Berlin is a quintessentially modern city. It was invented as a capital when Germany was unified in 1871 in order to minimize regional rivalries, then reinvented in 1990 to effect the reunification of East and West. This course will explore representations and topographies of Berlin between the first German unification and the second, focusing on the major events and conflicts that have left their mark on this urban landscape: the rise of the modern metropolis, economic depression and social unrest, the two World Wars, Nazism and the Holocaust, and the Cold War and its aftermath — in short the most disruptive and defining events of the twentieth century.
Of central concern will be the conflicting identities, ideologies, and aesthetic theories informing the events that have shaped Berlin’s — and the world’s — history. East and West, communist and capitalist, German and Jew, avant-garde and reactionary: these opposing terms have performed a mad dance over the past 130 years, sometimes settling in temporary alliances, sometimes in violent oppositions, and always leaving their traces in literature, memory, and urban geography. Berlin is a palimpsest of the discarded ideologies of the twentieth century, both political and aesthetic; it is also one of the premier stages of Europe’s transnational future. Reading its literature and traversing its spaces provides an object lesson in the history of modernism, modernity, and globalization.
Part of the course will involve developing strategies for reading and walking through this multi-layered and contradictory landscape. Thus in addition to discussing the regular reading assignments, we will devote some time to discussing the complex relations between space, text, history, and memory.
Schedule permitting, we will watch relevant films and organize city excursions outside of regular class times. Possible dates for these activities are listed on the syllabus.