If you’re in Leipzig, and you’re a little strapped for cash, the Museum in der Runden Ecke, and the Zeitgeschitliches Forum, are two absolutely free museums that you should definitely check out!
The Round Corner (Runde Ecke) is located in the former district headquarters of the Stasi in Leipzig, and- as you can guess, is very much focused on this group and their terrifying era. Want to leave fascinated but super concerned about government control?
This is the place for you.
Zeitgesichtliches means ‘contempory history’ (we have the german Zeit, ‘time’, in Zeitgeist for those playing at home- geist is ghost or spirit, so it’s basically ‘spirit of the time’). At the forum, you get a much wider range of the modern history of the city of Leipzig. Nonetheless, there is of course a strong focus on the Divided Germany era.
The former is more of a display of the depths that the Stasi and Co. went to to lure, trick, spy on, damage, or destroy those around them and pretty information heavy. The latter is more of a visual walk-through of the last 50 or so years- much more children (or child-within?) friendly.
Let’s begin with the Round Corner shall we?
Now I know what you’re thinking: that there are plenty of DDR and Stasi- themed museums in our own Beloved Berlin.
But Berlin is a bit of an Exceptionm and it’s not Proper East.
Leipzig was Proper East, while also being a significant location for the resistance movement leading up to the fall of East Germany, and despite the museum-ification, the Round Ecke shows you this past.
There is the original artwork:
The original offices:
..and the original creepy doors, which are handle-less to prevent you from leaving once you get in (I am not joking).
And sure, the exhibitions themselves look a little… ‘of a communist era’…
… but they’re bursting with history and fascinating information.
And I say this as someone who usually puts ‘ Learn History’ fairly low down on the ‘things to do with my afternoon’ list.
However, you might have noticed that Andy has an audioguide. And if you do value history, and if you don’t speak (technical) German- you’ll need one.
In fact, it might even be recommended even if you do speak German- there’s just so much backstory that cannot possibly exist in the little German display cards (especially with their love of huge words!)
With the help of the audioguide, you’ll get to hear about the ‘Nazi Youth’ style program where young children were recruited to act in the interest of the state (very 1984, very terrifying).
You’ll learn about stashes of weapons, and weird party-themed memorabilia.
Particularly fascinating- you’ll get to take a gander at some of the crazy machines they invented, all created to spy and manipulate!
This one, as you can probably guess, is made to steam open letters:
The Stasi, of course, even tapped the phones of their own citizens- storing recordings on ‘intercepted’ tapes, stolen from the post of easterners with family and friends outside.
And, when it was clear that everything was collapsing, they tried to bury the evidence, by ‘composting’ the millions of documents collected in the last years.
Can you guess what these are?
As well as a huge library of information on each individual, the Stasi were trying to build a scent library- by taking ‘suspicious’ people of the street. ‘Interviewing’ them to induce panic and sweating, and then bottling the cloth placed on the interviewee’s chair.
Some of it seems rather comical, but in reality, it’s quite terrifying.
For example Zersetzung:
Zersetzung means decomposition, decay, corrosion, subversion, undermining, decline.
And the Stasis wrote a literal list on how to undermine and decay the reputation, occupation, private and personal lives, and mental state of an individual who was seen as a state enemy.
I think sometimes in the shadow of Hitler’s reign, and the mass genocide commited in that era, it’s easy to dismiss the Stazi era as lesser fascism. But the Round Ecke serves to remind us that it wasn’t all just fun and spy-games.
Andy and I spent probably a couple of hours in the museum, before heading over to the Zeitgesichtliches Forum.
As I mentioned, the Forum is much more focused on design than the Round Corner.
If you follow it all through, you can pass through the last few decades of Leipzig’s history.
Here, there is still a bit of a lack of English, but the whole thing is colourful and tactile enough to get by.
They even have Angie’s (Angela Merkel) Actual Phone!
(Something like ‘spying on friends, that doesn’t stand/does not happen’). Talking about the NSA obviously- we were here when the News broke that they were listening in on Angie. Big outrage in the nation. But not at all a surprise, and I’m sure it can’t have been to her either.
Nonetheless, she went through the actions of outrage.
And then she, and the rest of the country/world, quietly forgot the issue within a few weeks.
Overall, the Forum is much more visual than the Ecke, and you can definitely spend a good few hours there looking at all the trinkets.
In the end, I think we both ultimately preferred the Ecke for the history it gave and the fascinating gadgets it showed.
But that isn’t to say that the Forum doesn’t leave you with your mouth hanging open:
The Museum in der Runden Ecke is found on Dittrichring 24, just a short walk from the S-bahn Markt in the Market square that centres the town. The Forum is on Grimmaische Str, 6, which is the main pedestrian shopping mall.
PS- the Audioguide in the Round Corner is a bit hard to find, you have to go into the exhibition and halfway down the hall. Then head on out again and start from the beginning!