The secret police of the former East Germany ruled with an iron fist, turning brother against brother, and friend against friend. Now a Stasi-themed pub is reopening old wounds in the German capital.
The bar, located near the former Stasi headquarters, is causing outrage
The bar is filled with Stasi memorabilia
An East German flag draped behind the bar and shredded surveillance logs are among the decorations in The Firm, located on street in what used to be East Berlin where the Stasi headquarters was located.
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."
For people who suffered under the former East Germany's Ministry of State Security the pub is no laughing matter. One of them is Theodor Mittrup, a member of the Union of Victims Organizations of Communist Rule, which has its offices in the former Stasi headquarters. He said playing down the Stasi like this is unbelievable.
"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 added.
A neighborhood watering hole?
The bar's owners say it's just like any other neighborhood pub
The Firm is owned by Wilfried Gau and Wolfgang Schmelz, who used to work together in a call center. Gau, who grew up in East Germany, said the bar is not a joke, it is pure satire.
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, Gau said. His partner, Schmelz, who hails from western Germany, sees the pub solely as a business venture and not some sort of Stasi hangout.
"People from the neighborhood come here for a beer and to chat about soccer or women,” Schmelz said.
There is a large market for nostalgia from the East, or "Ostalgia"
The pub is located in the suburb of Lichtenfeld, where a lot of former Stasi employees continue to live. Regulars can apply for an informer's card that entitles them to a discount.
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. Opponents of the bar, however, point out that patrons are free to leave whenever they choose -- unlike the citizens of the former East Germany.
Entrepreneurs have come up with several ideas to satisfy the craving for "ostalgia," the German expression 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.