A marketing gimmick too far?

A marketing gimmick too far?

8th August 2008, Comments 0 comments

Berlin has become used to people making money out of its troubled and interesting history, but a new East Berlin bar is a step too far for some former victims of the communist state

A pub packed with memorabilia of the Stasi has caused outrage among victims of the former East German secret police.

An East German flag draped behind the bar and shredded surveillance logs are among the decorations in The Firm, located in an East Berlin Street where the Stasi headquarters used to be.

On one of the walls there is a porcelain plate bearing the Stasi motto referring to protecting "the Peasants' and Workers' State." There is also a poster reading "Welcome to the capital of the German Democratic Republic (GDR)."


For people who suffered under East Germany's Ministry of State Security however the pub is no laughing matter.

"Playing down the Stasi like this is unbelievable," said Theodor Mittrup, a member of the Union of Victims Organizations of Communist Rule, which has its offices in the former Stasi headquarters.

"People who were sent to prison by the Stasi and other victims have not received as much attention as the opening of this pub," he said.

Confusing motives

The Firm is owned by Wilfried Gau and Wolfgang Schmelz, who used to work together in a call centre.

"It's not a joke, it is pure satire," said Gau, who grew up in East Germany, but insists he was not one of the Stasi's 100,000 unofficial informants who passed on information about fellow- citizens.

He said the pub, also known as The Conspiratorial Haunt, was not intended to glorify the Stasi, which was often referred to as The Firm by East Germans.

"The Stasi was basically an intelligence service like Israel's Mossad or the German BND," said the 60-year-old.

His partner Schmelz, who hails from west Germany, sees the pub solely as a business venture. "It's not a Stasi hangout," he said. "People from the neighbourhood come here for a beer and to chat about football or women."

At the heart of the problem

The pub is located in the suburb of Lichtenfeld, where a lot of former Stasi employees live. Regulars can apply for an 'informers card' which entitles them to a discount.

"Just because I live here doesn't mean I was in the secret police," said one 78-year-old man before being escorted out of the pub by the owners for bothering other guests.

The owners hope The Firm will be a magnet for tourists seeking a taste of what life in communist East Germany might have been like.

Only a few fragments remain of the main attraction, the Berlin Wall, which came tumbling down in November 1989.

Longing for the past

But wily entrepreneurs have come up with ideas to satisfy the craving for "ostalgia," the German pun mixing the words Ost (East) and nostalgia.

Traders sell East German medals and military uniforms at the former Cold War crossing point of Checkpoint Charlie. A hotel called Ostel offers rooms with communist-style furniture and pictures of the former East German leader Eric Honecker on the wall.

One Berlin travel group even organizes "safari tours" of the eastern part of the capital in modified East German Trabi cars.

"The Stasi pub has opened at a time when the GDR is regarded as a joke or something to poke fun at," says Klaus Schroeder, a professor at Berlin's Free University.

At the same time, "the further back the GDR is, the more positive it is viewed," he added.

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