Refugees welcome? The forgotten asylum seekers' homes

Filed 6/10/2015 |
Hidden behind tall trees in a neglected part of Berlin are the refugee homes Germany doesn’t want you to know about. Locals pretend they don’t exist, passers-by look the other way, trams scoot past as quickly as possible, birds and squirrels stay away.
There are hundreds of them in nine massive blocks six stories high, reaching for the sky but getting nowhere, no escape. Empty rooms, broken windows, hollow corridors. Vacant, just wasted.
Meanwhile, refugees arriving in Berlin from war and atrocity are being forced to wait without end for numbers to be called. Some are then shunted out to Chemnitz, and then Heidenau where Nazis form welcome committees. The horrors never end.
The “Wohnheime für Asylbewerber” in Hohenschönhausen have been abandoned since 2002. They were snapped up by a developer who has done precisely nothing with them since. Now they’re fucked – really fucked. Trashed, smashed, bashed. Rubbish is littered all around, caught on trees’ branches after being discarded out of windowless rooms above. The smell is pungent. Inside, the smell is piss, the stench overpowering.
Only some of the city’s unfortunates use the buildings now for a bit of shelter. Winter is coming. The wind is already rushing through broken windows on cold nights. They’ll be squabbling with rats for the driest corners.
It’s creepy, there’s no other way to describe it. Roaming down another corridor, I stumbled upon a blood-splattered door with a long streak of congealed blood underneath a skylight on the top floor. Maybe it was strawberry jam.
I opened a door to one room and banged it against a bedframe with a duvet. I didn’t wait to see if the occupant was in, but left straight away with a feeling of shame. I’ve a roof over my head, windows that keep heat in.
The homes were built in the early 1980s to house construction workers invited to build the GDR. Someone had to do it, I suppose. These were the “temporary workers" that both Germanys brought in under the assumption they would simply head home again once the job was done. Of course they were home by the time the job was done.
I guess there was no need to build the GDR once the country ceased to exist. The workers’ homes became refugee homes in the early 1990s, catering for those fleeing the Balkan conflicts among others. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.
There were other nationalities too. Among the few newspaper articles I could find (they don’t want to know either) was a report in the Berliner Zeitung from 1998. It told of a Vietnamese man who was stabbed several times in the chest and back in what Polizei presumed was a row among cigarette dealers.
Two homeless guys died here in March 2013, a 53-year-old Estonian froze to death eight months later, and a 52-year-old Polish woman was found dead the following January. She, like the first two homeless, died of smoke inhalation. It’s not a happy place.
It belongs to Lakis GmbH, the developers who wanted to convert the refugee homes into fancy apartments for occupants who’d have a bit more money than people escaping war and poverty.
“We’re ready to start,” Lakis chief Agissilaos Kourkoudialos said in November 2013. Apparently it wasn’t the first time he said it. The plan was to convert the buildings into 600 or 650 apartments. (The number generally rises as time passes.)
“They’re supposed to be well-equipped apartments that remain affordable,” Kourkoudialos said. “We want to place an emphasis on the outdoor facilities and create play and seating areas.”
Some 12,000 refugees arrived in Berlin last month, as many as in the whole of 2014. The city is scrambling for places and yet these refugee homes – albeit far from ideal – could have taken 10 per cent of them. Instead they lie idle, waiting for market conditions to make development lucrative enough.
If only housing refugees was more lucrative than making them. But Germany doesn’t want you to know about that either. For now only a handful of poor souls seek refuge here. It’s not perfect but it’s still home.

Former refugee homes in Hohenschönhausen, abandoned in 2002, used only by homeless people since.

Gehrenseestraße 1-2, Wartenberger Straße 4-10 and Wollenberger Straße 3-9, 13053 Berlin, Germany.

How to get there
Take your bike. It’s not far and you might stumble across other curiosities on your way. Hohenschönhausen gets poor press but it’s an interesting part of Berlin. The Stasi Prison is nearby, another reminder not to repeat mistakes of the past, and very much worth a visit.
The M5 tram will take lazy people from Hauptbahnhof to the Gehrenseestraße stop just outside the complex. It will stop if you ask it to, despite the driver’s desire to keep going.
Here’s a map to show you where it is.

Getting in
The fence is surmountable in several places with varying degrees of difficulty. There’s a secluded area behind the Jet petrol station on Rhinstraße where you’ll be able to get past the trees and hop over the fence without worrying about nosy passers-by.

When to go
Daytime is recommended to avoid injury. It’s not the safest site to wander, and care should be taken not to disturb any inhabitants too.

Difficulty rating
3/10. Not too hard. Just hop the fence and you’re in.

Who to bring
Bring a friend or two – just in case.

What to bring
Beer, wine, whiskey and other spirits. Something to drink if you’re thirsty, torch and camera.

Don’t disturb any of the inhabitants and you should be fine. I didn’t meet any but there are signs that they’re there. Don’t go waving your gold iPhone or fancy camera in their faces. Just leave them alone. 

Otherwise you’ll need to watch your step so you don’t fall off the sixth floor to your death in the rubbish below. 
There are also holes in the ground in places, and not everything you touch is safe. Be careful! 
At least you don’t need to worry about security – it’s not the kind of place people normally want to go to.

Thanks again to Mark Rodden for proofreading.
shady shit 8885236252508735975


so why dont you take your fucking trash with you?

Thank you, Anonymous!
I hate what people like Mr. Suess are doing in that places. Fake blood, rubbish - all that shit. There is enough rubbish there already..

Thought I'd update a bit. I was there today, first time ever exploring an abandoned building. There seems to be construction going on around the buildings (a lot of trees have been cleared and it's a bit muddy field now), but as of the time I went, the actual buildings were still unattended. I explored the place totally without incident--there was no security at all, I didn't run into any squatters, nobody saw me enter or exit, etc. After finding a safe place to go in (by the gas station as this post says), the only hindrance was a ton of broken glass inside and a lot of brambles/plants outside. My hiking boots handled the glass fine, but the glass would probably seriously fuck up lighter shoes.
Also, there were signs of people squatting there. People had obviously started fires, used areas as toilets, left miscellaneous things around. I guess the thing to mention that wasn't super clear in the above description is that the area is a huge complex of six-storey buildings that collectively take up almost an entire city block put together. The stench described above wasn't there when I went, it smelled alright, except for being dusty, musty and moldy. Gave me a scratchy throat while I was in there.

There were these really cool rooms that had been scorched like they'd been on fire at one point (I wondered if that's where the people had died of smoke inhalation), rooms full of various things like a collection of animal skeletons in one room and a huge pile of broken light fixtures in another. Stairs and floors seem sturdy in all the places I went to. There was also a ladder leading up into a room that operated a pulley system. The ladder was shaky yet stable, made of metal. Overall a really great first experience in an abandoned building, thanks in part to this post!

Wartenberger Straße 4, 13055**, Berlín, Alemania. Please change the address.

we were there yesterday, only ended up seeing 4 out of 9 buildings, then it got too cold and we decided to go for a beer instead. anyway, it is reeeally easy to get in, we went from the back and there is a very low fence you can jump over. we didn't see any security or homeless people (although we found some of their "furnished" rooms, but fortunately noone was there. even though I was quite scared they would.)
it's quite a jungle there right now and the wind is banging some of the doors, which made me jump a few times, otherwise, the graffiti is quite nice and you can tell the explorers have been "experimenting" with various types of "decoration" and "improvement" of the rooms. which sometimes quite sucks and involves a lot of destruction. but that's life, I guess.
also, it's not true that there are no animals, we saw a lot of birds. and concerning refugees, there's a gym next to this property, which is now being used as a refugee centre.

I went there yesterday and it was pretty easy to get in. But I didn't hop the fence behind the petrol station, because there was a maybe 60 year-old guy, for sure retired from work, who had nothing better to do than telling me that I can't go there (I didn't even try at that moment, I just WALKED there and LOOKED at the building.) The fence is also pretty low in Wollenbergstr. and there are more than enough moments when there are no cars. Just be quick and walk fast into the bushes and no one will see you.
The buildings are a lot more trashed now than on the photos - no surprise. I found one homeless guy, but he was sleeping. Other than that, a really nice place to take great pictures!

I was there today- got in behind the station as suggested above. Super easy to get in and walk around. At the biggining it was a bit spooky but noone saw me walking in our out nor I've met anyone inside. It is completely consumed by nature, looks exactely like on the pictures. All in all it was a great experiance, I strongly recommand this one to visit!

I used to live there for 3 years (96-99) while we escaped our war torn country. TI was fun to live there as we had a lot of friends and the buildings were nice and comfortable for the purpose we needed it for. I hate that it looks so bad as it could have housed new people or be turned into a dorm if there are any colleges close by now.

I lived there from 98 to 2000. Maybe i know you?

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