James Bond Is Nothing Compared To These Relics From The Cold War’s Past

James Bond Is Nothing Compared To These Relics From The Cold War’s Past

The Berlin Spy Museum is a walk through the history of espionage, from the old days of carrier pigeons to password code-cracking and of course, a James Bond-style laser maze.
March 15, 2017, 11:00am

As soon as you walk into The Spy Museum Berlin, you are filmed on thermographic cameras. A live feed is projected on dozens of screens around. It's an eerie entranceway to the world of espionage, which features intelligence from ancient times to the Cold War and WikiLeaks, proving spies are more than just the fantasy world of James Bond.

The museum features 300 objects that follow the technological evolution and political history of espionage alongside legendary spies and interviews with top agents. "Because the museum is privately funded, we are not obliged to anyone but ourselves," said Christoph Ewering, a research assistant at the museum. "We do not side with western of eastern agencies; the exhibition portrays certain modes of operation, but does not judge them. In short, we try to take a neutral and scientific stance."

A "glove gun." Image: The Berlin Spy Museum

It delves into the First and Second World War with a tobacco pipe pistol which fired a bullet from its mouthpiece and a penny with a fold-out blade that was used to help soldiers escape from war camps. "As Berlin has a rich history in terms of intelligence work during Cold War, we of course focus on the city as the 'capital of spies,'" said Ewering.

During the Cold War, spy cameras were hidden in watering cans and bugs were hidden in shoe heels. There are also F-21 espionage cameras used by the USSR in the 1980s and a secret camera tucked inside of a bra from East Germany from 1986. "The miniature spy cameras illustrate the craftsmanship involved in spying activities," said Ewering. "And they were only built for master spies."


The real highlight is the lipstick gun which hid a 4.5 mm calibre pistol. "It was invented by the KGB and was found at a checkpoint in West Berlin," said Ewering.

The museum's Enigma machine. Image: Berlin Spy Museum

There is an original Enigma encryption machine created by the German military was used for coding and decoding messages during the Second World War, which was acquired by former German communications engineer Rudolf Staritz. "Most modern pieces are naturally hard to acquire, as no existing agency wants to reveal anything," said Ewering.

There is a section devoted to the world's greatest spies, including Greta Kuckhoff, member of the Red Orchestra, a resistance organization during the Nazi era. There is also a video interview with Wolfhard Thiel, a former Soviet KGB spy from the Cold War who lived in New York City. He was trained privately in an apartment and learned cryptography, radio reception and how to travel to America on several fake passports. "Is my name Paul today or Peter?" he asked. "These were the biggest dangers that through carelessness you could make a mistake. But I don't think that ever actually happened."

Lipstick, or a gun? Image: The Berlin Spy Museum

There is a section on Viktor Yushchenko, the former president of Ukraine who survived a poisoning of dioxin in 2004, and the kidnapping of German journalist Karl Wilhelm Fricke in 1955, who was lured into the home of a couple who said they were East German refugees, drugged him over dinner and sent him to prison.

The museum is working towards expanding their collection, but no details have been revealed yet. "We are actively working on acquiring new objects from different sources," said Ewering. "But this I have to keep a secret for the time being."

Subscribe to pluspluspodcast , Motherboard's new show about the people and machines that are building our future.