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FU-BEST 8: Modern German History in European Context: A Thematic Approach

InstructorDr. Martin Jander
Credit Points5 ECTS / 3 U.S. credits


Today there is no more talk of a “German problem,” but no one doubts that Germany had a profound and paradoxical impact on the trajectories of European history. Many historians express relief that the 20th century did not become the “German century” instead of the “American century.” Others concentrate on the transformation from a violent “Germanized Europe” to a (mostly) peaceful “Europeanized Germany.” In the big picture, modern German history is a useful vantage point for exploring European developments during the 20th century, not only because of Germany's central and pivotal political role, but even more so because of its fragmented character and inherent contradictions. The impossibility of comparing the extreme of war, genocide, and destruction with the opposite extreme of unprecedented prosperity, consumerism, and happiness is not just a central paradox in German history, but of the modern age itself.

This course aims at fostering a critical understanding of the ruptures and continuities of the “extreme” 20th century with a cross-analysis of German and European political, social, and cultural history. Major themes will be the contest between democracy and dictatorship and the related tension between freedom and security in changing times under different political regimes. Other issues are the historical experiences of two World Wars and the “Cold War,” the emergence of “heroic” and “tragic” memories as well as the impact of these events on the life and memory of “ordinary people.” Since German history has been shaped heavily by the quest for a unifying national identity, we will examine the various modes of defining who is, and who is not, a “German.” We will also ask how the transformations in politics and culture affected the situations of men and women, younger people, and minorities.

Film screenings and in-class discussions with invited guest speakers will be part of the course.