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Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - bologna.lab - Neue Lehre. Neues Lernen

Berlin and the Age of the First World War

Taught by Tim Opitz

Monday, 10:00 - 12:00, Hausvogteilplatz 5-7, Room 0323-26

Course taught in English (with parts in German, depending on language level)


Course description

The First World War is by every right called “the great seminal catastrophe” of the 20th century and is the key to understand World, European, and German history. In many different ways the war is tightly entangled to the city of Berlin. Here, in the capital of the German Empire, one might have seen the dark clouds rising before the conflict and can trace the reasons of the outbreak. The German strategy for a war to come was outlined in Berlin and the course of war was planned in the military institutions of the capital. During the war the city first in August 1914 witnessed a huge outburst of patriotism and enthusiasm and saw an unprecedented internal political consolidation. During the long years of war and an unforeseen mass killing the Berliners saw the costs of war, all families lost friends and relatives, soldiers on (sick) leave and war invalids populated the streets. At the same time in the factories of the city the empty spots of those who fought the war had to be filled and here often women stepped in and claimed not only payment in return. The longer the war continued the harder life became at home: hunger and the lack of heat especially shaped the winters from 1917 onwards. During the Great War the whole notion of a home front was born. And when the war finally ended the hard times in Berlin did not come to an end: Internal political quarrels up to civil war like situations followed suit to the war and directly led inevitable to social conflict with millions of demobilized soldiers trying to reclaim prewar positions, war-profiteers trying to hold to their gains and at the same time much less to distribute in a beaten country and a city on the ground. On the streets of Berlin the First World War did not end for a very long time. One question troubled all Berliners: Who is responsible for this, the war and all the mess? The Kaiser, who was gone already; the new democrats, who tried to build the Weimar Republic, a state under the shadow of the hated Versailles treaty; the political left that played a large role in the postwar politics but was soon accused for the ‘stab in the back’? This question together with other direct and indirect repercussions of the First World War shaped the years to come and arguably led to the dissolution of the Republic into the reign of National Socialism.
The seminar will address many of the questions that arise studying the First World War and will trace them back to Berlin. In doing so it will provide an overview of the history of the First World War, Germany, and Berlin in the years from about 1900 to 1930. Furthermore it will give students a chance to look into special fields of interest as the possible variety is huge, from war and fighting to family life and youth in war, from everyday life to high politics in war time, from the rising of culture and literature after the war to the rising of the nazi party at the same time – just to name some. The seminar will work with research literature and primary sources alike and will give the students a chance to explore Berlin’s rich environment in terms of First World War and Berlin studies. A visit in the then open exhibition on the First World War in the Deutsches Historisches Museum will conclude the seminar and take a look at the current way of remembering the war.