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GE 429: Berlin from 1900 to the Present-day

GE 429 Berlin from 1900 to the Present Day: Society, Politics and Culture

Teaching and assessment

The module is taught over 9 weeks on Thursdays (Term 2) in H202 from 10.00-12.00.

Week one will be exclusively a lecture, whereas the remaining sessions will consist of a mixture of lectures and student-led seminars in which students are expected to contribute to group presentations on a weekly basis. Students will be asked to sign up for topics the week before the seminar and will be required to prepare their presentations in advance of the following week’s seminar. On-screen presentations are the preferred mode unless otherwise indicated on the seminar worksheets. But as time is always tight in the seminars, please ensure that you have sent any electronic material for loading up on the laptop by 22.00 on the Wednesday before the seminar!!

Students will be required to write EITHER one 4,000 word essay; OR to take a three-hour written exam towards the middle of Term 3.


The module has an extensive electronic resources site, consisting of an archive of video files and still photographs of a wide range of examples of Berlin’s architecture. You can access these on this module website, under Resources. They are provided to help you prepare for individual sessions and for your essay work. You are strongly encouraged to study these photos and watch the video files in advance of the seminars.

Download hard copy of module outline

Module outline:

Week 1 Introduction to Berlin: texts and Contexts (SL)

Lecture: From Prussia to ‘Germania’: setting the city in its socio-historical context. Reading Berlin’s history from its architecture.


Introductory lecture outline: names, dates, images, links, quotations etc.

Week 2 The Cultural Topography of Berlin 1900-1927 (SA)

Seminar: Transit and change – experiencing the metropolis; the new topography of urban life; contrasting experiences of modernity; Wohnkultur and Alltag; gender and social class.

Key texts: Selections from Die Berliner Moderne, 1885-1914, ed. Jürgen Schutte and Peter Sprengel (Stuttgart: Reclam). Paintings by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and Ludwig Meidner.

On-line edition of Texts and images for Week 2 session

Seminar worksheets for Week 2

Week 3 Mapping the Experience of Urban Modernity: Georg Simmel and Walter Ruttmann (SA)

Seminar: Georg Simmel and the sociology of urban modernity. The politics of representation and Walter Ruttmann’s Berlin. Die Symphonie der Großstadt (1927).

Key text: Georg Simmel’s essay: Die Großstädte und das Geistesleben’ (1903) [cf. Die Berliner Moderne, 1885-1914, ed. Jürgen Schutte and Peter Sprengel (Stuttgart: Reclam, 1987), pp.124-30; also available online in German and in English]

Screening: Berlin. Die Symphonie der Großstadt (dir. Walter Ruttmann, 1927)

Seminar worksheets for Week 3

Weeks 4 & 5 Modernity and the City in the Weimar Republic: “Eine Welt des Aufbaus und des Zerfalls zugleich”. (SL)

Lecture/ Seminar: Writing the urban experience: Alfred Döblin, Berlin Alexanderplatz (1929)

This is a long, complex, indeed unique novel, so in order to do justice to it, we will spend two weeks analysing it in appropriate detail. We will begin with an introductory lecture from SL focusing on how to read this text, addressing issues such as: what kind of novel is Berlin Alexanderplatz; how might we best characterize Döblin’s narrative technique; how wide is the range of linguistic register deployed by Döblin? How does the narrative enable us to understand the complexity of Berlin life in the late 1920s? The document below contains an outline of SL's lecture, including the details of the text extracts under discussion, plus detailed guidelines on the five areas for preparation and presentation by student work groups, as well as an annotated summary of the plot. If you read it in advance of our first session this should make a difference to your understanding of the text and enhance your appreciation of it.

Berlin Alexanderplatz: introduction to the text; SL's introductory lecture outline incl. text extracts; seminar group worksheets; plot summary

Berlin Alex: seminar work groups membership

Week 6 Reading Week

Week 7 Reconstructing the metropolis as an icon of ideological ambition: Berlin - Hauptstadt der DDR. (SA)

Lecture: Berlin and the Cold War; post-war re-construction and the development of socialist architecture in East Berlin.

Seminar: Post-war cinema and the divided city: Berlin – Ecke Schönhauser (Gerhard Klein, 1957)

Preparation: Visit module website resources section on: Berlin Hauptstadt der DDR

Screening: Berlin – Ecke Schönhauser (Gerhard Klein, 1957)

Seminar worksheets for Week 7

Background reading and endnotes

Week 8 The divided city and ‘Die Mauer im Kopf’ (SL and SA)

Seminar: The Berlin wall and the discourse of East and West. Social, political and psychological consequences of 1961.

Key texts: Klaus Schlesinger 'Die Spaltung des Erwin Racholl', in: Berliner Traum (1980)

Peter Schneider Der Mauerspringer (1982)

Klaus Schlesinger, Die Spaltung des Erwin Racholl: complete text

Seminar worksheet for Schlesinger's Racholl, incl. bibliography

Schlesinger Racholl Information Document

Week 9 Berlin and post-unification Germany. Re-constructing the past (SA)

Seminar: Reconstructing the past. Three approaches to post-Wende Berlin

Key texts: Die Mauer (Jürgen Böttcher, 1990) and Die leere Mitte (Hito Steyerl, 1998)

Screenings: Die Mauer (Jürgen Böttcher, 1990) and Die leere Mitte (Hito Steyerl, 1998)

Seminar worksheets for Week 9


Week 10 Cultures of memory. Archaeologies of the past (2) (SA/SL)

Divisions between past and present. Reading Berlin’s history from its buildings (II). Sites of memory and the assimilation of the past.

Student presentations on:

  • Imperial Berlin. The Reichstag and its post-Wende re-modelling
  • Berlin in transition (Die neue Wache: Imperial Berlin, Nazi Berlin, GDR Berlin and post-Wende Berlin)
  • Nazi Berlin (The Olympia-Stadion and Flughafen Tempelhof)
  • GDR Berlin (the Palast der Republik and the reconstruction of the Berliner Schloss;Treptower Park)
  • Jewish Berlin (Das Jüdische Museum, the Holocaust-Denkmal)

Download an electronic copy of the seminar worksheet for week 10



Primary texts:

  • Die Berliner Moderne, 1885-1914, ed. Jürgen Schutte and Peter Sprengel (1987)
  • Alfred Döblin, Berlin Alexanderplatz (1929)
  • Klaus Schlesinger, Berliner Traum (1980)
  • Peter Schneider, Der Mauerspringer (1982)


  • Berlin: Die Symphonie der Großstadt (Walter Ruttmann, 1927)
  • Berlin –Ecke Schönhauser (Gerhard Klein, 1957)
  • Die Mauer (Jürgen Böttcher, 1990)
  • Die leere Mitte (Hito Steyerl, 1998)

Secondary Literature:

  • Sean Allan and John Sandford (eds.), DEFA. East German Cinema, 1946-1992 (Oxford, 1999)
  • Gesine Bär, Katrin Hecker, Sophie Wennerscheid (eds), Auf der Suche nach der großen Stadt. Leit- und Gegenbilder aus Berlin und Stockholm (Berlin, 2002)
  • Rob Burns (ed.), German Cultural Studies. An Introduction (Oxford, 1995)
  • Carol Anne Costabile-Heming et al. (eds.), Berlin, the symphony continues. Orchestrating Architectural, Social and Artistic Change in Germany’s New Capital (Berlin, New York, 2004)
  • David Dollenmayer, The Berlin Novels of Alfred Döblin (Berkeley, 1988) [also online]
  • Jattie Enklaar, Hans Ester (eds), Das Jahrhundert Berlins. Eine Stadt in der Literatur (Amsterdam, 2000).
  • Derek Glass et al. (eds.), Berlin. Literary images of a city (Berlin, 1989)
  • Ralf Kiesler, Literarische Wahrnehmungen und Beschreibungen Berlins (Munich, 2003)
  • Hermann Kähler, Berlin - Asphalt und Licht (Berlin, 1986)
  • Anthony Read and David Fisher, Berlin. The biography of a city (London, 1994)
  • See also the list of articles digitised for this module
  • Bibliigraphy of critical writing on all texts, films and buildings studied in this module

Web resources:

Berlin: Die Symphonie der Großstadt [some selected epsiodes are available via youTube]