Stasi spy station
Ear to the ground for the DDR in Rhinow
Prized secrets are worthless, blown out through hollow window-frames and swallowed by the triumphant wind. Nature’s agents have taken over, poking fingers in the wounds of the failed state. The Ministerium für Staatssicherheit (MfS) is East Germany’s deepest, darkest shame.
‘Twas different in July 1987, when the MfS spy station with the codename “Quelle 1” (Source 1) in Rhinow reached full capacity. It was capable of surveying all 57,600 channels from a line of fiber optic cable crossing 250 kilometers through East German territory from West Berlin to Uelzen in the German Federal Republic. The cable had 60 fibers with each pair capable of carrying 1,920 pulse-code modulation channels, according to Stasi expert Manfred Bischoff.
Little else is known about the Stasi spy station, presumably because the spies involved weren’t distributing brochures on their work when it was in operation. Pangs of conscience or embarrassment later caused the Stasi to try to destroy all their files in the dying days of the DDR.
The Stasi spy station was run by Division 7 (Abteilung 7) from the MfS’ Main Division III (Hauptabteilung III), which handled signals intelligence and counter-measures under Deputy Minister Lieutenant general Wolfgang Schwanitz.
Of course the Stasi were all ears – all noses, really, poking them anywhere and everywhere they could.
“The state party, the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED), believed that its power was only secure if it had its own population spied on and guarded. The Ministry for State Security (MfS) was the instrument used for surveillance,” Roland Jahn, Federal Commissioner for the Stasi Records, wrote.
“The SED kept its own population under surveillance on a huge scale, mainly by unofficlal informants, ordinary citizens who had been recruited to spy for the Stasi. In 1989, the MfS had about 91,000 official staff and 189,000 unofficial informants.”
Jahn was writing for an exhibition titled “Feind ist, wer anders denkt” (The enemy is he who thinks differently), which perfectly encapsulates all you need to know about the Paranoid State.
When the West Germans asked for permission in 1985 to lay their communication cable through DDR territory, the East Germans graciously acquiesced, then danced behind their closed doors in delight – all the better to spy you with, my dear!
Instruction No. III/015/85 with the codename “SAPHIR A/2-1” gave the order to tap the cable on April 16, 1985 – even before it began operating.
They didn’t waste any time. The signal was picked up by an amplifier in nearby Rathenow before the fiber optics led all the way to Rhinow.
But the Stasi weren’t content with just that. They built a tower, like a mini-Teufelsberg with its beehive construction on top, with antennae and other receivers to pick up radio signals from West Berlin to West Germany.
It’s important to remember West Berlin was an island surrounded by East Germany and the only way back to West Germany – to which West Berlin belonged – was by going through or over East German territory.
Rhinow also picked up digital radio links from 1986 under the codename “SAPHIR A/2-2,” aided by a line splitter in the funky-looking tower.
Who knows what secrets and fascinating tidbits they discovered – and what nefarious uses they put them too. Blackmail and extortion are sure to figure. This is one place that’s better off abandoned and left to the pale grey ghosts.
LOCATION AND ACCESS (HOW TO FIND GUIDE)
- What: Stasi spy station.
- Where: Turmstraße, 14728 Rhinow.
- How to get there: It’s a bit out of the way. You’ll need to get the RE4 regional train to Rathenow, then get the 687 bus to Turmstraße in Rhinow and walk from there. Otherwise a car, if you can get hold of one might be a better idea. Here it is on a map.
- Getting in: Getting in is no biggie. Find the gate at the end of the road, walk along the wall beside it till there’s a gap, and you’re in! No Stasi here anymore. Everything is easily accessible.
- Difficulty rating: 4/10. Getting here is the biggest challenge.
- Who to bring: Bring your friends for a day out. But make sure you’re careful. The rusty old ladder up the tower can be dangerous. See “dangers” below.
- What to bring: Beer and snacks. There are no Spätis in Rhinow. Bring anything you might think you need on a day out from the Hauptspätistadt. Beer is the main thing. Bring a camera if you want to take pictures, a torch, a good stick and proton pack for the ghosts.
- Dangers: An 18-year-old fell from the ladder up the tower and suffered serious injuries in 2016. They had to call a helicopter for him. Hopefully he’s OK now. But there’s a lesson there, obviously – you always need to be damned careful in these places. Don’t bring that many beers that you lose all sense of care. The Stasi claimed enough casualties ever the years as it is.
Huge thanks to Rudi Marnitz for the tip and excursion, and to the overworked Mark Rodden for proofreading again!
More Stasi secrets
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East Germany checked out right before the Stasi could check in. Their hotel was never completed. Now it’s just a great hulking ruin between the trees.
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