Photo. Laying the Foundation Stone of the Marienfelde Refugee Center, July 30, 1952. The Senator for Social Affairs, Otto Bach, is placing the deed in the foundation stone.
© Landesarchiv Berlin
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The Historic Site - History and Present

For nearly forty years – from 1953 to 1990 – the Marienfelde Refugee Center in West Berlin served as the first, and most important, place of sanctuary for refugees and emigrants from East Germany. Here refugees and emigrants were housed and cared for; here they also underwent the process required to obtain a residence permit for West Germany and West Berlin.

In the context of Cold War competition, the Refugee Center became an emotionally-charged venue. Here the effects of the SED regime could immediately be felt: both the numbers and the first-hand reports of the refugees arriving in West Berlin offered insights into East German policy and the reality of life in that communist nation.

Especially in the years up to 1961, the Center enjoyed a high degree of symbolic importance as a “gateway to freedom”. Political leaders from West Germany and West Berlin came to Marienfelde to demonstrate their solidarity with the refugees fleeing East Germany.

The East German state regarded the Center as an “enemy object”, for here the weaknesses of the East German political system – which were leading people to leave the country in droves – were revealed.

The Marienfelde Refugee Center was a station on the way to the West – and not only for East German newcomers. Starting in 1964, an increasing number of ethnic German emigrants from Poland – and later the former Soviet Union – came to Marienfelde. Until Summer 2010 the Berlin Central Reception Center for Repatriates (ZAB) was located on the grounds of the former Marienfelde Refugee Center.

December 2010 the former refugee center was reactivated and is now a residential home for asylum-seekers.

Photo: Arial view of the Marienfelde Refugee Camp, about 1963, © Landesarchiv Berlin

© Landesarchiv Berlin