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Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - Enhancing digital teaching

Berlin Histories, 1871 to 1990

Taught by Frank Beyersdorf

Wednesday, 12:00 - 14:00, Hausvogteiplatz 5-7, Room 0323-26

Course taught in English

Language requirements: English B2


Course Description

This course surveys German history through the prism of Berlin between the first and the second unification of the German lands in 1871 and 1990. It introduces students to key analytical concepts such as nationalism, industrialization and class, urbanization and modernity, civil society and autocracy, ethnicity/race, as well as politico-economic ideologies such as liberalism, communism, Nazism, welfare and the socialist state as well as their political implementations.

After the Napoleonic occupation, Berlin gained the dubious distinction of being the dullest and most provincial seat of a royal court among the great European powers. Bismarck sealed the city’s fate as an imperial capital after having engineered the unification and Prussification of the German lands through ‘blood and iron.’ Berlin grew into an economic, political, cultural and military metropolis. After the defeat of central powers during the ‘Great War,’ Berlin was plunged into bloody civil war, eventually emerged as the capital of the first German republic. In 1933, the Germans elected the dictatorship. Nazi Germany, including Berlin, set out to commit atrocities on an unprecedented scale throughout Europe.

After the Grand Alliance stopped Nazi Germany, they occupied Berlin, which initially became center-stage for the cold war drama. Hardening bipolar antagonism created a surreal status for Berlin as city divided among the two superpowers. In 1961, the East German government finalized the division and walled in the Western zone of the city. The wall symbolized the separation of the two Germanies, which, however, remained remarkably stable throughout the cold war. In 1989, East Berliners brought down the wall in a peaceful revolution unifying both city and country.

Students of all disciplines are welcome, and no prior knowledge of history is required. Students should have a good command of English and basic reading skills in German. Adapted to the German skills of participants, we will work on holding parts of the sessions in German. This course is based on discussions and thus active participation. I expect you to study the assigned readings and debate them in class, which is reflected in the high percentage for your participation grade (40%). Furthermore, you are required to hand in a short essay analyzing a primary source drawn from out visit to the archives of the state of Berlin (10%), an outline of your research papers and a presentation on a fellow student’s research papers (10%) and the research paper itself (40%). You are required to observe Berlin Perspectives’ attendance policy and academic honor code.



  • Fulbrook, Mary, A History of Germany, 1918-2008. Divided Nation, Wiley Blackwell3 2009.
  • GHI Washington, German History in Documents and Images, http://germanhistorydocs.ghi-dc.org/.
  • Ladd, Brian, The Ghosts of Berlin Confronting German History in the Urban Landscape, Univ. of Chicago Press 1998.
  • Mazower, Mark, Dark Continent: Europe’s Twentieth Century, Penguin 1998.
  • Orlow, Dietrich, A History of Modern Germany: 1871 to Present, Pearson7 2012.
  • Rapport, Michael, Nineteenth-Century Europe, Palgrave Macmillan 2005.
  • Rubin, Eli eds. From the Grünen Wiesen to Urban Space: Berlin, Expansion, and the Longue Durée, Central European History (special issue) 47:2 (2014), 221-347.
  • Schoeps, Julius H. eds., Berlin: Geschichte einer Stadt, Bebra 2012.
  • Stöver, Bernd, Berlin: A Short History, C.H Beck 2013.