Dortmund. A friendly city with endearingly rough edges. A place of character, known for football and beer. Also the keeper of a fascinating and important bit of WW2 era history: The Museum of Resistance and Persecution, Steinwache.

The museums exhibition is held within a former police station that became notorious when taken over by the Gestapo in the 1930’s. Under Nazi control, the police station and prison became infamous as a place of imprisonment and torture.

Things Helen Loves, Prison corridor and stairs
Interior of former Gestapo Prison in Dortmund, Germany.

Amazingly, despite much of Dortmund being destroyed by Allied bombings, the prison itself stood unscathed. Preserved more or less in original form, the building is a museum and a memorial in its own right.

Steinwache , Dortmund: The Reception Room

The first room encountered by visitors was also once the first stop for inmates: the prisoner registration room. It’s a strangely neutral place. Bland, but at the same time, sinister. The idea of people standing here knowing what might be coming was uncomfortable.

Things Helen Loves, Prison room with blue desk

The Nazi Rise to Power

The exhibition begins its narrative in the late 1920s, demonstrating very well how insidious the rise of the Nazi regime was. A series of cells walks the visitor through how Hitler drew in the big industrialists of the time. The power of propaganda and the average citizen. Methods that saw anyone in power who didn’t tow the line removed and replaced. 

Things Helen Loves image of Dortmund resident Opa Willi
‘Opa Willi’

The facts and figures are interwoven with personal stories and images from Dortmunds past. One that stayed with me is that of ‘Opa Willi‘ or ‘Grandpa Willi’ who was beaten to death for refusing to acknowledge a swastika flag.

The Museum of Resistance and Persecution

Each cell in the prison is dedicated to a specific time or topic. A few of the cells have been knocked together, but these are still incredibly small spaces. Oppressive. The museum uses this to great effect by presenting stark historical images large-scale in the smaller spaces. Some of the images did literally stop me in my tracks.

The Isolation Cell

Some cells have been restored to their original form, including the isolation cell. No bed, no blanket, no company, no kindness.

It had a very uncomfortable feel to it, two of our party didn’t venture past the door. I’m 5ft 7 and could touch each wall with arms outstretched. I counted five paces from the cell door to the rear wall.

Things Helen Loves, Helen standing in Isolation cell

The Resistance Movement in Dortmund

Despite the difficult subject matter, much of the exhibition is testament to hope, bravery and survival.

Several cells detail the activities of the Resistance movement in the Dortmund area. Working class women and young people were particularly active. The museum holds a range of literature, printing presses and forged papers employed by those involved.

The audacity and bravery of those involved in Resistance action is almost beyond comprehension.

Steinwache and Modern Dortmund

The museum is located just behind Dortmund train station, and you have to look quite hard to find it. The exterior is quite unremarkable and easily overlooked in a city that was rebuilt from the ground up post WW2.

I can’t exactly say that the The Museum of Resistance and Persecution is an enjoyable day out as such, it’s heavy going at times. But it’s worthwhile and interesting. And I feel that all those that passed through the doors and the events that brought them there should be recorded and remembered.

Stolperstein outside the prison

Some of the individuals who came here are remembered at the door with stolperstein.

If you need to lighten the mood post visit, Dortmund is a great city for a beer. In fact, Dortmund is a great city all round. Find out more about modern Dortmund here.

The Practical Stuff

Find the Resistance & Persecution Museum at Steinstrasse 50, Dortmund.

Entrance is free but donations welcome. The exhibition is in German, English language guide is available.

This post was originally published in 2018. Updated and republished January 2023

Helen x

27 thoughts

  1. Interesting! I lived in Dortmund for three years, but knew nothing of this. Thanks for sharing.

    1. ThingsHelenLoves says:

      Oh, lucky you! I really liked Dortmund. The museum has been there a while but it took a while to be comfortably accepted, I think. It’s been listed on the Visit Dortmund site now, so I think it’s here to stay. Worth a visit, for sure.

  2. I’ve been to Dortmund, but didn’t know about this museum. I’ll keep it in mind for a future visit.

    1. ThingsHelenLoves says:

      It’s very much worth a look, but until recently has been a bit under the radar. I’m glad to be able to bring it to attention. Thanks so much for taking the time to read and comment, appreciate it!

    1. ThingsHelenLoves says:

      Thanks Brenda, it was certainly a though provoking day.

  3. I’ve not visited Dortmund but the Museum of Resistance and Persecution would be an interesting but harrowing place to explore.

    1. ThingsHelenLoves says:

      I’d recommend Dortmund Marion, it’s a friendly city with tond of character and lots to see and do 😊

  4. I think it’s admirable that you visited this place and took the time to write about it. Not easy. It reminds me quite a bit of the National Socialism Documentation Centre, which I paid a visit to in Cologne many years ago. I’m glad that there was a hopeful aspect to the experience and that voices of the resistance were heard. Very sobering stuff, I’m sure thoughts of Opa Willi are going to keep coming back to me over the coming days.

    1. ThingsHelenLoves says:

      Thanks Leighton. I don’t always write about WW2 related places I visit as I know it can be quite heavy. But this history is important, it needs to kept alive. And I don’t think German Resistance is so well known.

  5. I hadn’t heard about this place but would definitely visit if ever in Dortmund. It reminds me of ‘Die Runde Ecke’ which we visited in Leipzig – the old Stasi HQ, now a museum. I do admire the way that on the whole the Germans don’t shy away from recognising that dark period of their past and providing insights into it like this.

    1. ThingsHelenLoves says:

      Yes, it is similar to Die Runde Ecke. I think Germany is getting there, it’s encouraging how many smaller museums there are that were created by local residents.

  6. I would love to visit this museum. I’m pretty well acquainted with Resistance stories from German-occupied France, but not at all about how it worked in Germany itself. When I ask myself the question ‘Would I have been brave enough?’ knowing that the consequences of being caught would be dire not only for me, but for my family, I don’t really think I like the possible answer.

    1. ThingsHelenLoves says:

      I have asked myself the same question and come to the same conclusion, Margaret. I think Resistance in Germany was a complex business, but this place makes a good start at disentangling it.

  7. What a sobering, but interesting museum. Museums like this have such an important place in society – not only to record and remember such appalling events so we don’t forget about them, but also to commemorate the bravery of those who were involved in the resistance. If I ever go to Dortmund, it’ll definitely be on my list of places to visit.

    1. ThingsHelenLoves says:

      I’m glad I could bring this little German museum to your attention. If you are ever planning a trip to Germany, Dortmund is a great city. Thank you for taking an interest in my post.

  8. I have studied Nazi Germany for many years, and have visited 4 or 5 documentation centres across Germany – but have never visited this museum in Dortmund. I knew the story of Opa Willi, and did my dissertation on how the Nazis rose to power but I still learned something from your post and would really value visiting here one day; thank you for showing it to me πŸ™‚

    1. ThingsHelenLoves says:

      You’re welcome, I’m glad you found the post interesting. Your studies sound so interesting, I’d love to get back to studying a few years when life is less busy. Dortmund is a great city. For history, but also for football, beer and some great walking on the outskirts!

  9. says:

    Great piece! You painted the best version of Dortmund I’ve ever read, fantastic!

  10. Chilling. Personal stories, such as that of Opa Willi, really make history hit home. Like Sarah, I admire the way the Germans face their history head on.

  11. So much history!! I loved reading your posts. Thank you!

  12. To me, this kind of history is important to recognize regardless of its “feeling,” and this museum does just that. Sounds like it is worthy of a visit when in Dortmund, which I only knew from its football exploits until now.

    1. ThingsHelenLoves says:

      Dortmund is a keeper of some very interesting history, but definitely better known for the football and beer scene! I have a die hard Dortmund supporter in my brood, he was born just up the road from Dortmund when we were stationed in Germany.

  13. Stefan Tudor says:

    I have a flight from Dortmund so right now thinking about spending a full day there

    1. ThingsHelenLoves says:

      It’s a fabulous city, definitely worth exploring. And the Resistance museum is a must if you’ve an interest in WW2 history. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment, appreciate it.

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