Museum today – dark dungeon in the past

The landmark of the city offers an exhibition and a magnificent view – that is a lot for a small entrance fee. The price for a stay in the tower used to be much higher – it had to be bought with freedom.

Reading time: 2 min.

Visitors who enter Steintorturm these days, do so by choice. Through a nondescript side entrance, past the cafe “Wenn ich mal gross bin”, a brief stop at the ticket office and up you go. The permanent exhibition of the city museum spans three floors and, since 2001, has informed visitors about the history of shipping on the river Havel. Climbing the narrow path, up the gloomy stairs, is worth it. At the top is a breath-taking view: Enjoy the panorama of the city of Brandenburg!


Traces of a rebellious patrician son


Steintorturm is the oldest museum building in the city. It was first mentioned in a document in 1433 and was used as a dungeon. Murderers, rapists, heretics, thieves, robbers, prostitutes, sodomites, counterfeiters, and debtors were held here. Among them was the patrician son Peter Wannemacher. In 1622 he had to serve his sentence in Steintorturm because he took part in a revolt. The inscriptions of Wannemacher, which he carved into the bricks of the window niches on the first floor, testify that the time prisoners had to spend here was hard and above all boring:
“This was my bed in the clouds. / Fare thee well, sallow tower / Time stretches too long for me. / Fare thee well, I was here / I will not come back / P.W. 10 weeks”
“P.W. wasted here 10 weeks / Happiness and sorrow / my bread today and in the morrow / Peter Wannemacher / 1A -1622”.
These writings cannot be found in the bricks anymore, but they were handed down to us through historical records. Only one inscription, a Latin blessing, is now in the possession of the Brandenburg city museum. The brick with the inscription was salvaged during renovation works in the 1880s.


Location of the prison cells is unclear


It is not known when exactly Steintorturm served as a dungeon. Historians also cannot reconstruct the actual location of the prison cells. Theoretically, the tower on the upper floors would have offered space for cells. If the prisoners were there, that would have been a tiny bit of luck in all their misfortunes. Steintorturm was the only one of the medieval gate towers that had heating on the second, third and fourth floors.
Another theory is that prisoners instead ended up on the ground floor. This part of the tower was formerly only accessible through a hole in the ceiling and thus perfectly suited to become a prison – by the standards of that time. The guards would only have had to open the hatch and push the prisoner into the darkness for an indefinite amount of time.
Steintorturm and its dungeon were part of the city wall. The wall was built in the 14th and 15th centuries. It stretched along Altstadt and Neustadt and served both as fortification, as a customs border and to protect against enemy attacks.


The perfect dungeon


Those who wanted to enter the trading town could do so – provided that their intentions were peaceful – through ten city gates. At least eight gate towers were once erected to protect them. Of the towers, only four remain. The most impressive of these is Steintorturm which was built in 1380 in Gothic style. It is 30 meters high, has a diameter of eleven meters and the walls are over three meters thick. The imposing building was thus the perfect location to serve as a dungeon. In addition, the tower stood at a distance from the town, secured by armed men and offered enough space on the inside. However, the room in the tower had to suffice, because prisons at that time existed only in large cities and castles.
Today, no one must pass a guard, let alone commit a crime, to land in the tower: Guests can visit the exhibition of the city museum in Steintorturm from 31 March to 31 October between 1 pm and 5 pm.