Posted by: Shanna Germain | 07/15/2009

Pg. 106: Writing on the Wall


Drawings and etchings made by prisoners on the walls of their cells at the Gestapo Prison. The prisoners used pencils, chalk, lipstick, screws and fingernails to create a record of names and dates, write letters to loved ones, protest the conditions and profess their innocence.


Walking down the stairs into the basement feels like being in the middle of the worst kind of horror movie. Everything about the stained cement walls, the tight spaces and the harsh lighting makes my pulse quicken, makes my body scream, “Don’t go down there.” Even after a conversation with the jovial guard at the door, even though I can hear the voices of other people already down in the basement, I don’t want to go down.

And I am doing it of my own choice, unlike the hundreds, possibly thousands, who had come down these very steps from December 1935 to March 1945.

I’ve come to visit the Dokumentationszentrum der Stadt Koln (Documentation Centre on National Socialism), also known as the headquarters for the Cologne Gestapo. One of the few buildings to survive the war bombing (oddly enough), the EL-DE building, as it’s known, became the Gestapo Police Memorial in 1981.

The prison in the basement of the headquarters is what lies at the bottom of those stairs. It consists of ten cells, washrooms and sanitary facilities (to keep down the spread of disease), and an execution area. The tiny cells still retain the prisoners’ inscriptions on the walls.


One of the prison cells, which sometimes housed more than thirty prisoners at a time.




Looking through the scribbled attempts to communicate and standing in the tiny space, I can’t help but recall Ann Frank’s house in Amsterdam. Each place a prison, in its own regard. Each the setting of kindness and atrocities. Each a place of life and death.

It is impossible not to stand there and feel the weigh of what it means to be human. How we can be such creatures of beauty and humanity, and just as easily, such creatures of cruelty and horror…


From the guest book. It reads, “What can you write? An Australian was here in friendship.”


What can you write? That thought is what I’m left with as I make my way back up the stairs, free to leave at any time. Free to pursue my beliefs and dreams. Free. Just free.

In friendship and freedom, s.



  1. Sometimes writing is all we have, and if we don’t have pens we write in our heads.

    • That is the truest thing I’ve heard all day. So very, very true….

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