Photo. An art class for refugee children of the Curvy Street Center in the Berlin district of Kreuzberg, May 1953
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Refugee Apartment

The reconstructed refugee apartment at the end of the permanent exhibition – consisting of 2.5 bedrooms, a kitchen, and a bathroom – is furnished with original items from the 1950s.

Together with the pictures, documents, and objects in the exhibition and the testimonies of former Refugee Center residents, the apartment helps to give an impression of how refugees lived during their stay at Marienfelde. When the Refugee Center was built in the 1950s, it was based on the standards of modern apartment buildings – thus clearly differentiating itself from what, at that time, were normal refugee housing conditions in makeshift mass shelters: the small, contained housing units, community facilities, and extent of the center’s grounds were intended to aid in the private and social lives of refugees and to make their arrival in the West somewhat easier.

Up until the Berlin Wall was constructed in 1961, it was impossible to use these rooms as they were originally intended: the number of new arrivals was so large that the rooms were constantly over capacity. At times, it was necessary to even put bunk beds in apartment kitchens. In the bathrooms, which were too small for the number of people living in the apartments, the water had to be turned off at times as an emergency measure. Residents had to instead use communal bathrooms. Even into the 1960s, kitchens were rarely able to be used as such – neither the space nor the proper equipment was available. Residents ate in the central cafeteria on the grounds of the refugee center.

After the Berlin Wall was built in 1961, the living situation in Marienfelde normalized itself. Apartments and the equipment in them were modernized over time, the bunk beds were removed, replaced with two beds per room. In 1989 – due to the influx of refugees coming from the GDR – the bunk beds had to be brought back once again and tents were put up on the grounds of the refugee center in order to house all the new arrivals.