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Decomposition of the Soul, The (Zersetzung der Seele)

Decomposition of the Soul, The

Production Report featured in
German Films Quarterly 01/2002

"The operative's psychology is to be besieged using procedural processes, interrogation and prior intelligence, so as to penetrate the enemy's inner workings. In this way, knowledge is gained regarding the thoughts, feelings, behavior patterns and psychological traits of the adversary, which may provide precious keys in his dismantling and liquidation, in gaining influence over him, and in his decomposition and recruitment ..." - a brief extract from the chillingly brutal working guidelines for the staff who worked at the central preventive prison for political prisoners of the Ministry for State Security (the STASI) in Berlin's Hohenschoenhausen district under the former repressive East German regime.

However, this prison - the subject of Nina Toussaint and Massimo Iannetta's documentary The Decomposition of the Soul - was no ordinary detention center. The building - which never figured on maps of East Berlin and which, today, still bears the marks of Germany's recent past (Nazism, the Soviet occupation and the Communist dictatorship) - has the sinister distinction of possessing as many interrogation rooms as detention cells. Its topology and organization betray its true function - a huge interrogation center, a veritable laboratory of psychological destruction. It is a symbol of the ex-German Democratic Republic GDR's general system of repression: a place dedicated and devoted to the art of "operative decomposition".

As the filmmakers explain, the arrest of a suspected enemy of the state was "of course, part of the procedural process. It may be limited to intimidation, or lead to an "investigation" with graver consequences: permanent preventative detention, repeated interrogations, total isolation, the semblance of a trial, heavy sentences, the impossibility of social and professional reinsertion, harm
inflicted upon loved ones, stripping of nationality and expulsion from the country, incitement to suicide, or even thinly disguised murder".

Part of the detention center's buildings have now been taken over by offices and shops, but a STASI museum was opened there to inform about the inhumanity of the GDR's state security system, and in October 2001, the Free Democratic Party tabled a motion to the Bundestag calling for the Hohenschoenhausen detention center to be preserved as a permanent memory to the second dictatorship under the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED)'s regime alongside the STASI headquarters in Normannenstrassee and the Berlin Wall memorial at Bernauer Strasse.

Shooting in Berlin, Magdeburg and Nuremberg from January 2002
Category Documentary, Feature
Directors Nina Toussaint, Massimo Iannetta
Screenplay Nina Toussaint, Massimo Iannetta
Cinematography Raymond Froment
Sandrine Deegen
Producers Wolfgang Bergmann, Martine Barbé
Production Company Lichtfilm/Cologne, in co-production with ARTE, NDR/Hamburg, Image Creation/Brussels, RTBF, CAB/Brussels
Runtime 80 min
Format Super 16
With backing from MOIN Filmförderung Hamburg Schleswig-Holstein, Communauté Française