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 6: Arrival in the West

The thematic area “Arrival in the West” explains the policy and practice of integration starting in the 1950s. It contrasts the political claims of the time with the actual experiences of East German refugees and emigrants.

Official and private documents - covering such subjects as public housing programs, burden sharing and integration courses - offer insights into the relevant laws, services and offers of assistance developed starting in the 1950s to ease former East German citizens’ adjustment to life in West Germany.

On the basis of these materials, one can clearly trace the changing nature of integration over the course of several decades. During the immediate post-war era, at the foreground stood concerns about the provisioning and accommodation of the refugees. After the construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961, difficulties arose from another source: the differing value systems in their country of origin (East) versus their receiving country (West). An “inner-German ignorance” spread, increasingly shaping the experiences of former East Germans in the West German Federal Republic.

During the 1980s, social psychological aspects of integration came into focus and were discussed in public. An audio installation with excerpts from contemporary radio interviews brings this discussion to life: alongside former East German citizens describing their lives in the West, social pedagogues, socialists and psychologists report on their work with the refugees. The reactions and experiences of West Germans to immigration are also a subject of discussion.
An ensemble of five objects in the centre of this thematic area briefly illuminates the stations on the long path to integration. The personal property of former refugees, memories of a new life’s difficult and successful moments are bound up with these objects.

A small section of this thematic area is devoted to the integration of juvenile refugees from the GDR during the 1950s; at that time, teenagers constituted more than 50% of the refugee population. Not least owing to their socialist education, these young people were regarded as a “problem group”. Their integration into West German society was perceived as exceptional challenge, the more so as the juveniles were supposed to be prevented from returning in disappointment to the East.