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Berlin Past And Present: The Reconstruction Of A Capital City

Key information

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Module description

Drawing on recent theoretical work from the fields of Memory Studies, the module examines the city of Berlin as the paradigmatic scene of German history in the twentieth century. The course is structured chronologically and considers the city as capital of the Weimar Republic in the 1920s, an era of extreme economic deprivation and political instability on the one hand, and of intense cultural activity and creativity, on the other. Treating subsequent regime changes throughout the twentieth century, the Third Reich, the four Allied occupiers, the two post-war German states, and the unified Germany of the 1990s, the course engages with Berlin as a city in extreme flux and in constant negotiation with its multiple pasts and conflicting identities. Students will learn about key historical events and cultural trends during the weekly seminars, which each focus on a case study that treats a particular cultural artefact or group of artefacts drawn from the domains of literature, the visual arts, film and historical monument. As well as examining different ways in which these artefacts can be read as the products of a given historical era, students will be asked to consider their critical potential. In particular, students will consider the complex endeavour to memorialise acts of atrocity, where Berlin and its sites of memory will be understood to stand at the symbolic centre of twentieth century German crimes. The reunified city’s contemporary status as site of transnational migration will further be examined through a range of multilingual texts that engage with the city as a migratory setting.

Assessment details

One 3-hour written examination (100%)

Assessment for study abroad Semester 1-only students: One 4000 word essay (100%)

Educational aims & objectives

The module will:

  • consider a wide range of cultural artefacts drawn from the domains of literature, architecture, film and historical monument.
  • introduce students to major socio-historical events in modern Germany.
  • give students insight into significant theoretical work from the field of Memory Studies.
  • enable students’ analytical engagement with primary sources and promote their critical evaluation of works of secondary literature.

Learning outcomes

By the end of the module, students will be able to demonstrate analytical, intellectual and transferable skills appropriate to a Level 5 module. In particular, they will have:

  • a detailed knowledge of the case studies.
  • a good knowledge of theories of memory.
  • thorough understanding of key events in modern German history.
  • an ability to engage critically and creatively with primary and secondary literature.
  • an ability to compare and contrast a wide range of cultural artefacts across a range of different media.

Teaching pattern

Two hours per week

Suggested reading list

The below is an indicative list of set reading only. The course outline and readings remain subject to change in order to allow tie in with relevant new developments and potential author visits or events. The final list of set reading will be confirmed via KEATS at the start of term.


Brian Ladd, The Ghosts of Berlin: Confronting German History in the Urban Landscape (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997); ISBN-13: 978-0226467627

Sharon Dodua Otoo, Synchronicity (Münster: edition assemblage, 2015); ISBN-13: 978-3942885959

Herta Müller, Reisende auf einem Bein (Fischer Taschenbuch, 1995); ISBN-13: 978-3596187782

- English translation: Travelling on One Leg (Northwestern University Press, 2010); ISBN-13: 978-0810127067

Menekşe Toprak, ‘Valizdeki Mektup’, in Valizdeki Mektup (Istanbul: YKY: 2007)

- German translation: ‘Der Brief im Koffer’, trans. by Koray Yılmaz-Günay, Stadtsprachen Magazin (2017):

- English translation: ‘The Letter in the Suitcase’, trans. by Yasemin Yildiz, Massachusetts Review, 58:3 (2017), 429-41


Wolfgang Staudte, Die Mörder sind unter uns (1946)

- English translation: The Murderers are Among Us (First Run Features 2002)

Module description disclaimer

King’s College London reviews the modules offered on a regular basis to provide up-to-date, innovative and relevant programmes of study. Therefore, modules offered may change. We suggest you keep an eye on the course finder on our website for updates.

Please note that modules with a practical component will be capped due to educational requirements, which may mean that we cannot guarantee a place to all students who elect to study this module.

Please note that the module descriptions above are related to the current academic year and are subject to change.