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Motion Detector No. 7: Ellis Island – Island of Hope, Island of Tears

Museum Europäischer Kulturen

The exhibition daHEIM: glances into fugitive lives includes many photographs from the Ellis Island Immigration Museum, taken by the photographer, Augustus Sherman.

Migration is not a new phenomenon and is not restricted to any one region; it has been going on all over the world for thousands of years. People can become migrants for different reasons: perhaps they are being persecuted for their political beliefs; perhaps they are not allowed to practise their religion; they may be fleeing poverty; they may be slaves, forced to leave home against their will.

After the discovery of the ‘New World’, apart from English and Dutch migrants, most of those who went to seek their fortune on the North American continent were from Germany and Ireland. At the end of the 19th century, they were joined by migrants from southern and eastern Europe, swelling immigration numbers to their greatest ever. To cope with the influx, a reception and transit station was built on Ellis Island. Between 1892 and 1954, some twelve million people passed through the large hall of the main building. Up until the outbreak of the First World War, many Germans also moved to the USA, especially from the Pfalz (Palatinate region).

After the closure of the reception station in 1954, Ellis Island was forgotten, until, decades later, people looked back and realised its importance for the population of the USA. The buildings were restored and, in 1990, the Immigration Museum opened. Today, Ellis Island is probably the United States’ most famous symbol of immigration. Forty percent of Americans state that their forebears entered the USA by this route. One in six of them has German roots.

The "Motion Detector" has become established as a new, regularly changing display format in which the Museum Europäischer Kulturen takes up topics of current debate and demonstrates their relevance to the museum and its collection. The "Motion Detector" is in the foyer, right beside the entrance at Arnimallee 25.