The Stasi -- East German secret police -- kept an enormous museum of "smell samples" of German citizens, kept in case they ever needed to give hunting dogs the scent of a fugitive criminal.
The thing about the Stasi is that they illustrate just how daffy any totalitarian authority structure necessarily becomes. Tyrants all have their Rasputins, mystic goonybirds whose theories about human biology, governance, magic, and life end up steering the state into ever-tighter circles of rabid tail-biting.
After the fall of the Berlin Wall, many astounding revelations came to light about the Stasi, the East German secret police. One of the more bizarre activities the Stasi was found to have engaged in was the collection of Geruchsproben – smell samples – for the benefit of the East German smell hounds. The odors, collected during interrogations using a perforated metal “smell sample chair” or by breaking into people’s homes and stealing their dirty underwear, were stored in small glass jars. Many of the remaining East German smell jars are on display at the Stasi Museum in Berlin. They are also described in Stasiland by Anna Funder.
The Stasi smell jars suggest an interesting question: Is there a museum dedicated to the sense of smell anywhere in the world, an institution whose mission is the accumulation of aromas for public appreciation? The Bible Museum in Amsterdam has a collection of about a dozen bilbical odors, such as frankincense and myrrh, for visitors to sample, but surely there must be some grand cabinet of smells somewhere – and not just behind the closed doors of a perfume manufacturer, or in the back of an organic chemistry lab. Where?
Stasi chief was an Orwell fan, bent reality to get room 101
Secret rooms of the Stasi: photos by Daniel and Geo Fuchs
Update: Noah sez, "The Stasi smell museum may represent 'just how daffy any totalitarian
authority structure necessarily becomes.' But what does that say
about the U.S.' own scent-collection efforts?"
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