The course provides a historical, political and cultural introduction to one of the most multifaceted cities of recent times. Like very few other metropolises, Berlin has witnessed some of the major upheavals of the last century: the short-lived attempt at democracy during the Weimar Republic in the 1920s, the fascist Third Reich in the 1930s and 1940s, the division of Berlin into (capitalist) “West” and (socialist) “East” from the late 1940s to the late 1980s, and the reunification of Germany after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.
Since the end of the Iron Curtain various campaigns have proclaimed “das neue Berlin” – the new Berlin. At the same time, the public discussion about how to commemorate the history of Berlin – and of Germany at large – has not stopped. The Memorial Museum of German Resistance, the Gedächtniskirche, the Topography of Terror exhibition and the Museum at Checkpoint Charlie, for example, all predate the fall of the Wall, but the Jewish Museum, the Holocaust memorial, and the National Historical Museum were only built after 1989. Also, some historic districts of Berlin – such as Hackesche Höfe in Berlin-Mitte – were rediscovered and cautiously remodeled in the 1990s, while a desolate area such as Potsdamer Platz was turned into an architectural showcase of Berlin’s new corporate power.
This course will examine some of the major public controversies and arguments that accompanied the planning and construction of some of the mentioned memorials, museums, and sites. As the public debate over the design of the “Freedom Tower” on the former site of the World Trade Center in New York City has amply demonstrated in recent years, the relationship between place and memory is also a major issue in contemporary American political culture. What better place than Berlin to investigate the complex interconnections between politics, history, personal memory, public remembrance, the commemoration of the past and the celebration of the present?
This course will investigate how the “new Berlin” relates to the history of the “old Berlin.” Each week of the summer session will be dedicated to a different era in Berlin’s recent history: Weimar Republic, Third Reich, West Berlin, East Berlin, and the Berlin Republic.
The syllabus for each week follows the same pattern: an introduction to each week’s historical period, a discussion of literary texts from that era, and the screening and discussion of a film (on video/DVD) relating to that period on Monday, followed by a discussion of significant “places of memory” from that period and a half-day excursion to the discussed places of memory on Thursday.
Students in following fields may be interested in taking this course: German studies, theatre studies, art, architecture, urban studies, cultural studies, modern history, and political science
Students are required to give three 10-minute presentations introducing theassigned readings or films to be discussed in the respective course session. They are also expected to submit 2-3 page typed versions of each presentation. (6-9 pages in total).
Five weekly 2-3 page journals should document the students’ reflections on discussed readings and films, visited sites and, particularly, their experiences in Berlin outside of the course context. The journals are due at the beginning of every Monday class. (10-15 pages in total).
For the final project, the students are expected to interview two Berlin residents about their experience of one of the historical eras discussed in class. This project can be presented in class – and submitted to the instructor – in different formats: as a research paper, as a literary text, as a video or audio documentation, as a visual essay combining text and photography, as a performance piece, etc.
A course reader will be provided at the first course meeting.