Life In Berlin: The Inflatable Refugee Shelter

Oct 1, 2015

On the grounds of a sports park in Moabit is the emergency refugee shelter of the Berliner Stadtmission. Surrounded by trees, the only sounds come from the nearby tennis court and a soccer field. A handful of people wait in front of, looking like a bubble, a huge air supported structure. 

"One has never sheltered refugees in an air inflated structure. So, what we try to focus on very much is that we have a welcoming culture in terms of both the interior and the work we do,” says Mathias Hamann, who manages the pilot project.

The Emergency Refugee Shelter of the Berliner Stadtmission.
Credit Monika Müller-Kroll

The air inflated shelter houses up to 300 people. Unlike a large tent or a sports hall, there is some privacy. Different modular cabins divide the space into private and public. Each sleeping cabin accommodates six people. There's a playground. Messages on a wall divider point to special activities, like a women's group or drawing sessions for kids. This Friday evening seems pretty mellow, but Hamann explains, "Actually, almost every day is like an emergency day, because there are a lot of refugees coming to Berlin and Berlin has not enough shelters for those refugees. But the emergency usually starts later in the evening, so we are at the beginning of receiving guests." 

On this day he expects 150 guests. The shelter is not far from the central registration office for asylum seekers, known as Lageso. So often, Hamann and his team have to deal with short notice arrivals.

He goes on, "We have round about 16 full time positions for employed persons, we have 8 interns and 1,300 volunteers. Every day we have between 15 and 30 volunteers helping us. One could say without them we couldn't work."

Although most guests only stay for a few days, integration starts on day one, says Hamann, adding, "So, that's why every day we have German language courses, one must know the refugees have not the right to have language courses during the first month, so they either have to pay, or you have volunteers who do that." 

Outside the shelter, people talk and smoke. I am introduced to Mustafa; he doesn't want to give me his last name. Mustafa is a telecommunication engineer from Aleppo, Syria.

Children's drawings inside the Emergency Refugee Shelter in Moabit.
Credit Monika Müller-Kroll

“So, for how long have you been here?” I ask.

“Now it's been 60 days,” he responds.

“How is it, living here?” I ask again.

He muses, "To be honest it's awesome. It's beautiful here, because the people here are nice and respectful with people. They are working really, really honestly with us. They do all they can to help us."

Mustafa calls his temporary home "balloon". His asylum process has just started. He doesn't know how long it will take, and where he will live next. But for now he seems comfortable and safe.