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

Thematic Area 3: The Emergency Reception Procedure

The thematic area “The Reception Procedure” explains the legal framework and the day-to-day practice of the reception procedure. The opportunities and the difficulties of the process are illuminated from the perspective of both the political actors and the refugees.

Twelve doors stand for the individual stations of the reception procedure. Every East German refugee passed through the process – starting with new admissions and ending with the transport office which arranged travel to the West German federal states. Objects and documents behind the doors explain the purpose of each station and respective administrative office. Altogether, this part of the exhibition offers a clear depiction of the many interviews and consultations used at the time to determine the applicant’s status.

On average, the application process lasted one to two weeks. For the refugees it was an exhausting procedure, the purpose of which was often difficult to discern. However, from the perspective of the political actors and the public administration, the procedure was necessary to regulate the (until 1961 mass) immigration from the GDR and to justify politically accepting the refugees.

A separate section of this thematic area explains the Law Concerning the Emergency Reception of Germans in the Federal Republic. Passed on 22 August 1950, this federal law established the application procedure’s legal basis. This law was fiercely debated prior to its adoption. Opinions voiced by politicians of various parties and the 1953 decision of the Federal Constitution Court of West Germany sanctioning the validity of the law illuminate the controversy.

Another section of this thematic area is dedicated to those refugees whose application was rejected. They were neither punished nor sent back to East Germany. They were however compelled to forego several forms of assistance which flowed from the attainment of a residence permit, such as apartment allotments and permission to work. Until the mid-1950s the so-called “illegals” posed a major social burden to West Berlin. In the end, the West German economic miracle and increasingly relaxed admission practices eased the situation.