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FU-BEST 8: To Hell and Back: Modern German History in European Context

InstructorDr. Martin Jander
Credit Points6 ECTS


In order to understand European history of the 19th and 20th century, a focus on Germany is indispensable and unavoidable. It took a long time before the German society transformed into a modern, open and democratic society. The “Revolution of Modernity” (Ralf Dahrendorf) was pushed back before World War I and failed 1933 in the Weimar Republic. Freedom and rule of law were brought to Germany by the allied Armies. The main antimodernist ideologies that caused the Shoah and the German war against the “Jewish Enemy” (Jeffrey Herf) were: antisemitism, racism and nationalism. In the first part of the 20th century Germany attempted to destroy civilization under a blanket of propaganda and by violence, both brutal and coldly mechanistic. Today we experience a Germany that presents itself as one partner among equals in the European Union. This new identity follows 40 years of ideological, social, political, and cultural division between two German states – the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) and the German Democratic Republic (East Germany). Germany now enjoys the political stability, peace and prosperity of a democratic system. The change in German identity and the meaning of identity within the German context offers a fascinating angle from which to approach German history. From this angle, one gains a new understanding of Germany's contradictions, catastrophes, abysses, and moral bankruptcies before and after the Shoah, and the miraculous reconstruction after enormous casualties and destruction that resulted from the total war between 1939 and 1945.

Within these parameters, the course addresses various topics in German and European 20th century history: different political ideas, systems and movements, as well as social and cultural developments. We will compare and contrast the German variety of these phenomena with other European varieties. Two major themes are the struggles between democracy and dictatorship, and capitalism and communism, which played out through the 20th century. The course will connect these essentially ideological struggles to the two World Wars and the ensuing "Cold War", to memories of trauma, to the history of everyday life, pop culture and gender, and to the experience of youth and immigrants in Germany. Through analyses of the interconnections and distinctions between all these aspects, the course will provide participants with a better understanding of German society today.