Photo. Refugees waiting to be admitted to the Marienfelde Refugee Center, August 14, 1961
© DHM-Schirner

Object of the Month

Federal President in Marienfelde

Federal President in Marienfelde
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When the emergency refuge center opened on April 14, 1953, the West German federal president Theodor Heuss traveled to Marienfelde. His attendance at the official opening of the center – it was not yet complete and the accommodations were still under construction – and his speech were meant as a political gesture signaling that the West German state did not shirk its pan-German responsibility and provided concrete aid to the people fleeing the GDR.

In the following years, during which tens of thousands of refugees went through the emergency reception procedure in Marienfelde and thousands found initial housing there, the center continued to serve as a stage for symbolic visits by members of government and high-level politicians. Heinrich Lübke, who succeeded Theodor Heuss as president, also paid a visit to Marienfelde and interpreted the continuous exodus of refugees to the West as a moral and political declaration of the GDR’s failure.

On May 13, 1988, just a year before the Berlin Wall fell, President Richard von Weizsäcker came to Marienfelde to learn about the situation of repatriates and refugees. The private photograph taken in front of the dining hall on the grounds of the center shows him with accompanying photographers just before he speaks with residents of the center. A television discussion followed a few days after this visit, during which Weizsäcker, in a discussion with GDR refugees, promoted policies of solidarity and mutual understanding between East and West Germans.

Exactly sixty years after Heuss’ visit, on April 14, 2013, Federal President Joachim Gauck attended the anniversary ceremony of the refugee center in Marienfelde. During his visit he spoke with refugees, mostly from conflict areas in the Caucasus, Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, who are currently living in temporary housing in Marienfeld run by the Internationaler Bund.

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