It may not have the same mystique as Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty, but for the refugees arriving in Germany from the war zones of the Middle East, the Berlin Department of Health and Social Services, known to locals as LaGeSo, has roughly the same significance. A short walk across the Spree River from the office of Chancellor Angela Merkel, this grey hive of an office tower lies at the end of an exodus that roughly a million asylum seekers have made to Germany this year alone.
The LaGeSo building is where the newcomers go to register with German authorities and receive their basic entitlements: health care, temporary housing and, for every new household that arrives, about 150 euros per month – what the German government calls “pocket money.” Late this fall, LaGeSo is also where TIME contract photographer Yuri Kozyrev went to document the last stop on the largest mass migration Europe has seen since World War II.
Kozyrev had already spent part of the summer following this tide of refugees from the western coast of Turkey, through Greece, the Balkans and into Hungary, a journey of more than a thousand miles that the travelers bore with remarkable grace and resilience. But it was only in Germany that Kozyrev saw the final wave of relief sink in. They had arrived.
And Berliners have, for the most part, welcomed them. Volunteer organizations, like Volkssolidarität (People’s Solidarity), have stepped up to build shelters and provide food to the asylum seekers. The staff at LaGeSo has gotten creative in finding facilities to house them all, as up to 800 were arriving each day in Berlin this fall. The old and empty hangars of Tempelhof airport, once used by the Nazis, were quickly turned into refugee camps. Even the former headquarters of the Stasi, East Germany’s secret police, were turned into refugee housing, with Syrian families sleeping in the defunct offices of spies.
In his photos, Kozyrev captures the strain that this influx has placed on Germany and its capital, as well as the urgency and generosity of the help that Germans are providing. “The harder part will be integrating all of them,” Kozyrev says of the refugees. “Teaching them the language, the culture.” Those efforts are already underway, as the photographer saw at the schools and kindergartens organized in Berlin to help refugee families adapt to their new homes.
Such places may not always be a beautiful sight; neither was Ellis Island when the boats packed with refugees landed there from Europe generations ago. But that didn’t stop such points of arrival from becoming symbols of welcome and hope.
Yuri Kozyrev is a TIME contract photographer represented by Noor.
Paul Moakley, who edited this photo essay, is TIME's Deputy Director of Photography and Visual Enterprise.
Simon Shuster is a correspondent for TIME magazine.