Gonzaga in Berlin: German Spy Museum
Tuesday’s topics were very cool: we got a deeper look on exactly why Berlin has been labeled “the city of spies”. In class, we covered the German Enigma machine and how its purely mechanical set of operations could create an encryption that, at the time, was considered “unbreakable”. We also got to try our hands at a few different ciphers, including the relatively simple Caesar cipher and a simplified, three rotor version of the Enigma’s encryption.
After lunch, we headed to the German Spy Museum, where there were replicas of the Enigma machine, as well as several other encryption devices used throughout history. The museum focused on spycraft surrounding World War 1, World War 2, and the Cold War. However, it also touched on other topics, such as older information warfare dating as far back as ancient Egypt, and fictional spies such as James Bond.
Among the museum’s displays were the stories of several particularly famous spies.I was interested to hear about Mata Hari, a Dutch exotic dancer who worked as a double agent for both France and Germany before she was found out and killed. The museum focused mainly on her life as a spy, her discovery, and her legacy in various works of fiction. I was curious and researched more about her, and found that she had also been a mother, a divorced wife, and had been considered groundbreaking in the world of dance. Her career as a spy began in exchange for being allowed to see her injured lover in a military hospital, and ended in a way that suggests she was set up by the German government to be arrested by France.
One of my favorite things about museums is the way that they give us glimpses into the lives of people that we will never meet, and this one was no different. While the information on any individual spy was relatively brief, I was fascinated by the glimpses we were given of the lives that these people led.