Tour 2 – Prisons, Factories, Russians and the Stasi

This tour of scenes from Stealing The Future visits the Rummelsburg Prison, where Chris Fremdiswalde, the main suspect in the Maier case was held, then on to the Klingenberg Power Station, a trip to KWO and then to Karlshorst, where the Russians had their main base in Berlin, continuing, by way of Friedrichsfelde (where Fremdiswalde had a flat) to the Stasi HQ in Lichtenberg.

Allow 6 hours, less if you don’t wish to visit the museums.

Walking distance: 1.3 Miles (2.15km) in Rummelsburg; an optional 3/4 Mile km near KWO plus 3/4 Mile (1.25km) in Karlshorst; 4 hrs.
Cycling distance: 20 km/13 Miles.
Time: 2 hrs plus time to visit museums.
Start: Rummelsburg S-Bahn station;
End: Stasi HQ, near Magdalenenstrasse U-Bahn station.

The tour involves both walking and using a tram – buying a local transport day ticket is advisable. Alternatively hire a bike. (Bikes are available from lots of hotels and local shops in Friedrichshain – get the S-Bahn to Warschauer Strasse or Ostkreuz – keep an eye open for signs outside hotels and booze shops on and around Warschauer Strasse, Grünberger Strasse, Boxhagener Strasse and Neue Bahnhofstrasse. Hire is usually €10/day.).

Accessibility: The tour is along level paths (paved, or along parts of the river promenade: well packed grit). The steps at the Knabenhäuser have been replaced by an easy gradient.
The trams and buses are wheelchair accessible, but U-Bahn station Magdalenestrasse has neither a lift nor level platform access. Museum Karlshorst has full accessibility, but the Stasi Museum has stairs and no lift.
Warning – contains spoilers!

Walking and Tram Map

Download GPX track for walking and tram.

Cycling Map

Download GPX track for cycling.

The Tour

Start the tour at Rummelsburg S-Bahn station, exiting at the Hauptstrasse entrance. Cross the main road and tram tracks, and take one of the roads directly opposite, leading down to the Rummelsburg lake.

Rummelsburger See

The Rummelsburger See is actually a dead arm of the river Spree, which flows right through Berlin. The peninsular opposite was, until the early 1990s, an industrial centre – glass and bottle making along with boat and ship building were the main activities there. On the horizon to the right you can see the Art Nouveau water tower at Ostkreuz station – it is currently empty, and plans to give the tower away to anyone with a decent idea of how to use it foundered on German Rail’s insistence that it should go to the highest bidder. To the right of the water tower the Television Tower can be seen off in the distance.

Turn left, following the water’s edge south-east. The red brick building on a point opposite is the Palm Oil warehouse, built in 1881 to store palm oil before refining for use in food products and to burn in power stations.

Border Troops Barracks

There is a pleasant promenade along the side of the lake, but in Martin’s time it wouldn’t have been possible to walk along the water – factories, army camps and prisons lined the edge of this side of the lake. After just under half a mile you’ll get to a visitors’ mooring where pleasure boats can stay for up to 24 hours, and behind that the imposing Knabenhaus, the remains of an orphanage where, until 1949, orphans were held in (by today’s standards) inhumane conditions. By 1960 the old buildings had been cleared, and this area became the barracks of the 35th Border Troops Regiment, which patrolled the Berlin Wall where it ran along the river Spree. This is the spot that Martin sits for a while after visiting Chris Fremdiswalde in prison. Across the water, to the left, you should be able to see the top of the Ferris wheel peeping over the woods of the Plänterwald,

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The camp was practically empty. Compulsory military service had been ended, professional soldiers had been drafted into the factories – only the disarmament corps and the Grepos, the Border Police, still used the site. At the jetty a launch was casting off, about to patrol the border between Kreuzberg and Friedrichshain, on the lookout for smugglers crossing the river between West and East.

I watched the launch steadily make way down the Rummelsburger Lake to the river Spree, the new GDR flag fluttering at its stern. Ahead of them, beyond the prison, barges and lighters were tied up along the bank, all empty, all waiting to go and fetch a new load of Silesian brown coal for the power station. Some of the barges were dead or dying, slowly collapsing into the water, timbers rotting, water stains seeping up the lifeless sides. A sapling had rooted in a wheelhouse, and was growing directly up to the sky, but it looked like it was growing sideways out of the top of the listing vessel. It was a clear day, the sun hanging fairly low over the Kulturpark hiding in the trees of the Plänterwald off to the left. The bright light shaded the trees in their autumnal livery: more yellows and golds, less reds and bronzes now, hardly any greens.

Rummelsburg Prison

Rummelsburg Prison Entrance
Rummelsburg Prison Entrance

Just a couple of hundred metres further down the promenade you’ll reach the Rummelsburg Prison, behind a tall row of poplars. The concrete slabs that now make up the river promenade were once part of the guards’ patrol route, with dog kennels on the river-side. The prison was built in the 1870s as a workhouse. Conditions in the workhouse improved slightly during the Weimar period after the First World War but deteriorated drastically after 1933 when the Nazis gained power.

After the war the bombed workhouse was hurriedly repaired and converted into a prison. The prison had the dubious honour of being one of the most notorious prisons in the GDR, along with Bautzen, Cottbus and Hohenschönhausen.

Gefängnis Rummelsburg 1993
Fences around the Rummelsburg prison

Almost all of the prison walls and fences have been removed, leaving only some of the accommodation and work blocks – most of the site has been converted into luxury residences, and the prison hospital is now a bijou Hotel.

You can walk through the prison, and there is an online guide and app (in English and German) available, with information, pictures of how it looked, and a suggested tour.

If you go through the prison on to the Hauptstrasse main road, the old police station (including steel gates) can be seen along to the left. This has been recently converted to a Memorial centre. A row of innocuous looking garages stand between the gate and the police station – it was in these garages that hundreds of protesters were held in stress positions and beaten for hours during the 40th Anniversary of the GDR, in 1989. The ‘Tiger Cages’ that Chris Fremdiswalde (along with many political detainees during the history of the GDR) were held are in the basement of the police station.

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I was left alone, standing in front of a grey steel gate, five meters high. It rattled as it ground open, just wide enough to let me slip through. A prison guard, in green uniform and peaked cap, sat in a metal sentry box, staring at me, no smile or acknowledgement touching his face. I stood in a non-space, a space that didn’t exist — neither the outside world, nor the prison — the gate rattled shut again behind me. Looking at the steel plates of the second gate in front of me, waiting for them to open, I ignored the guard to my right as well as the watchtower that looked down on me. In my mind I was elsewhere, or rather, in another time. The last time I’d been through these gates I was lying on the floor in the back of a truck, with police boots resting on my head, neck, back and legs.

For an insight in to conditions in prisons in the GDR have a look at Wolfgang Rüddenklau’s article: Versuch einer Lokalisierung von Errinerungen an alte Ostberliner Knäste (in German).

The tram (No 21, every 20 mins) runs along the Hauptstrasse in front of the prison, go either way (the prison is halfway between tram stops) to catch the tram towards S-Bahn Schöneweide.

Rummelsburg Power Station

Rummelsburg coal-fired power station
Rummelsburg coal-fired power station. CC-BY-SA Arnold

The tram will go past the Klingenberg Power Station, which still burns brown coal from the area of West Silesia (Upper Lusatia). The administration building which Martin visited is on the left, just after the tram stop.

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I could see the twin chimneys of the Rummelsburg coal power station beckoning from way down the road; but they were much further away than they had seemed—it was several stops before the tram finally arrived at the main gates.

I showed my pass to the works guard and asked to speak to the director. A short wait, then I was met by a guy in a suit who took me to a high Art Deco building made of slim, reddish-brown bricks. Everything about it was narrow, it was huge, but its ten storeys made it look tall and slim, the same as the windows, stretching virtually from marble covered floors to the soaring ceilings. We clacked our way across the marble to the stairs. On the first floor the walls were covered in glassy green tiles, the floors with well polished red lino.

KWO

KWO
Facade of Building A4 in KWO, where Martin and Klaus chased Chris Fremdiswalde.

Get off at the stop Wilhelminenhofstr/Edisonstr and walk down the Wilhelminenhofstrasse, past the transformer factory (2/3 Mile, 1km) to KWO, the cable factory where Chris Fremdiswalde was caught.
If you prefer not to walk you can catch another tram a couple of stops down the Wilhelminenhofstrasse – catch the tram 27 (every 20mins) from the same stop you just alighted from, or head down the Treskowallee, over the crossroads, and catch the tram 63 or 67 (every 10 mins) from the stop on the other side of the road. Alight at the stop Rathenaustr/HTW.

Wilhelminenhofstr, showing the tram tracks and the heavy industrial line alongside the road.
Wilhelminenhofstr, showing the tram tracks and the heavy industrial line alongside the road. CC-BY-SA Andreas Petersell

The factory is the complex by the tram stop Rathenaustr/HTW. KWO, designed by the famous architect Peter Behrens, and built in 1897 by the Rathenau family was part of the Electric Oberschöneweide movement, taking industry out of the middle of Berlin, giving it a chance to expand. After the war KWO became the main factory and administrative centre of the Combine KWO, which monopolised cable production in the GDR.
The industrial train track that ran down the right hand side of the road is no longer there.
Most of the KWO factory is now a Technical College, and you can freely walk around the campus. Unfortunately the paternoster lift is no longer there, but the corridor where Martin caught up with the injured Chris is now a computer museum and is open to the public.

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We drove down the Wilhelminenhofstrasse. On the left were the usual soot stained brown-grey buildings—flats, and some shops on the ground floor. On the right were tracks, a diesel locomotive, stationary, engine hammering out greasy, black smoke. Attached to it was a train, a long line of empty flatbed wagons.

“Transformer works,” said Klaus, nodding towards the factory beyond the goods train. It too was stained and sooty, but behind all the dirt were yellow bricks, and an elaborate industrial gothic design. It must have been beautiful once.

“Just a bit further down—that’s the cable works, KWO. Designed by the same architect for the Rathenau family last century. And that, on the corner at the end is the TV factory, where I ended up working in ’89.”

Wuhlheide and Soviet Tank Barracks

Once you’ve had a look around KWO get any tram heading to the right (27, 63, 67 – all heading towards Köpenick or Krankenhaus Köpenick, every few minutes) and get off three stops later at Freizeit- und Erholungszentrum. Walk down the main drive of the park on the other side of the road, which will take you to the open air stage, built in 1951 for the World Festival of Youth and Students. The park you are in is the Wuhlheide, where Nik met Dmitri. An old heath, now mostly wooded, but deep inside is the old ‘Palace of the Pioneers’ – palace for the children (to the right of the open air stage), which still has lots of events for younger people, not to mention the narrow gauge railway that goes through the park, run by children (for the benefit of both children and adults that are still young at heart).

Garages in the Soviet Tank Regiment base in Karlshorst.
Garages in the Soviet Tank Regiment base in Karlshorst.

Turn left at the stage (or go back to the stage if you’ve been to look at the Palace, then carry on in the same direction) and after about half a mile you should start seeing cycle route signs on the path. Follow these past the Model Park Berlin-Brandenburg. On the right hand side you’ll see a derelict patch of land – this used to be the barracks for Soviet Army Berlin Brigades, including tank regiments – the same tanks that were used to crush the 1953 uprising and participated in putting down the Prague Spring in 1968. There isn’t much to be seen there now, just some blocks of concrete among the undergrowth, but check out these photographs, taken five years after the Russians left, in 1999.

Continue along the path to the main road, and catch the tram M17, 27 or 37 (every few minutes) a couple of stops to S-Bahnhof Karlshorst (the one just after you go under the railway bridge).

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“So there we were in the middle of some woods on the edge of Berlin. Well the Wuhlheide, you know, next to the Russian tank barracks, but you get the picture. There we were, trying to avoid the columns of Young Pioneers and Thälmann Pioneers in their blue and red scarves, marching around as if 1989 had never happened…”

Soviet Army HQ in Berlin

German-Russian Museum, where the Germans surrendered to the Red Army in 1945.
German-Russian Museum, where the Germans surrendered to the Red Army in 1945. CC-BY-SA Anagoria

When you get off the tram at S-Bahnhof Karlshorst, walk back along the road a bit, turning left into Stolzenfelsstrasse. Here you can jump on the bus 296 (every 20 mins, towards S-Bahn Lichtenberg). Get off at Museum Karlshorst – this is the German-Russian Museum, which is in the building where the Germans surrendered to the Red Army in 1945. Next to the museum once stood the main Red Army (later Soviet Army) base in Berlin, where Martin met the Russian major. The site has now been turned into yet another luxurious residential project, but Abandoned Berlin have photos of the complex from 2012. (This base shouldn’t be confused with the headquarters of the ‘Western Group of Troops’ of the Soviet Army, based in Wünsdorf, a train ride south of Berlin. The base in Wünsdorf is also worth a visit, and has a museum and its own report by Abandoned Berlin).

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I wandered through Karlshorst to arrive at the grey steel gate sporting a red star. One of the guards posted in front checked my pass and ushered me in, the gate clanging shut behind me. I was in a small paved yard, Soviet soldiers in dress uniform and fatigues hastening between the main building and various side wings. No-one paid any attention to me, and not quite sure where I was going, I headed into the main entrance.

Behind the tall wooden doors the hall was both large and high, with expansive bay windows at the back, and a wide staircase to my right. Soldiers bustled around here too, looking both purposeful and efficient, clacking over the polished parquet.

Friedrichsfelde

Jump back on the bus, heading towards Lichtenberg, and it will take you to Friedrichsfelde U-Bahn station, where you can explore this suburb of Berlin and try to guess where Chris Fremdiswalde had his flat.

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It didn’t feel like Berlin, not the Berlin I knew. Low rise houses, plenty of gardens, some of the side streets unmade, just beaten sand marked by car and bike tracks. Turning into a side street I could see that the residents had blocked it off, making raised beds to grow vegetables on what had been the road. A sign, decorated with rainbow swirls, read Colour from below, a huge pile of pumpkins grew from a single plant, surrounded by peppers, herbs and flowers.

Stasi HQ

Stasi HQ in 2005. CC-BY-SA Praefcke
Stasi HQ in 2005. CC-BY-SA Praefcke

For the next stage, get the underground to Magdalenenstrasse for the Stasi HQ. This was the central Stasi base from which General Erich Mielke directed the tentacular secret police. As well as the offices of the Federal Commissioner for the Stasi Archives there is also a museum in the buildings (entrance: €6). The museum documents various aspects of the Stasi, and you can visit General Mielke’s offices.

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I crossed the Allee at the traffic lights by the underground station and started up the slight incline of the Ruschestrasse. I showed the guard my RS pass, and went into the large courtyard of the old Stasi headquarters. High concrete blocks surrounded the whole complex, making it impossible to see in from the outside. Opposite me was the main building, where Erich Mielke, the general in charge of the Stasi, had had his offices.

If you haven’t yet had your fill of Stasi and prisons, you could extend the tour by visiting the Hohenschönhausen Stasi prison museum.

From here you can continue on to Tour 1 – Martin’s Kiez. To do this, exit the Stasi Museum on to the Ruschestrasse. Walk down hill and cross the main road. The road opposite you is Schulze-Boysen-Strasse, which snakes for half a mile through tall concrete tower blocks, before it turns into Pfarrstrasse where it goes under the railway bridge. To your right is the Wiesenweg, where Martin worked. Now follow the instructions for Tour 1.