Skip to main content Skip to navigation

German Studies

In German Studies there are two cultural modules:

GE108: The Changing Face of Germany in Film and Text
GE109: Passon and Power. The Makings of Modern German Culture (click on the link (left) to quick scroll down).


‘The Changing Face of Germany’ is a core module on many degree combinations. Some degree combinations have the choice between ‘Changing Face’ and ‘German Culture in the Age of Enlightenment'.

'The Changing Face of Germany' introduces you to the social, cultural, political and intellectual history of post-war Germany, and provides you with the analytical and research skills required to examine diverse types of literary and film texts.

Topics you will study on this module:

  • Rebuilding and restoration after 1945: How did West Germany go from defeated and devastated nation to one of Europe’s economic powerhouses? How did the transformation from occupied state to independent nation develop? What political and military role did Germany play as part of the western world?
  • Writers and the political reconstruction of Germany: Why do German authors and filmmakers play such a prominent role in German culture? Why have they been regarded as the “conscience of the nation”? How have they intervened in major political debates of the post-1945 period?
  • The Division of Germany and the GDR: What were the causes of division? How did relations between the Federal Republic (West Germany) and German Democratic Republic (East Germany) change between 1945 and 1989? How did each state define and organize itself?
  • Coming to terms with the Nazi past: Germany is largely considered a role model because of the way it has confronted its dark past. Was this always the case?
  • The Student Movement: Why is '1968' a watershed year in the history of the Federal Republic? How was Germany’s protest movement different from global left-wing protests? What is the legacy of the student movement? Was it successful in liberalizing political culture?
  • The West German Women's Movement: What was life like for women in Germany before 1968? What were the key demands of the women’s movement? How did it relate to the wider protest movements of the 1960s and global liberation movements?
  • Migration and diasporic cultures: How inclusive is the idea of 'Germanness'? How have migrants contributed to German society and culture, and changed what it means to be German? Has Germany overcome its history of racism?
  • German Unification and the intellectual debate surrounding it: What triggered the fall of the Berlin Wall? What role did writers play in the subsequent debates? What were the arguments for and against the Unification of Germany? What was the lasting economic, political, and cultural legacy of Unification? 40 years later, has Germany overcome its history of division?
Reading: The End of the War and the ‘Stunde Null’ (‘Zero Hour’)

In Germany, 8 May 1945 is referred to as 'die Stunde Null' or the zero hour. In our module, we explore the challenges that Germany faced as it emerged from war and National Socialism. We look at how Germany embraced the possibilities offered by the new beginning but also missed opportunities that became particularly apparent during the period of student protest in 1968. The activities in this section provide some insight into how Germans experienced the end of the war, as well as the priorities for restoration and recovery (both in the literal sense of rebuilding and in metaphorical terms relating to political and economic systems and moral recovery).

Activities to help you understand different experiences of the 'Stunde Null'

Researching: The Path to Recovery

At the end of the Second World War, Germany was in ruins: physically, spiritually, morally, and culturally. The 12-year reign of National Socialism and the war had devastated the country in every sense: it had been morally and politically discredited and economically destroyed; the morale of the population was at an all-time low. Germany thus faced immense challenges in 1945. What were the most important problems to be resolved? How did the Germans address rebuilding and political and economic reconstruction? How did they grapple with the moral and ethical issues arising from 12 years of Nazism?

Here is a research activity to help you find out more about this transformative period.

Reading: The ‘Wirtschaftswunder’ (Economic Miracle):

Within a few years of the currency reform of 1948, West Germany had regained its place among the wealthy Western nations. The impact of the so-called 'Wirtschaftswunder' on the future development of West Germany cannot be underestimated. However, the rapid economic growth, embrace of capitalism, and shift to a consumer society were not viewed uncritically by all sectors of society.

In this activity you will read a poem that explores some of these critiques.

Researching: The Gruppe 47 and the Public Role of the Writer

The most influential literary and cultural grouping in West Germany for the first 20 years after the war was the ‘Gruppe 47’ (Group 47), formed by Hans-Werner Richter and named after the year in which it was founded.

Virtually all of the influential post-war West German writers were associated with the Gruppe 47 at some point, from Nobel Prize winners Heinrich Böll and Günter Grass to other acclaimed writers including Ingeborg Bachmann and Martin Walser. Like no other association of artists, the Gruppe 47 shaped the cultural sphere of the Federal Republic between 1947 and 1965. The lasting legacy of this group and its ideas about the role of writers as public intellectuals can be seen in the prominence of authors as cultural and political commentators in Germany today.

This activity will allow you to get a better understanding of the role that writers played in post-1945 Germany, especially those affiliated with the 'Gruppe 47'

Analysing: The first West German Chancellor, Konrad Adenauer

The first democratically elected chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany was Konrad Adenauer, who was 69 when he was elected to lead the Federal Republic of Germany with his party, the Christian Democratic Union. He was subsequently voted in three more times. Like no other German politician, Adenauer defined the political and ethical choices West Germany made in the first 15 years of its existence. Adenauer ensured the firm integration of the new Federal Republic into the military and political alliances of the West. Simultaneously, his chancellorship marked the beginning of the Cold War between the US and Soviet Russia.

In this activity, you will analyse some of the political posters that defined his campaign to get a sense of the policies and values that characterized his period in charge.

Listening: Exploring German Unification

If any of you have been fortunate enough to travel to Germany, and especially to Berlin, the Unification of Germany seems like the most natural thing in the world. Even walking around the streets of Berlin and tracing the line of the former Berlin Wall, it is difficult to imagine a time when the two sides of the city—and millions of lives—were irrevocably divided. The idea that the building of the Berlin Walland—not to mention its fall—happened practically overnight is unfathomable to us today. While the seeds for both historic turning points (Unification is, in fact, often referred to as 'die Wende' or 'the turn') were laid over the preceding months, nobody could have predicted what would happen. To get a sense of the shock and massive shifts that occurred in 1961 and 1989, it's helpful to listen to news reports and eyewitness from the time.

Here are some examples. Try searching YouTube yourself for news reports from 13 August 1961 and 9 November 1989!

Watching and Analysing: Contextualizing Black Lives Matter

In our module, we examine closely Germany’s post-war history of migration and multiculturalism, as well as the ways in which political policy has been shaped by the memory of National Socialism and a moral will to make amends for the atrocities of the past. The path to integration and tolerance remains, nevertheless, difficult and fragmented, as the recent protests that erupted worldwide after the killing of George Floyd revealed. In Germany, there have been protests too and Black activists have spoken out about the everyday reality of racism, as well as the work that is being done to challenge discriminatory practices and raise awareness about the nation’s history of colonialism. These struggles are not new. In fact, German director Pepe Danquart was awarded the Academy Award for 'Best Short Film' in 1994 for his film Schwarzfahrer (Black Rider), which sheds a darkly humorous light on bigotry. Follow the link to watch the 9-minute film. Film analysis is at the heart of what we do on the module 'The Changing Face of Germany,' so below we have provided some prompts to help you think about how to read and analyse the richness of this medium. We’ve also provided some links with further reading on how the Black Lives Matter movement has been taken up in Germany.

Here is a worksheet with some guidance on how to 'read' film, as well as some questions about Danquart's work.

Watching and Listening: Combating Racism and Right-Extremism in Contemporary German Music

In the past decade, a number of violent attacks—not to mention the electoral success of the right-wing party 'Alternative für Deutschland'—have propelled Germany’s failure to combat racism and right-wing extremism back on to the public agenda. Musicians have responded to this climate by organizing events to drown out racist voices. In 2018, there were large protests in Chemnitz (in Saxony) after two immigrants were named as suspects in a brawl that ended in the murder of a Cuban-German man. The event sparked racial tensions in the city, leading to increasingly violent anti-immigrant protests. Local band Kraftklub organized “#Wirsindmehr” (We are more), a concert featuring some of the biggest names in German rock. It was attended by over 65,000 people and received mainstream media attention. The point of the gig: to signal that there was no place for Nazis or racism in Chemnitz, or Germany more broadly. Elsewhere, music critics and commentators have noted that German Hip Hop is growing increasingly political, with artists speaking out explicitly about everyday racism and anti-immigrant attitudes in the country. Take a look at this worksheet to watch some music videos by some of the names that come up frequently in discussions about the role of music in combating racism and right-extremism.


Passion and Power: The Makings of Modern German Culture

Die Leiden des jungen Werther - a film adaptation.

Die Leiden des jungen Werther - a film adaptation.

For a quick overview, watch the introductory video here. You can also view the first full lecture of the module here. (Make sure you are logged into your Warwick account). You should also read on below for greater depth.

This module is a core module for German Single Honours and all German with another subject or another language degrees (e.g. German with French/Italian/etc., German with Linguistics). It is also an option for German joint degrees (e.g. German and English, German and History, German and Linguistics) and the BA in Modern Languages degrees.

In ‘The Age of Enlightenment’ you will learn about the origins of modern German society through the culture of the late eighteenth century. You will study a small number of texts in detail, and will be shown how to read, analyse and write about them through a carefully structured programme of lectures and small tutorial teaching. You’ll also be taught how to conduct research and incorporate secondary material into your work.

The topics you will examine include:

  • The global Enlightenment movement, its core teachings and how it came to Germany and transformed education, culture and society;
  • How the rising German middle classes sought to establish their own identity through and their own cultural expression;
  • Criticism of the established order ('power') of the class system, the absolutist state, and corrupt politics;
  • How and why Germany responded to the background of revolutionary change in Europe (especially France) through culture, rather than violent uprising;
  • Patterns of social change, inter-personal relationships across class boundaries, sexuality and changing gender roles; the portrayal of women and femininity
  • Concepts of the individual, intellectual, artistic and moral freedom.
  • The cult of emotionality ('passion') and the world beyond the limits of 'reason'

Some historical background

In the mid-eighteenth century, there was no such thing as a unified German nation. The German-speaking lands existed as a patchwork of loosely unified principalities and petty kingdoms. This fragmented structure, known as Germany’s Kleinstaaterei, can be researched here. Compared to Britain and France, Germany was politically and economically lagging behind the times – but it was Germany’s growing sense of its own cultural achievements that changed this.

You can also find out more about the Enlightenment generally here, and specifically in Germany here. The module focuses on the 1770-s and 1780-s in Germany. By this period the German middle classes had grown in size, were better educated than ever before, restless for political representation and seeking their own forms of cultural expression. As a result, the middle-classes responded with great force to Enlightenment ideas. This cultural movement was called the Sturm und Drang (Storm and Stress) movement, and you can find out more about that here. Ask yourself what did the Sturm und Drang writers write about and how did they write?

Some sample sessions

Whilst lectures are used to convey broader ideas and developments across the period we study, our one-hour tutorials will focus on one text – indeed, we will spend several weeks on each text. Here are some excerpts on which we will focus, and the topics arising from them.

Power, Art and Gender in Germany

Although set in Italy several centuries before, G.E Lessing’s play Emilia Galotti (1772) is actually a comment on Lessing’s own culture and time (albeit it an encoded form to avoid censorship).

In the scenes supplied in the download, the character of the Prince peruses paintings by the court artist Conti. Having been disappointed by a painting of the Countess Orsina, a woman in whom he had been interested romantically but his now lost interest for him, he comes across a different painting - one of a young middle class girl, Emilia Galotti. How does he react to this new painting? What does this say about his view of women (in connection with the theme of art)? And what do you think Lessing is saying about artists and how they depend on the patronage of their rulers to survive? Is there a broader political comment to be found here?

From a performance of Emilia Galotti Hamburg 2015

From a performance of 'Emilia Galotti,' Hamburg, 2015.

Love across Social Classes

Goethe’s short novel Die Leiden des jungen Werther (1774) is a novel of imaginary letters, written by the protagonist of the title to his friend Wilhelm. In his letters, he recounts the ups and downs of his travels through Germany, his ideas on art and literature and the whirlwind of his love life.

In the two excerpts on the download, Werther, a middle-class man, is staying at an aristocratic court. At a social gathering he meets the enigmatic Fräulein B., a young noblewoman who has been accompanied to court to meet a suitable future husband. She is accompanied by a guardian, her aunt, he is known as ‘die Base’. How are Fräulein B. and her aunt shown by Werther? What is his view of court and the class system generally? In the later excerpt, when it emerges that Werther has made a few social blunders at the gathering, how do Fräulein B. and her aunt react? And how does Werther, in turn, feel about their reaction?

Lovers embrace in another on-stage performance

Lovers embrace in another on-stage performance.

(Forbidden) Sexual Attraction?

Read this poem ‘Wilkommen und Abschied’ – in fact you can also listen back to it and read in parallel, using one of Warwick’s custom-made podcasts on Goethe. In the text, the poet describes a secret visit to a young female beloved. What can you find out about the real-life inspiration behind the poem, Friederike Brion? Why might a meeting of this sort between the two lovers be deemed inappropriate? What is the atmosphere in the first few stanzas (verses) – communicated through a distorted representation of the natural world at night? And, when the poet writes:

Ein rosenfarbnes Frühlingswetter
Umgab das liebliche Gesicht.

he appears to be describing his beloved's 'rose-coloured' or 'flushed face'. What does this signify and why might he be writing this? Finally, the poem his about arrivals and greetings, though also about departures and farewells. How do the lover's part, and why do they have to do so?

The texts studied on this module include:

  • Goethe's novel Die Leiden des jungen Werther (1774), the international success that established his literary reputation
  • the two dramas, Emilia Galotti (1772) by Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, and Kabale und Liebe (1784) by Friedrich Schiller, which are sometimes referred to as examples of the 'middle class tragedy (or 'bürgerliches Trauerspiel')
  • the early poetry (1770-1786) of Johann Wolfgang Goethe

Feel free to contact the module leader, Dr James Hodkinson, by email with any queries you might have.