Refugees welcome

In the years 2015/2016 the city of Oldenburg, in the northwest corner of Germany, took in around three thousand refugees, who were fleeing particularly from the wars in Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq.

“At the height of the refugee crisis,” according to a city press notice, “six communal shelters and three emergency shelters with 1,400 places were operated and around 200 apartments were rented for decentralized accommodation of around 900 people.”

The same press notice declared: “Oldenburg stands for diversity and the coexistence of cultures. More than 16,000 foreigners from 150 nations live here.”

Since the population of Oldenburg is about 170,000, the percentage of foreigners works out to less than 10 %. For comparison, my hometown of Frankfurt am Main has nearly 30 % non-German residents, including me.

All over Germany, reaction to the large influx of refugees was mixed. While right-wing parties and organizations insisted that ‘the boat is full’, large segments of the population welcomed the refugees to a degree that has rarely been seen before or since.

The Oldenburg press notice conceded: “It is obvious that it is not always easy to integrate all mentalities in a city.” But it went on to praise the city’s integration programs: “The Office for Immigration and Integration makes a valuable contribution to the success, not only taking care of the first accommodation of immigrants and enabling people with long-term prospects to live independently, but also helping with access to language and education.”

Among other institutions, the Oldenburg Adult Education Center (VHS) provides German courses and citizenship courses for foreigners.

Sign at the Oldenburg State Theater, 2016

Like most theaters in Germany, the Oldenburg State Theater came out strongly in support of the refugees. In 2016, the theater took advantage of the summer holidays to build a new flight of stairs as an additional emergency escape route, no doubt at the behest of the fire department. The sign at the construction site read: Hier entsteht, was wir uns für Europa wünschen — ein sicherer Fluchtweg. Which means: “What we want for Europe is being created here — a safe escape route.”

(See also: my post on the City Theater in Mönchengladbach,
which proudly proclaims that “people from 29 nations work under this roof.”)


Displaced persons exhibit in the Oldenburg City Museum

Both major museums in Oldenburg, the Stadtmuseum (City Museum) and the Landesmuseum (State Museum), include exhibits on the much larger refugee crisis that engulfed all of Europe in the months and years following the end of the Second World War in 1945. With most German cities in ruins, millions of people were forced to leave their homes and flee, mainly from east to west.

One thing I learned from these exhibits was that Oldenburg had suffered relatively little destruction during the war, making it a prime destination for refugees desperately seeking a place to live.

Only one percent of dwellings in Oldenburg had been destroyed by aerial bombing, which was very little compared to the devastation of nearby cities such as Bremen, Hamburg and Osnabrück.

Within a month after the German surrender that ended the war, Oldenburg was overwhelmed by thousands of refugees.

Attention, travelers!

This text panel in the City Museum is entitled “Refugees and displaced persons in the city of Oldenburg — the dimension.” It reproduces a message from the city council that was widely distributed in the months after the war:

Attention, travelers!

Oldenburg is overcrowded. It is completely pointless to apply to the Housing Office for accommodation. Unfortunately, over a hundred men and women have to be turned away from there every day. Authorization to remain is granted only to those who:

  1. can prove that they have lived or worked in Oldenburg;
  2. have parents or husband or wife living here and can be taken in to their household. Accommodation that has been confiscated by the Housing Office may not be used by former residents who are returning;
  3. have a certificate from the city administration or government that their settlement here would be in the public interest.

Refugees’ luggage in the State Museum

My photos in this post are from 2016. I wrote the text in 2021.

See more posts on Oldenburg, Germany.

5 thoughts on “Refugees welcome”

  1. xenophobia is a pretty common human reaction. The Chinese building the railroad, the Irish after the potato famine – lots of examples. Not that we should give i to it.

  2. Wow.
    Thank you for posting this example of what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said,
    in 1967:
    “… we must develop a world perspective.”
    Warmly,
    -Shira

  3. That post-war message seems a lot less welcoming to the refugees than the recent ones, but I guess when you’ve just lost a major war everything, including housing strangers, is much more challenging.

    1. Yes, housing was a major problem all over Germany. Oldenburg emerged from the war relatively intact, but was overwhelmed by thousands of displaced persons, mainly Germans who had been driven from their homes in the east. I used to know some of these — my cousin Manfred, for one.

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