At MIS, connecting learning to real life is a constant pursuit, but 12th-grader Valentin Marschner never expected to be standing in the same prison where his grandmother was held only a few decades prior, after attempting to escape from the Soviet-controlled German Democratic Republic (GDR).
The purpose of the field trip was to understand the GDR, and its role in shaping modern German history. “Before going, I knew it was the same place where my grandmother had been held for weeks, before being moved to a different facility in Rostock” says Valentin.
“When I walked into the Hohenschönhausen prison grounds, the sheer scale of the facility took me by surprise. I often found myself wondering what it would have looked and felt like in her time. Throughout the day, I found myself appalled by the brutality within the prison, but it gave me a greater appreciation for my grandmother’s strength and her ability to still live a normal life after being released”.
Having such a personal connection to past events has inspired Valentine to continue learning about this period of history and to tackle this subject matter for his Extended Essay, a 4,000-word, self-directed research paper required to graduate with the International Baccalaureate diploma. “Consequently, I decided to write my IB Extended Essay about the Ministry for State Security (MfS), also known as ‘Stasi’, and their role in persecuting people who attempted to leave the state, just as my grandmother had tried. While researching this topic, I learned about the sheer brutality of the regime, using methods of psychological manipulation and torture, to maintain power”.
Valentin’s message to the MIS community is this: “While we may often believe that the past is distant, facilities like the Hohenschönhausen prison should serve as a reminder that history is shared collectively in family histories, and forgetting about the terrors of our past, can only lead to history repeating itself in the future. To me, this was a great lesson in mindfulness, and realizing how privileged our society is currently. Therefore, I encourage others to be aware of the past and explore one’s family history”.