I was just all alone in a secret KGB prison outside of Berlin with ghosts of people once held there. If someone is held in a KGB prison, it’s probably because they are a good person, not a bad person. Alone in that prison, I couldn’t help but think of two presidents, Putin and Trump, talking privately for two hours about their power and how to wield it.
In the 1980s, a young Vladimir Putin was a rising star in the KGB, working right there in Germany when this prison was full of unjustly incarcerated people. Now, he’s Mr. Make Russia Great Again. He’s leading his country — with a cunning ruthlessness that impresses both his people and our president — back to a position of global strength after its fall with the implosion of the USSR.
Pondering photos of people broken here, solitary confinement cells, and what it takes to rule a people who are not really free, I wondered what motivates our president to admire autocrats across the globe. Fighting for democracy and civil liberties is messy and frustrating I’m sure. Perhaps brutal measures by autocrats who have unbridled power are more rewarding. People don’t get in your way. You see results strong and fast.
Putin helped run and organize a system of prisons like this back then and he runs his country with a similar heartlessness today. The cost is real lives. Broken lives. This prison is silent today, but its ghosts spoke to me. Its inmates were silenced by isolation. They could do nothing.
But we are not isolated. We can make a difference. Silence on our part, as our president cozies up to autocracy, is a choice.
If ever you’re in Berlin, and you need a little such inspiration, here’s my entry for this sight from my Berlin guidebook: http://blog.ricksteves.com/blog/kgb-prison