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Berlin museum brings spies in from the cold

Tom Barfield · 17 Sep 2015, 18:00

Published: 17 Sep 2015 18:00 GMT+02:00
Updated: 17 Sep 2015 18:00 GMT+02:00

The building that stands in the former "Death Strip" on the eastern side of the Berlin Wall at what is now Leipziger Platz will house relics from the long Cold War duel of encryption, assassination and eavesdropping across the Iron Curtain.

At €18 for an adult ticket, entry certainly isn't for the faint of heart or wallet.

But the aspiring international man of mystery or femme fatale willing to pay will gain access to a trove of never-before-seen information and over 1,000 artefacts ranging from ancient Babylonian cipher techniques to parachutes used to supply agents behind enemy lines with carrier pigeons during the First World War.

A parachute used to send carrier pigeons to agents behind enemy lines during the First World War. Photo: Spy Museum Berlin

Curator Franz-Michael Günther told The Local that he was inspired by his work as a television journalist reporting on the War on Terror to find out the pre-history of the job the spies he encountered were doing.

"Technologies that have existed for a long time are now being improved, compressed – like the analogue way the Stasi [East German secret police] operated, Google could now do the same thing in a month."

As The Local toured the museum on Thursday, technicians armed with laptops cabled into open floor hatches and rolls of blueprints worthy of Q Branch were putting the finishing touches to the displays.

The museum features a wealth of historical spy tools that look like the work of James Bond's beloved quartermaster, including bras or umbrellas designed to conceal tiny cameras, and a radio direction finder disguised as a watch.

Interactive games and interviews with former top spooks are also part of the exhibition.

A camera designed to be concealed in a woman's bra. Photo: Tom Barfield

And real spies ranging from Mata Hari to Edward Snowden are put under the spotlight to examine how the profession has changed.

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"Romance and the human factor are no longer the main question, but rather this digital eavesdropping," Günther explained.

"Berlin was the capital of spies historically, but I think that nowadays the focus is no longer on any one city, it's so globalized through the networking of the world."

Those wistful for the days of microdots, wiretaps and fake passports may not find their fantasies reflected in the world of espionage today – but the wealth of relics now on display in Berlin are a comforting window into some of the greatest spies of history and fiction.

The Spy Museum Berlin is located at Leipziger Platz 9 and opens on Saturday September 19th.

For more news from Germany, join us on Facebook and Twitter.

Tom Barfield (tom.barfield@thelocal.com)

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