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

Didactic Layout of the Exhibition

The goal of the exhibition “Flight in Divided Germany” is to elaborate on the causes, course, and consequences, of inner-German migration between 1949 and 1990. It follows a thematic structure that makes it possible for students to imagine the paths taken by refugees or ethnic German repatriates. This includes the decision to leave, crossing the border, the processing of refugees upon arrival in the West, everyday life in the refugee center, and the challenges of integration in a new homeland.

Building Block Principle

All seven thematic areas of the exhibition join together to form one coherent whole. At the same time, each exhibition area may be considered on its own terms, so that one or more rooms may be removed from a tour and, according to the question raised, combined with others. Because the exhibit architecture structures each room in clearly recognisable sections, this principle is repeated at the level of each exhibition area.

Artifacts

The artifacts included in the permanent exhibition are particularly diverse, including 900 photographs, documents, three-dimensional objects, and works of art. Two groups of exhibited artifacts are particularly worth highlighting: testimonies from refugees and repatriates from the GDR, which provide information about persecution in the GDR, the ways in which it was possible to cross the border, the reception procedure in the West, as well as integration, and the material inheritance from the historical site of Marienfelde, which includes many objects and documents that aid in telling the story of the Marienfelde Refugee Center.

Levels of Immersion, Media, and Textual Concept

The exhibition offers different levels of immersion: whereas the objects in the display cabinets convey core information, source materials housed in drawers and document files invite visitors to deepen their knowledge through self-discovery. Numerous media stations supplement the exhibition, offering additional nuances to what can be seen and heard. In audio and video interviews produced specifically for the exhibition, contemporary eyewitnesses tell their stories. Their accounts enable the exhibited items to speak, offering commentary on the historical events described in the exhibition. What’s more, these eyewitness accounts establish an emotional connection to the topics. First-person accounts reveal – through their individual ways of seeing these events – that history is a matter of perspectives. On demand at other media stations are film and audio, from contemporary television reports to movie, music and radio clips.

Just like the presentation of objects, the exhibition texts are laid out hierarchically: in each exhibition area, visitors are introduced to the historical context, with texts summarizing the most important information contained in each of the thematic areas. By way of contrast, object texts offer detailed information about groups of exhibited materials.

Biographical Approach

Conceptually, this exhibition is committed to a biographical approach: through exploration of the lives of individuals, history is made both tangible and understandable. Individual biographies are told throughout the entire exhibition. Additional biographical accounts in different areas of the exhibition illuminate particular aspects of flight in divided Germany. Refugees’ lived experiences are set against the contemporary historical background. In this way, the political and societal connections behind exodus and assimilation are made explicit. The reasons people left – such as the penetration of the SED regime in all areas of public, economic and social life, affecting the lives and actions of individuals – are laid bear. Also exemplified in the biographies are the course of lives in the West – and here one learns about the contemporary requirements for successful (or failed) integration into West German society.