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FUBiS Term II: Borders and Crossings: German Literature and Culture from Romanticism to the Present

(Course # 2.08)

Credit Points6 ECTS-Credits
Number of Places18


Student Profile

This course is designed for intellectually curious, engaged students interested in learning about the cultural and literary history of Germany in English translation. Students should be eager to explore interdisciplinary connections of literature, the arts and music, social movements, and politics. No specialized knowledge is required. Students must be willing to participate actively in discussions and field trips in Berlin to sites and museums relevant to course content. Attendance is crucial.

Course Description

This course highlights the chief aesthetic and intellectual accomplishments of momentous periods in German cultural history from the 19th-21st centuries. Our focus will be on all sorts of borders - physical, ideological, intellectual, political, metaphorical, textual, generational, gendered, and multicultural - and crossing borders, as passages to more creative or liberated states of being, or as transgressive acts. We will ask, for example, how the Romantics imagined the borders between reality and fantasy, how the Modernist search for new forms both reflected on and rejected these borders, and how political and sociocultural boundaries configure contemporary Germany.

On field trips to seven districts of Berlin, we will examine how Berlin’s cultural environment represents and transcends borders and limits. We’ll travel to the Kleist Memorial, view 19th-century Romantic artwork at the Alte Nationalgalerie, explore the creative contributions by Jews at the turn-of-the-20th-century in the Jewish Museum, encounter Expressionist art at the Brücke Museum, translate some of the signs at a permanent art exhibit in the former Jewish neighborhood at Bayerischer Platz, visit the Brecht-Weigel-Museum, learn about the history of the Berlin Wall and engage with “touch-me” exhibits in the GDR Museum, walk along a strip of graffiti on the old Berlin Wall at East Side Gallery, imagine Wall-jumping at the Lenné Triangle on Potsdamer Platz, and wander amidst the vibrant colors and fresh produce of the largest Turkish market in Berlin.

The course will provide insight into interconnections in artistic and social change from Romanticism to the present from the particular perspective of borderlines, margins, and the challenges of navigating these spaces. Students will learn to identify and analyze strategies writers and theoreticians use to negotiate the limits of figurative and real borders. Readings and discussions will be in English.


Minimum language proficiency of B2 in English

Course Requirements

Students must attend classes, actively engage in class discussions, and regularly contribute ideas to the class to do well in this course. Three typed and double-spaced response papers (1-2 p.) on specific aspects of one text are due on the day of the reading as per syllabus. The midterm and final are take-home essays (3-5 p.), each on several texts from different periods.


  • Participation (attendance, preparation, discussion): 20%
  • 3 response papers: 15%
  • Oral presentations of response papers: 15%
  • Midterm take-home exam: 25%
  • Final take-home exam: 25%


A course reader will be provided at the beginning of the course.

The course includes the following primary texts and films:

  • Ludwig Tieck: "Eckbert the Fair" (1797)
  • Heinrich von Kleist: "The Marquise of O--" (1808)
  • Georg Büchner: "Woyzeck" (begun in 1836, published 1879)
  • Screening: Werner Herzog: "Woyzeck" (1979)
  • Hugo von Hofmannsthal: "The Lord Chandos Letter" (1902)
  • Rainer Maria Rilke: "New Poems" (1907) (selections)
  • Franz Kafka: "The Judgment" (1913)
  • Georg Kaiser: "Gas II" (1920)
  • Hermann Hesse: "Demian" (1919)
  • Nietzsche: "Zarathustra’s Prologue" (1883)
  • Bertolt Brecht: "The Modern Theater is the Epic Theater" (1930)
  • Screening: G.W. Pabst: "The Threepenny Opera" (1930)
  • Wolfgang Borchert: "The Man Outside" (1947)
  • Günter Grass: "Cat and Mouse" (1961) (Ch. 1-5)
  • Friedrich Dürrenmatt: "The Physicists" (1962)
  • Peter Schneider: "The Wall Jumper" (1982) (Ch. 1-2, 4-5)
  • Thomas Brussig: "Heroes Like Us" (1995) (Ch. 1-3)
  • Christa Wolf: "What Remains" (published 1990)
  • Jana Hensel: "After the Wall: Confessions from an East German Childhood and the Life that Came Next" (2002) (Ch. 1-2)
  • Screening: "The Edge of Heaven" (Fatih Akin, 2010) (116 min.)

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