The Stasi Staircase

In November 2014, the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the brutal GDR system is to be widely celebrated. To remember the day when Berlin wrote world history, many exhibitions and events will be taking place. One of the highlights is scheduled for the weekend of the 9th of November 2014  when a new temporary Berlin Wall will be built that will run right through the city centre with thousands of white balloons and be illuminated.

One of the most terrifying organizations during the GDR system was the Stasi Secret Service.


The lives of inhabitants of the GDR were completely controlled by this organization. Once arrested by the Stasi one was put in a compartment without windows in the back of a van and driven around for hours on the Berlin highways. The aim was not only to disorientate, but also to give the prisoner the impression of being at least a hundred miles from home when in fact they were often only half an hour away from the place of arrest.


The Stasi used such extreme psychological warfare against prisoners that it caused some to take their own lives by throwing themselves over the staircase railing due to the torture they received. To prevent further suicides, the Stasi sealed off the central part of the staircases with fences and armoured glass.


The former Stasi prison is situated at the Genslerstrasse 66 in Hohenschonhausen-Berlin and became a memorial site in 1994.
More information about the celebrations of the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall at:

Homeless in Budapest

Danko Utca

Budapest. Monday, April 30, 2012.

Outside a street shelter in Budapest, the homeless are gathering. People dressed in shabby clothes, many of them in an alarming physical or mental state, are carrying everything they own in plastic bags.


Every night, the Oltatom Karitativ Egyesulet on Danko Utca, in Budapest’s Eighth District, offers a sleeping place for around two hundred homeless people. This is the largest street shelter in Budapest. It is run by Ivaniy Gabor who is a methodist priest and Rector of the John Wesley Theological College in Budapest. In winter the number rises to two hundred and fifty, the maximum number of homeless people the shelter can handle. The winter of 2011 was devastating. Temperatures dropped to minus twenty degrees Celsius. The shelter’s infirmary was flooded with those waiting for treatment of frost bite. The sleeping area is filled with bunk beds and the smell of disinfectant. The shelter is poorly equipped, in need of a multitude of supplies and facilities, and fully dependent on the selfless generosity of volunteers who keep the place running by carrying out a medley of tasks involving cleaning up, cooking, washing and nursing.


Homelessness in Hungary is a burgeoning issue of staggering proportions. Exact figures of homeless people are not publicly available, but an estimate of ten thousand exists for homelessness in Budapest alone. The numbers of poor and jobless are rising dramatically due to the country’s economic crisis.


Scenes of people in Budapest sleeping rough on the streets and rifling through the contents of garbage cans searching for food or recyclable goods that can be sold, are no different from similar scenes found in major cities around the world. However, the similarities end there. The differences begin with Hungarian legislation which criminalises begging and sleeping on the streets and therefore punishable, making Budapest one of the worst places in Europe for the homeless.

Budapest. Monday, April 30, 2012.

Homeless in Paris

Paris, October 2011

The Homeless. Families with children, single adults, elderly individuals and youth, all experience homelessness. People at night gathering the Chatelet for free coffee, who sleep in the subway, in corridors, porches, under bridges, or wherever they can find any shelter.


The problems of the homeless, SDF (sans domicile fixe) in France, persist to this day. Especially in Paris the problems are huge. An organization like ‘Compagnons d’Emmaus’ founded by Abbé Pierre is over half a century old and is helping the poor and homeless by selling used and recycled goods.


Some years ago ‘Les Enfants de Don Quichotte’ has set up tents in various areas in Paris and invited people to come and spend a night outside in a tent, to make them aware of the misery the homeless experience every single day. Recently a group of people with similar concerns as the ‘Compagnons d’Emmaus’ supported by the opposition, forced the French government to come up with proposals and concrete action to solve the problems for those living in the open.

© Rene Sommer

France, the country of Liberté, Egalité et Fraternité which likes to claim that it laid the foundation for universal human rights is denying basic rights, like the right to a decent lodging to many of its own citizens.

Paris, October 2011