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B-Track Subject Courses

Instructor: Dr. Robert G. Waite
Language of instruction:
English
Course type:
Subject course, B-Track
Course days
: Tuesday & Friday
ECTS credits
: 7
Course fee:
€ 1,650
Can be combined with all A-Track on-site courses

Course Description

The ‘Thousand Year Reich’ promised by Hitler when he became Chancellor of Germany in January 1933 lasted but 12 years. During this time, Hitler and his Nazi Party came to dominate Europe, terrorizing vast numbers of Germans, launching a devastating war, and orchestrating the murder of more than five million Jews. Despite the terror and vast destruction, Hitler and the Nazi Party gained the active support and involvement of most Germans. How was this possible? What roles did seduction and terror, consent and coercion, play?

This class focuses on Hitler’s Germany and it begins with the 19th century background. Central to this session will be a discussion of the broad political currents, the agitators and petty demagogues who fueled the dissatisfaction and spread it widely. We will also examine the popular literature that Hitler and many of his supporters read and absorbed.

Crucial to understanding the lure of Hitler and the Nazi Party was Germany’s experience in the First World War, a conflict that decimated a generation and destroyed Europe as it was known. It left in its wake a shattered, humiliated, and deeply torn Germany. In this climate of uncertainty and despair, Hitler and the Nazi Party grew from a small group on the fringe of radical politics in Munich into a national force. This development is of central importance to this session. Those traits of Hitler crucial to his success, particularly his charisma, will be defined and analyzed within the broader political context of Weimar political and cultural life.

In late January 1933, Hitler gained the long desired but elusive goal: he became chancellor of Germany, the leader of a coalition government. The political intrigues leading to his appointment will be discussed. Much attention will be paid in this session to how Hitler, his cabinet, and supporters were able to consolidate the control over the state and society within a matter of months. This came at the cost of political liberties, through the growing use of terror, oppression, and intimidation. Yet, Hitler gained supporters as he seemingly offered economic stability and a new unity to the German people. How did the regime solidify its control over society and over political life? Was it seduction or terror, consent or coercion?

A key element of Hitler’s rule was the concentration camp system, what came to be a vast network of prisons, centers of oppression and death. How this developed from the hundreds of small concentration camps set up in Berlin and across Germany shortly after Hitler’s takeover of power in 1933 to the well-organized and highly centralized system by 1939 will be the focus of this session. During the war, the concentration camp system spread across Germany and occupied Europe.

Hitler’s ambitions, the conquest of ‘living space’ in Eastern Europe, the ruthless exploitation of these territories, and the annihilation of the Jews, motivated his foreign ambitions and led directly to World War II, the most destructive conflict in human history. We will also discuss the measures taken against the handicapped, homosexuals, Sinti and Roma.

In Germany and in occupied Europe opposition and resistance emerged and challenged Nazi rule. Opponents were motivated by a variety of reasons, some personal, some political. These too will be discussed.

Lastly, the class will examine the end of the war, the so-called ‘zero hour’, the destruction and collapse of Germany.

We will be visiting local museums, historical sites and locations that reveal the operations of Nazi rule. These visits to sites in and near Berlin are a key element of the class and the experience of studying here. Please note that field trips are subject to change depending on the availability of appointments and speakers; on field trip days, class hours may be adjusted.

Download Syllabus (printable PDF incl. day-to-day schedule)

Recommended Course Combinations (Selection):

Instructor: Dr. Lauren van Vuuren
Language of instruction:
English
Course type:
Subject course, B-Track
Course days
: Tuesday & Friday
ECTS credits
: 7
Course fee:
€ 1,650
Can be combined with all A-Track on-site courses

Course Description

This course is about Berlin, and the story of its tumultuous and epoch defining twentieth century. We examine this history through various lenses: the biographies of individuals, the words of writers who bore witness to the vertiginous social, political and physical changes the city underwent, and buildings and monuments whose physical construction, destruction and reconstruction reflected the ideological turmoil and conflict of twentieth century Berlin.

Famous Berliners we will meet include the murdered Communist leader Rosa Luxemburg, the artist Käthe Kollwitz, the actress Marlene Dietrich, the Nazi filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl, the adopted Berliner David Bowie and the famous East German dissident musician Wolf Biermann. The contextualized stories of these individuals will offer us unique perspectives politically, artistically and socially into the tumult and struggle that marked their times in the city. These figures occupy a range of different position(s) as Berliners, as radicals, as artists of resistance to or collaboration with Nazism, and Communism, as drifters and exiles whose stories reflect Berlin’s unique position in the twentieth century as ‘no man’s land, frontier, a city adrift in the sands of Central Europe.’

In a similar way, we will examine the words of writers who bore witness to the extremism and societal upheaval that marked twentieth century Berlin. From the witnessing of Roth and Isherwood to life in Weimar and Nazi Berlin, to the social and political commentary by Christa Wolf on the moral struggles of life lived on different sides of the Berlin Wall, we will assess their writings in their historical contexts. We will assess their words as evocations of Berlin, but also as potential or overt acts of resistance to the extremism they lived under, that attempted to maintain a solidarity with the idea of Berlin as a place of artistic and social freedom and permissiveness.

Finally, we will discover the story of places in Berlin whose physical building, destruction and rebuilding can be situated in the wider systems of ideology, power and social relations that so cataclysmically defined the physical landscape of Berlin after 1933. In this, we will focus on the story of Potsdamer Platz, the Palace of the People and as an opposite postscript to Berlin’s twentieth century, the Holocaust Memorial in Mitte.

This course does not seek to provide a ‘grand narrative’ of Berlin’s twentieth century history. Instead, it follows a thread that weaves through the history: the thread left behind by those who bore witness to their times. By tracing the stories of contemporary witnesses, left for us in books, films and songs, and in the physical construction of the city, we open up a human dimension that enriches and challenges our understanding of Berlin’s traumatic recent history.

Structured largely chronologically, the course will work with films and novels whilst building on a clear historiographical base provided in class seminars. The teaching will be augmented by physical excursions into Berlin to trace the stories we encounter and class discussions will form the basis for a seminar paper that students will be required to submit at the end of the course. This history course approaches the story of Berlin through the reflections and refractions of individual humans’ lives who struggled upon the immense stage of a city at the very symbolic and literal heart of the catastrophes of the twentieth century.

Download Syllabus (printable PDF incl. day-to-day schedule)

Recommended Course Combinations (Selection)