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Refugees Welcome / Mapping Mobility in Berlin

This project takes a closer look at the current influx of refugee population into Berlin.  It aims to investigate the networks created by the refugees as well as by the local residents of Berlin and their relationship to a specific and official policy expressed through a specific infrastructural network within the city – that of transportation. This network was chosen for the obvious connection between issues of mobility, public transport, and the situation in which the population of refugees finds itself in when arriving to a new and complex urban environment. By drawing on both official resources and unofficial ones (blogs, online maps, interviews, and fieldwork), this project proposes a visualization of the data mined from online resources and their correspondence – or lack thereof – in relation to the official transportation policy (and our reading of it) as suggested by the city.


The project is compiled of three main parts, all drawing on online databases as well as official documents found. All three parts present a comprehensive, though by no means complete image of different variables, conditions, and resources that relate to the refugee population in Berlin. The following text is a general explanation of the logic behind the creation of the different visualizations and of the resources used for their creation.

Mapping Mobility

The first part of the project takes a closer look at greater Berlin, while focusing on one hand on public transportation networks – subway, railway, light rail, buses and main roads – and on the correlation of various formal and informal resources offered to the refugee population, as well as to the local population who is interested in fostering relationships or engaging in activities with refugees. The main and only constant official document used for this series of maps is an official subway map created by the BVG (Berliner Verkehrsbetriebe) – the public transport authority in Berlin – and specifies several stations and official resources for refugees.

One of the main conclusions coming out of this series of mappings is the lack of correspondence between the official resources mentioned in the BVG map and the vast majority of informal resources. While the BVG map offers an obvious correspondence between each resource and its adjacent public transit station, the map indicates that the majority of the official resources are located in the center, south-west and west of Berlin, that is, in the Mitte, Charlottenburg, Spandau, Moabit and Steglitz boroughs. Other maps show that the majority of informal activities are offered in the east and southeast of the city – Kreuzberg, Neukölln and Friedrichshain – all areas dominated by a younger population and with a larger percentage of migrants. Another interesting observation is in regard to protests and demonstrations. Although the most frequent protests happen on Oranienplatz, as mentioned, a large number of different protests takes place in more central areas of the city – ones that are identified with the municipality and government and are more ‘popular’ areas for tourists because of the array of cultural functions available in them – the sites are Potsdamer Platz, Hauptbahnhof, Pariser Platz, the Reichstag, and the Bundestag, and are all located in the central borough of Mitte.


Mapping Chronography

The diagrams in this part of the research are meant to add an additional layer to the mobility patterns by refugees and the citizens engaging in related activities. Utilizing again the main resources of the blog and the event calendar on the website, these diagrams represent what could be considered a typical week of possible activities for a refugee or a concerned citizen in Berlin.

An analysis of the chronographic diagrams reveals interesting patterns. We can notice that parties and festivals mostly dominate the weekends, while meetings occur mostly the afternoon and evening of weekdays; the kufas are active throughout the week, with a concentration on Sundays, and operating most of the week during evening hours, offering lunch only during Saturday and Sunday. As a general rule we can observe that most activities happen from late afternoon and into the evening, leaving the first half of the day vacant. Another interesting observation, which at this time we can offer no explanation for, is the lack of events and activities on Friday. One could suggest, perhaps cynically, that by the end of the working week, even the most devoted Berliners need some time for themselves.


Refugee Strongholds

Following a fieldwork visit to Berlin during the summer of 2015 as part of the Harvard Mellon Urban Initiative – Berlin Research Portal, and the materials collected, two main sites have emerged as the most important in the daily life of the refugee population. These sites, not surprisingly adjacent, are at the heart of Kreuzberg borough of Berlin – an area in the midst of ongoing gentrification processes, popular amongst tourists as well as the young (but now somewhat financially stable) population, as well as the core area of Turkish migrants. These locations are essentially public spaces, which incorporate unique recent histories as well as various urban and public functions and main transportation links.

The stronghold axon drawings offer us a look into a specific urban geography of activities and their dispersal within a typical urban fabric. It is worthy to notice the wide array of activities around both Oranienplatz and Mariannenplatz and the places in which they all take places – various buildings in which apartments and privately owned business transform and turn temporarily into a space of discussion, exchange, and hospitality.

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