Burglars broke into Berlin’s Stasi Museum under cover of darkness on Saturday night. They escaped with historic artifacts, including jewelry seized by the communist regime from people who tried to flee to the West. The museum is housed in the former headquarters of East Germany’s notorious ministry of state security and its feared secret police.
The theft comes a week after after Europe’s biggest jewel heist in Dresden’s Green Vault, which prompted calls for a museum security task force in Germany. It is not the first time that the Stasi Museum’s security measures have been found wanting.
“It’s always painful when there’s a break-in. The feeling of security is considerably disturbed,” the Stasi Museum’s director, Jörg Drieselmann, told Der Tagesspiegel. He told the newspaper: “We are a historical museum, and don’t expect anyone to break into our premises. We are not the Green Vault.”
Stasi Museum staff discovered the break-in on Sunday morning, December 1. The thieves climbed onto the roof and entered the museum through a first-floor window. They smashed display cases and stole medals and gold jewelry before escaping undetected, according to police reports.
A spokesman for the museum tells Artnet News that it is urging its landlord, the Stasi Records Agency, to improve the building’s security. The museum was last robbed in 2008.
Drieselmann told Der Tagesspiegel that the full scale of the damage is still to be assessed. Losses include gold jewelry, which have both historical significance and material value. Items include rings, a watch, and a bracelet. They are examples of the private property seized by the ruthless security force from dissidents and those who tried to escape to West Germany. Much of these items were returned to their original owners after the fall of the Communist government, but some owners were never found, and so the items were placed on permanent loan to the museum by the German state.
Also missing are medals, including: a gold Patriotic Order of Merit; East Germany’s highest accolade, the Karl Marx Order; a Lenin Order, and a Hero of the Soviet Union Order. The collectors’ items have sold at auction for thousands of euros in the past. In 2017, a Karl Marx Order belonging to the East German politician and currency trader Alexander Schalck-Golodkowski fetched €8,000 (nearly $9,000) at auction in Hamburg. The Stasi Museum’s director says that some of the stolen items were replicas and not originals.
The museum is closed today but is due to reopen on Tuesday. The building also houses a research center, which preserves surveillance files and other documents that were saved from being shredded. The centrepiece of the museum is the office of Erich Mielke, the last GDR Minister for State Security, which is preserved as he left it in 1989.
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