The original working material of the Stasi documents its history, structure, and methods of operation, using the Leipzig district headquarters as an example. Selected photographs and documents supplement them.

The exhibition gives an introductory outline of the development of the Stasi, its ideological roots, its interior structure, and the activities of full-time employees and unauthorized personnel (“Inoffizielle Mitarbeiter, “IM). A second section is devoted to the actions of different departments of the Stasi, for example, M (checking post), 26 (telephone surveillance) or VIII (observation and investigation).

You can also see the faithful reproduction of a cell from the former Leipziger Stasi-detention for prisoners awaiting trial. The entrance area is dedicated to the history of the Peaceful Revolution, which overcame the 40-year dictatorship. Another part of the exhibition is concerned with the death penalty in the GDR, which from 1960 onward, was carried out in Leipzig for the entire GDR.

The permanent exhibition is presented in authentic surroundings: Leipzig is the only place in Germany where original rooms of a district headquarters of the Stasi have been preserved and can be visited as a memorial. The linoleum floors, the lattice bars on the windows, surveillance cameras, and, not least, the typical GDR smell, which still lingers today in the former offices, are all reminders of the former use of the building.

A tour of the exhibition “Stasi – Power and Banality” brings home to the visitors how the SED developed its surveillance state and how it systematically robbed GDR citizens of their fundamental rights. The exhibition is designed to create an awareness of the significance of the achievements of the Peaceful Revolution. The Citizens Committee wants to sensitize the young generation specifically, who no longer know life in the GDR from their own experience to the dangers of dictatorship and want to encourage them to act democratically.

A museum is a place of warning, commemoration, and learning. It has also become established as a much-visited site of political and cultural discourse. The Citizens Committee regularly offers discussions, film evenings, readings, and numerous other events in the “Round Corner.”

Well, I can say go and visit this museum when you are in Leipzig as you will learn a lot about the STASI in former East Germany (GDR). The exhibition also shows how the STASI performed passport control at the borders and how they faked passports and stamps for conspirative actions.

Source: http://www.runde-ecke-leipzig.de

Ministry of State Security (MfS) Memorial Museum, Leipzig

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1. What are the earliest known examples of passports, and how have they evolved?

The word "passport" came up only in the mid 15th Century. Before that, such documents were safe conducts, recommendations or protection letters. On a practical aspect, the earliest passport I have seen was from the mid 16th Century. Read more...

2. Are there any notable historical figures or personalities whose passports are highly sought after by collectors?

Every collector is doing well to define his collection focus, and yes, there are collectors looking for Celebrity passports and travel documents of historical figures like Winston Churchill, Brothers Grimm, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Read more...

3. How did passport designs and security features change throughout different periods in history, and what impact did these changes have on forgery prevention?

"Passports" before the 18th Century had a pure functional character. Security features were, in the best case, a watermark and a wax seal. Forgery, back then, was not an issue like it is nowadays. Only from the 1980s on, security features became a thing. A state-of-the-art passport nowadays has dozens of security features - visible and invisible. Some are known only by the security document printer itself. Read more...

4. What are some of the rarest and most valuable historical passports that have ever been sold or auctioned?

Lou Gehrig, Victor Tsoi, Marilyn Monroe, James Joyce, and Albert Einstein when it comes to the most expensive ones. Read more...

5. How do diplomatic passports differ from regular passports, and what makes them significant to collectors?

Such documents were often held by officials in high ranks, like ambassadors, consuls or special envoys. Furthermore, these travel documents are often frequently traveled. Hence, they hold a tapestry of stamps or visas. Partly from unusual places.

6. Can you provide insights into the stories behind specific historical passports that offer unique insights into past travel and migration trends?

A passport tells the story of its bearer and these stories can be everything - surprising, sad, vivid. Isabella Bird and her travels (1831-1904) or Mary Kingsley, a fearless Lady explorer.

7. What role did passports play during significant historical events, such as wartime travel restrictions or international treaties?

During war, a passport could have been a matter of life or death. Especially, when we are looking into WWII and the Holocaust. And yes, during that time, passports and similar documents were often forged to escape and save lives. Example...

8. How has the emergence of digital passports and biometric identification impacted the world of passport collecting?

Current modern passports having now often a sparkling, flashy design. This has mainly two reasons. 1. Improved security and 2. Displaying a countries' heritage, icons, and important figures or achievements. I can fully understand that those modern documents are wanted, especially by younger collectors.

9. Are there any specialized collections of passports, such as those from a specific country, era, or distinguished individuals?

Yes, the University of Western Sidney Library has e.g. a passport collection of the former prime minister Hon Edward Gough Whitlam and his wife Margaret. They are all diplomatic passports and I had the pleasure to apprise them. I hold e.g. a collection of almost all types of the German Empire passports (only 2 types are still missing). Also, my East German passport collection is quite extensive with pretty rare passport types.

10. Where can passport collectors find reliable resources and reputable sellers to expand their collection and learn more about passport history?

A good start is eBay, Delcampe, flea markets, garage or estate sales. The more significant travel documents you probably find at the classic auction houses. Sometimes I also offer documents from my archive/collection. See offers... As you are already here, you surely found a great source on the topic 😉

Other great sources are: Scottish Passports, The Nansen passport, The secret lives of diplomatic couriers

11. Is vintage passport collecting legal? What are the regulations and considerations collectors should know when acquiring historical passports?

First, it's important to stress that each country has its own laws when it comes to passports. Collecting old vintage passports for historical or educational reasons is safe and legal, or at least tolerated. More details on the legal aspects are here...

Does this article spark your curiosity about passport collecting and the history of passports? With this valuable information, you have a good basis to start your own passport collection.

Question? Contact me...