Hohenschönhausen refugee homes

Jan 27, 202313 comments

A worn-out welcome

Hidden behind tall trees in a neglected part of Berlin are the refugee homes Germany has forgotten about. Locals pretend they don’t exist, passers-by look the other way, trams scoot past as quickly as possible, and even 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 devoid of windows are home to nobody, with hollow corridors bringing no one there.

The “Wohnheime für Asylbewerber” were standing vacant in this part of Hohenschönhausen during the height of the refugee “crisis” in 2015 and 2016, when refugees arriving in Berlin from war and atrocity were being forced to wait without end for numbers to be called at the LaGeSo registration center. Many were then shunted out to places like Chemnitz and Heidenau to be greeted by Nazi-welcome committees.




















Perhaps it’s apt that the Hohenschönhausen refugee homes are currently surrounded by AfD Nazi party posters for the local elections next month. It’s probably why the birds and squirrels stay away. But the AfD need not fear – these refugee homes have been abandoned since 2002.

They were built in the early 1980s to house construction workers, mostly from Vietnam and Cuba, who were invited as “guest workers” to build the DDR. Someone had to do it. These were among the workers that both Germanys – East and West – invited under the assumption they would simply head home again once the job was done, not realizing that the workers would feel at home by the time the job was done.

I guess there was no need to build the DDR 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.

There were other nationalities, too. A report in the Berliner Zeitung from 1998 told of a Vietnamese man who was stabbed several times in the chest and back. The Polizei assumed it had been a row among cigarette dealers.

Several homeless died here in recent years. It’s not a happy place.




















On my first visit in 2015, I was roaming down a corridor when I stumbled upon a blood-splattered door with a long streak of congealed blood underneath a skylight on the top floor. Perhaps it was strawberry jam. I opened a door to one room and banged it against a bed-frame with a duvet. I didn’t wait to see if the occupant was in, but left straight away with a deep feeling of shame for the intrusion.

Homeless used to use the buildings for a bit of shelter until it was taken away from them. Developers who’ve had their beady eyes on the site for years cleared it of all the rubbish and removed all the already-smashed windows and door frames, leaving even less protection against the cold wind rushing through.

The developers aim to convert the homes into fancy apartments for occupants who’ll have more money than homeless or people escaping war and poverty. There was talk of 600 to 650 Wohnungen when Lakis GmbH owned the buildings. But bureaucratic hindrances from Bezirksamt Lichtenberg halted that project.

The site has changed hands between various developers who all want the same thing, with the number of apartments increasing with every change. The latest owners, municipal housing company Howoge and private developer Belle Epoque, plan on building over 2,000 apartments, along with a school, Kita and playing pitches. Who knows if they’ll ever be built.

As of now, there’s nothing but the great hulking shells of the old refugee homes, still standing silently, their progress halted by bureaucracy and other unforeseen hindrances. It really is a refugee’s welcome.


  • What: Former refugee homes in Hohenschönhausen, abandoned in 2002, used only by homeless people and practicing street artists since, though the developers are also lurking.
    Where: 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. 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.
  • Difficulty rating: 2/10. Not too hard. Just squeeze in through a hole in 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. Make sure they’re good ones. Bring something to drink if you’re thirsty, a torch and camera.
  • Dangers: Heights. Be careful where you step so you don’t fall off the sixth floor to your death 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.

More residential relics

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Zambian Embassy

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Schloss Dammsmühle

Schloss Dammsmühle

Schloß Dammsmühle was a playground for more unsavory types than you could shake a stick at, from Nazis to Stasi officers. Now there are plans to revive it.


  1. Curtis

    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!

  2. Adush

    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.

  3. Anonymous

    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!

  4. Unknown

    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!

  5. Anonymous

    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.

  6. Anonymous

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

  7. Anonymous

    I think they started renovation or whatever. All rubbish out, and they almost finished removing all doors and windows. There were few workers. Still time to visit, but you need to climb over the high fence now.

  8. Unknown

    Easy to get in, but there is nothing left to see. Everything has been emptied by the construction workers. The only interesting thing is the rooftop that you can reach in one the building. But it’s seriously not worth going until there.

  9. Anonymous

    was there on the weekend. its like Stiouf wrote. even the rooftop access is ( alone or without ladder ) not possible anymore.

  10. Anonymous

    komme soeben von Dort. Es ist ausgefegt, nur noch die Nackten Gebäude.Keine Türen, keine Fenster, trotzdem irgendwie gruselig, bin mir dem Kopter durch.

  11. Dev

    I don’t know why everyone is saying this place is “not worth seeing” anymore. I thought it was very cool!
    Sure, all the rooms are empty and gutted, but it is still interesting roaming around in these massive buildings and seeing the graffiti.
    As stated before, the fence is very short behind the Jet petrol station, so it is easy to hop. Once in you have free reign to explore the property and the buildings. Very cool I thought!

  12. Anonymous

    In December 2019 there was not much left to see, the buildings are still standing but they are currently being cleaned up, all trees and plants have already been removed.

  13. Robert

    What a mean introduction, just seeing the negative (what went wrong) and not the positive of the situation in 2015/16.


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