In the Wrong Place at the Wrong Time


In 1914, thousands of British and German tourists, business travellers, seamen, artists, exchange students and even permanent residents who happened to be in Germany or Britain, respectively, became ‘enemy aliens’ when war was declared. If male and of fighting age, they were interned for the duration of the war in special camps for civilian detainees. Within a few weeks, the normality of pre-war everyday British-German relations transformed into physical and ideological segregation.

About the project

This project brought together academic and community-based researchers from Britain and Germany to explore the little known history of civilian internment and take this aspect of the war to a wider public. At the heart of the project were two specific sites, the camp for British civilians in Ruhleben (Berlin-Spandau, Germany) and Lofthouse Park Camp for German internees in Wakefield (near Leeds, UK).

Research and activities focus on the historical detail of internment and the wider social and cultural implications for the internees and their families, the local population and those involved in camp administration and security. On the level of Centenary reflection, the project also addresses European mobility, intermarriage and expatriate communities in the early 20th and, by comparison, in the 21st century. Exhibitions were planned alongside other WWI exhibitions in Wakefield and Spandau for 2017 and 2018.

Project participants

The project involved historians and members of local communities in the research as co-researchers, contributors to community sourcing activities, workshop participants and visitors of the exhibition. Pupils from Carl-Friedrich-von-Siemens-Gymnasium, a secondary school in Spandau, and young people from the Leeds-based Preservative Party were matched to engage in the research. Collaborators in Berlin were the Youth History Workshop Spandau, Spandau City Museum and Archive, colleagues at Humboldt University and family history researchers. Partners in the UK were community-based historians, genealogists and collectors, academic colleagues in Leeds, Sheffield and Leicester, and the German Saturday School Leeds.


[Dr Claudia Sternberg]

More information

See the project website for more information.

Twitter: @InternierungWWI

Project website