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Level 5

5AAGB502 Berlin: Past and Present

Credit value: 15 credits
Module tutor:  Dr Áine McMurtry 
Assessment:  One 3-hour written examination (100%)
Assessment for study abroad semester 1 only students (only if taught in semester 1): One 4000 word essay (100%)
Teaching pattern: Two hours per week

Reassessment: all re-assessment for this module will take the form of coursework.  The exam element will be replaced with a 4000 word essay.

This module is taught and assessed in English. English-language translations are available and no prior knowledge of German is required.

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.

Educational aims and 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.

Core texts 


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: Traveling 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)

A reader will be provided that contains the short texts on the course. Students are expected to purchase the two novels by Sharon Otoo and Herta Müller, and may choose to buy their own copy of the monograph by Brian Ladd.

Additional Course Costs

Students are expected to purchase the two novels by Sharon Dodua Otoo and Herta Müller, and may choose to buy their own copy of the monograph by Brian Ladd.


The modules run in each academic year are subject to change in line with staff availability and student demand so there is no guarantee every module will run. Module descriptions and information may vary depending between years.



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