Sachsenhausen and the Labyrinth

Jan 26, 2013   #travel 

We started the day moving apartments from our first Berlin AirBnB stay to our second Berlin AirBnB stay (booked after mass confusion and panic), which was fortunately only a block down the street. After dropping off our stuff at the new place, we quickly left for our tour of Sachsenhausen, the closest concentration camp to Berlin. Our tourguide was a very tall, skinny, and pale Brit named Rob, who was very quick-witted and clearly experienced at giving tours. We met up with our group of about 15, took a train for 40 minutes, a bus for another 5, and then finally began our tour at Sachsenhausen around 12.

Much like the tour of Yad Vashem, witnessing the horrors of Sachsenhausen eventually gave way to an enveloping sense of numbness. One of the first major topics we covered was the SS and their methods for keeping the camp under control with only ~300 officers for ~50,000 prisoners. They obviously had fences, guns, and machine gun turrets surrounding and overlooking the entirety of the camp, but this wasn’t enough. To really control the prisoners, they employed an ingenious and cruel system of hierarchy and intimidation, primarily designed to break the prisoners spirits and turn them against each other. When a group of prisoners arrived to Sachsenhausen, the SS would pick one prisoner that stood out from the rest and beat him to near death infront of the rest of the group. The prisoners would then be sorted into a rigid hierarchy, with criminals occupying the highest position, jews occupying the lowest, and blacks/roma/other undesirables occupying everything in between. This helped to turn the prisoners against themselves, further helping prevent an uprising. Over and over throughout the tour, I found myself involuntarily muttering expletives. The sheer cruelty and evil that they institutionalized is beyond description. Learning about all the gritty details of how they carried out this evil really drove home how horrible they were. To carry out everything that SS soldiers did required a special combination of brainwashing (to see others as subhuman), cruelty, evil, and blind unquestioning obedience to authority.

Entering the camp. The monolithic figure in the center is the Russian memorial

Jewish prisoners’ sleeping quarters

The worst part of Sachsenhausen was the area specifically reserved for mass murdering. They only employed gas chambers and shooting people into pits on a minor scale. The main method with which they murdered over 10,000 russian prisoners of war and other undesirables at Sachsenhausen was called the “neckshot” method. This was where they had incoming prisoners go into a “medical examination” room one at a time, stand behind a height-measuring device with a slit down the middle, and then the executioner would shoot the person in the neck from the other side of the slit. This solved a major problem, which was the psychological toll that having to execute someone face-to-face was taking on SS officers. Once the prisoner was executed, his body would then be incinerated. During the war, the only visible sign of industrial murder outside of the death-building was the copious amount of smoke produced by constant cremation.

Memorial next to the neckshot room

We finished up the tour, walked back to the train station, and bid Rob adieu. After we got back to our new place, we grabbed dinner across the street at a little cafe recommended by Grace. It didn’t disappoint, although we unfortunately left ourselves a small amount of time to experience “the labyrinth”. Recommended by our friend Adrienne, “the labyrinth” refers to Salon–Zur wilden Renate, a small bar/club in Berlin that houses a crawling maze in the back. I insisted on going as our last activity in Berlin - I trusted Adrienne’s wisdom and didn’t want to miss out. We rushed on public transit and got there exactly at 10, which is when they stop accepting people in the maze. Out of sheer luck, the hostess included us as the last 2 people in the night’s queue of labyrinth-goers.

The door lady said it would be two hours before we could go in, giving us plenty of time for a few drinks. We bought a couple of cheap and strong mixed drinks and grabbed seats in the little venue-area to watch this weird electro-punk band that was playing. I was instantly convinced that this was the weirdest show of my life. The band, Sado Opera, was made up of a DJ-keyboardist duo in the back, a drummer on an electric drum set, a skinny lead singer, two backup lady singers, and a dwarf. They warmed up by playing the two same songs over and over again to check levels and coordinate the light show. The first song was a catchy song about ‘fire at the disco’, or something like that. The second song was an equally catchy song that is described well by its line: ‘I dream of love but I make fuck with every-every-everybody’. The chorus consisted of the 2 lady backup singers yelling “I’m so sad - I’m so lonely - Just a squirt - Make me squirt” in a hilariously German voice. They also spent a little time coordinating the lights for a special part of their show. The lead singer instructed the light tech to flicker the lights when he (the lead singer) did the following actions: yelling “THERE IS HIGH VOLTAGE”, writhing around on stage, and pretending to clamp alligator clips on the (topless) backup singers’ nipples. Throughout their warm-up set, Hannah and I were cracking up. I couldn’t believe how weirdly awesome and awesomely weird this band was, and that we were getting to experience it all! Regrettably, the band was actually playing their real set at 3:30am, and considering we had an 8:45am train to catch, this was a bit out of the question. On our way out, we got to meet them and they enthusiastically handed us their card and told us to like them on facebook.

Midnight came around quickly (time flies when you’re having fun) and shortly thereafter came our turn for the Labyrinth. Hannah went in first, and they led me in a few minutes after. The lady put a blindfold over my eyes and led me by hand into the start of Labyrinth, where she took the blindfold off and closed the door. The Labyrinth itself was basically a big adult playstructure with tunnels and enclosed spaces and weird artwork all over the walls. There was a room with a bunch of monstrous vaginas painted on the wall whose exit itself was a big vagina, and there was a room/tunnel containing a bunch of interesting artwork made out of old metal car parts and stuff. I was running through like a kid in a candy shop, trying to take it all in and capture the most exciting parts on my phone’s camera. I had a bit of a buzz before entering, but I was riding a purely natural high of excitement all throughout the maze. It was the best thing I could’ve hoped for to end our trip to Berlin.

Vagina door inside the Labyrinth

A mini diorama at the end of a crawlspace

What lies beyond?