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View of the exhibition "Flight in Divided Germany"

Flight in Divided Germany

The exhibition documents the causes, progression and consequences of German-German migration from 1949 to 1990. It focuses on both sides of the inner-German border since both states were affected by the migration of GDR citizens to the Federal Republic.

The exhibition allows visitors to trace the steps of people who went through the refugee center after fleeing or emigrating from the GDR. Their personal experiences are placed in the context of political developments in the East and West: Why did they leave the GDR? How were they able to cross the border despite the many bans and security measures? What challenges did they face after they arrived in the West? The 450 m² exhibition space is divided into seven thematically structured rooms presenting numerous objects, documents, photographs and media stations.




  • Objects in the exhibition
  • Room emergency admission procedure


The reception center in Berlin-Marienfelde was the first stop for GDR citizens arriving in the West. Through the reception procedure they became a mere number among many, yet each of their stories remains unique. Using eyewitness accounts and personal mementos, the exhibition provides insight into the experiences and expectations of the people who came through the reception center. Their time here became a biographical link between their old life in the GDR and their still uncertain future.

  • Wilfried Seiring's student card

    To stay or to go? The student Wilfried Seiring wrote a message of solidarity to the rebellious students in Hungary in 1956. The consequence: He was suspended from his studies for a year. W. Seiring decided to flee.

  • Charlotte Behncke doing farm labour

    Since 1931 Charlotte Behncke had managed the farm, which has been in her family for several generations. In 1951, after enduring increased pressure as a result of the agricultural collectivization process, she gave up the farm and fled to the West.

  • Regina's doll Paulikat

    Although it was her favorite doll, Regina did not take it with her to the West. Her parents had not told her that she would not be returning home from a weekend trip.

  • Teddy bear

    Secret code: The teddy bear belonging to 12-year-old Andrea was used as a signal to the escape agent who would hide her in his car and take her to the West.

  • typewriter

    Before leaving the GDR, Anna H. packed the typewriter into one of the last moving boxes. She had used it to type up the long moving list in which she had to record every item she was taking with her.

  • backpack

    This rucksack had been used to carry the bolt cutter that the K. family planned to use to cut through the border fence between Czechoslovakia and Austria in 1973. The escape failed and the parents were separated from their four children for two years.  

  • poem by Wolfgang S.

    Homesick and hoping for better times. Wolfgang S. wrote the poem a few days after he fled but he lost it in the reception camp along with his wallet. The center’s administration stored the lost property for decades.

  • camera

    The W. family took this camera with them when they left the GDR in 1956. They used it to document their difficult first years in the West.

  • beer coaster

    The young Erhard W. sent this beer coaster to his mother in the GDR as an encrypted greeting in 1962.


The reception center served a number of functions: newcomers received food and housing at the site but were also examined and transferred to a different location from here. Decisions were made here that set the course for the next phase of their lives. The exhibition’s presentation of objects left behind by the center’s administration show the political and administrative challenges faced and the efforts made to control the influx of people from the GDR.

  • red waiting tickets

    Waiting looms large in the memory of those who spent time in the reception center.

  • passports and stamps

    The reception procedure also determined who qualified as a political refugee and was thus entitled to government support.

  • Disinfection device

    Disinfection device. Because the quarters were at times heavily overcrowded, the staff took pains to maintain hygiene.   

  • index cards

    The welfare service recorded the refugees’ history on thousands of index cards. The cards contained personal data and listed any assistance provided.

  • hat

    In the 1950s, only 5-10% of those admitted were able to stay in West Berlin. The others were distributed among the West German federal states and flown out.  

  • toothbrush

    Many people who registered in Marienfelde arrived without any luggage. The center provided them with basic necessities. 

  • information sign

    To protect refugees and their relatives in the GDR, taking pictures in the center was not permitted. It was feared that informants might pass on photos or personal information about the center’s residents to the GDR authorities.

  • cup and note

    The housing situation in Marienfelde was better than in other West Berlin refugee camps, but the quarters became very cramped at the height of the migration crisis. 

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