09 / 18 / 2022

Exilmuseum Berlin on Flight and Exile in the Past and Today

In the next few years, a museum of exile will be built in Berlin.

The flight and migration movements of our time has led to a new sensitivity to displacement, emigration and exile. These topics are being discussed controversially in politics, the media and society. This also brings back into public awareness the historical exile of those people who were forced to flee abroad to escape the Nazis between 1933 and 1945. In post-war Germany, the topic remained neglected for decades, and a side issue in the shadow of the memory of the Holocaust. But even before deportations to extermination camps took place, approximately 500,000 people fled discrimination, persecution and violence in Germany and Austria: persecuted groups such as political opponents, Jews and unwanted artists were driven out of the country and sought refuge in exile. Dealing with the history of survival in exile not only adds an important perspective to the historical culture of remembrance, it also creates an opportunity to take a fresh look at a supposedly well-known topic – and at the same time to build a bridge towards the present.

Therefore, the Exilmuseum leaves the German perspective and takes a closer look at the exiles’ experiences around the world. How did they manage to build a new life for themselves? What help and what obstacles did they encounter in their countries of arrival? What conclusions can be drawn for our society today? In short: what can we learn from history for today? All these questions point directly to current challenges of present-day Germany. The Exilmuseum has the potential to be at its core a historical museum and at the same time a museum of the post-migrant present.

“…understanding what exile truly means”, that’s how the patron of the Exilmuseum, Nobel Prize winner Herta Müller, described the mission of the museum. To this end, it takes a strongly narrative approach. The museum focuses on the stories of hundreds of thousands of emigrants from the Nazi sphere of power – not as a statistical number, but as a variety and diversity of unique human fates. Photos, videos, sound bites, scenographically designed room installations, but also selected original objects, will give a close-up view of life stories that visitors can relate to. Modern, low-threshold forms of presentation will reach a wide variety of audiences. The museum intends to be a learning facility where, based on the museum’s topics, broader issues of the present can be discussed, such as increasing anti-Semitism, racism, or stepping up for democracy and human rights. Hence, the mission statement says: “The Exilmuseum Berlin: a place of unforgettable stories, a place of reflection, a place of empathy. A place that fosters understanding of the word exile and in doing so takes a stand against totalitarianism and inhumanity.”

In addition, the Exilmuseum wants to provide a platform in Berlin for other institutions working in the field of exile and has already initiated worldwide partnerships and cooperation.

The Site

The Exilmuseum will be built at Anhalter Bahnhof in the center of Berlin. This was once the site of a large long-distance train station from which many people departed into exile. Today, only the ruins of the entrance portico remain. Symbolically, the site stands for departure, a state of transit, the rapture of life paths. For the realization of the museum building, the Exilmuseum foundation held an architectural competition. The winner was Danish architect Dorte Mandrup. The building will house the permanent exhibition of the Exilmuseum, an area for special exhibitions, events, educational activities. The opening is currently planned for 2026.

For more information about the Exilmuseum visit www.stiftung-exilmuseum.berlin


Sarah Blendin, research associate at the Exilmuseum


Fot 1 (on the left)) The winning design by Danish architect Dorte Mandrup impresses with its curving, crescent-shaped façade and a wide-spanning foyer.

© Dorte Mandrup / MIR

Fot 2 (on the right) The site of the future Exilmuseum in Berlin

© Stiftung Exilmuseum Berlin, Photo: René Arnold

Exilmuseum Berlin on Flight and Exile in the Past and Today