Exile Museum Berlin, Germany
Stiftung Exilmuseum Berlin
Only a fragment remains of what was once one of the most important train stations in Europe. The historic ruins of Anhalter Bahnhof stands as a monument to a flourishing, modern capital, at the heart of a buzzing and creative 1920s Berlin. Yet simultaneously bearing witness to the devastations that followed the rise of Nazism – being the stage from which countless people were forced to flee. The new Exile Museum will breathe life to the stories of those driven into exile during the Second World War while at the same time shedding light on the millions of people displaced from their homes today.Read more ↓
Like the bustling Gare du Nord in Paris today, Anhalter Bahnhof was once the largest and busiest train station in Europe. In its peak in the 1920s it connected Berlin to all the major cities in Southern Europe. Intellectuals and artists from all over the world would arrive at Anhalter Bahnhof, exiting out on Askanischer Platz in hopes of becoming part of Berlins innovative and lively culture. However, with the Nazi takeover in 1933 the station ventured into the darkest chapter of its existence. Thousands of Jewish citizens were deported and countless individuals set off for the far corners of the earth from Anhalter Bahnhof to flee the Nazi regime – forcing them into exile.
"Shaped like a softly curved arch, the Exile Museum will embrace and highlight the importance of the remaining fragment of Anhalter Bahnhof. We do not wish to replace or rebuild the historic station hall – as you cannot change, nor restore the past. Instead, the new building will allow history to be visible and create a dialogue between past and present, where even today millions of people are still forced to leave their homes," says Dorte Mandrup.
A reminder of the past
In 1961 what remained of Anhalter Bahnhof after the Second World War was demolished – leaving only the vaulted portal as a reminder of the vast station that once stood here. Images of the enormous piles of yellow bricks that covered the site after the blast inspired the heavy brick facade – as if the shattered ruins have now been transformed into a new building. A cobble stone paving on Askanischer Platz will lead visitors from different directions into the Exile Museum. Between the historic fragment of Anhalter Bahnhof and the new building an open space will form a plaza – like a void between past and present. Through an open glass facade, visitors will have full view of the activities inside the museum while taking a moment to rest or reflect before entering or leaving.
The vaulted entrance hall is a wide space with large openings to all sides allowing daylight in and creating views to the surroundings both inside and outside. The walk from the ruin of Anhalter Bahnhof into the museum resembles how people would have moved through the portico into the entrance building and further out onto the tracks – leading visitors the same way as those who left for the unknown between 1933 and 1945.
Once inside visitors are met by a dramatic three-story foyer. From here, they can move freely through the building which rises both horizontal and vertical with stairs and balconies. In the heavy brick facade small openings formed by rotating the bricks will offer framed views of Berlin while at the same time creating a beautiful flickering light inside the foyer.
Exile then and today
The Exile Museum will house exhibitions spaces, education facilities, a shop and a restaurant with an outdoor terrace where visitors can rest and enjoy the light from the sun coming from the southwest.
Entering through the different spaces, visitors will be introduced to the historic events leading up to an following the forced immigration. Most importantly however, the exhibition focuses on the fates of individual people, tracing their tragic and astonishing lives. These stories will be told through digital media and scenographically conceived spaces with only a few displayed objects. This exhibition concept will give a more immersive experience of the idea of exile and the countless stories around it.
When leaving the last exhibition space, the visitors can enter out onto the roof terrace. The surface is covered in grass, creating a green and calm space with a great view over Berlin. In the fresh air, visitors can take a moment to comprehend the many stories they have just experienced.
The core purpose of the Exile Museum is to highlight the stories and biographies of the many exiled during the Nazi rule between the years from 1933 to 1945. A personal tragedy for the people that lost everything and a catastrophe for Germany which saw some of its greatest minds being forced away. But bringing these stories to life will simultaneously shed a light on our own time where more than 65 million people are displaced. Visitors will leave the Exile Museum with a greater understanding of the bewildering life of exile both then and today.
The Stiftung Exilmuseum Berlin was established in 2018 as a civic initiative by Nobel laureate Herta Müller, former German President Joachim Gauck, and the art dealer and cofounder of Villa Grisebach, Bernd Schultz.