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

April 2013

The Construction Project of Difficulties

For 37 years, the Marienfelde Refugee Center was the first stop for 1.3 million refugees and migrants from the GDR on their way to new lives in the other part of Germany. But as April's Object of the Month illustrates, there were some challenges to be overcome before Theodor Heuss – the President of the Federal Republic of Germany at the time – could open Marienfelde on April 14, 1953.

“The Construction Project of Difficulties” – as the refugee center was called in an April 9, 1953 newspaper article – came with numerous problems. There were disagreements between Bonn and Berlin about how the project ought to be financed. Bad weather made going forward with construction a huge challenge. Still, 15 three-story buildings were built in nine months.

The article's author described the facility as a “regular small city in Marienfelde,” with apartments, a wash-house, cafeteria, and a daycare. If the camp would ever cease to be needed, it could be easily converted into “civilian” apartments. The author ended his article with the comment that he looked forward to this happening – “hopefully soon!”

This never came to pass. The intake of refugees and migrants from the GDR ended only in 1990, but Marienfelde's function as a place of intake and support for new arrivals did not change. Until the summer of 2010, ethnic German repatriates arriving in Germany were housed here. Since December 2010, Marienfelde has functioned as a temporary home for refugees and migrants from around the world.

This year, the Marienfelde Refugee Center celebrates the 60th anniversary of its founding. Various events – starting on April 11th – are taking place for this occasion. Just as there was for the center's opening in April 1953, we are once again expecting some important visitors: the current German President, Joachim Gauck, will speak at the central commemoration ceremony.