Past to Present: From the "Reichsgruendung" (1871) to the "Berliner Republik" (21st Century)

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Course Information
Terms offered: 
Fall, Spring
Language of instruction: 
Contact Hours: 

The course shows the turbulent development of the German nation state since its unification under Bismarck as an Empire (1871) to the present day. The basic pattern of this monarchy and the characteristics of the era (imperialism) are the background for understanding the First World War and the demise of old Europe. Many problems of the Empire were taken over the course of the hasty change of government and the failure of the November Revolution in the new democracy (Weimar Republic). These unresolved problems contributed significantly to the political weakness of the parliamentary democratic system – which in the face of economic crisis, proved to be unable to create a significant resistance against the seizure of power by National Socialism. The influences of these years of the dictatorship (1933-1945) reach through forcible coordination of the society, through war and genocide far beyond the threshold of military defeat and shaped the history of the Federal Republic of Germany and the German Democratic Republic throughout the division (1949-1989). After the fall of the wall a unified Germany re-emerged. Today it represents 80 Million inhabitants right in the middle of Europe.

Attendance policy: 

IES Abroad courses are designed to take advantage of the unique contribution of the instructor, and the lecture/discussion format is regarded as the primary mode of instruction. Regular class attendance is mandatory. For every unexcused absence to class session a student’s final grade in the course will be reduced by 15% on the German grade scale. Tests/presentations missed during unexcused absences cannot be made up. If a student misses a class it is his/her responsibility to catch up on everything that was covered in class. If a student cannot attend class due to illness then he/she should arrange to see a doctor who can issue a doctor’s note. Without a doctor’s note, an absence will count as an unexcused absence.

If a student misses more than 25% of class time, whether excused or unexcused, the student will receive an F in the course.

Absences due to religious observances and family emergencies may be excusable at the discretion of the Center Director.

Learning outcomes: 

By the end of the course students will be able to:

  • Categorize what is specific about the development of German history in peculiar
  • Recall the broad historic timelines of German history in the last 150 years
  • Review Germany’s historic role in and after the cold war
  • Transfer this knowledge about German history to other matters of history and social sciences that refer to historical dimensions
  • Present this acquired knowledge in a critical and cohesive way
  • Analyze the historical background and the political development of the Federal Republic of Germany
Method of presentation: 
  • Lectures
  • Inspiring and instructional video clips
  • Student presentations, exchange and discussion
  • Workshop activities within class

The course will be supplemented with local and current articles. Students will play an active role in selecting the supplemental readings for this course and ensuring that the course is adapted to student interests as best possible.

Additional material will be available on Moodle. This platform is also the place to share assignments and to follow recent developments in the field.

Field study: 

Local History. Freiburg during the First World War (half day)

Required work and form of assessment: 
  • Course participation - 10%
  • Student presentation – 15%
  • Midterm Exam - 20%
  • Final Exam – 20%
  • Research Paper - 35%

Course Participation
Students are expected to participate in the debate with questions and points related to the readings and with their own ideas related to the course topic in general.

Student Presentation
Students pick one of the content topics/a location on the field study trip and prepare a 10-15 minute presentation beginning of each class/throughout the field study trip.

Midterm Exam
Oral exam, consists of a number of questions on different aspects of the topics discussed in class.

Final Exam
Written exam, consists of a number of questions on different aspects of the topics discussed in class.

Research Paper
10-15 pages on a topic related to the course content. The topics can be chosen freely or from a list proposed by the instructor


Introduction – Broad German history before 1871

(Material: Karten zur politischen Geographie Deutschlands)


The belated nation - discussion of a thesis


  • Zeiten und Menschen Bd. 2, pp. 45-64
  • Plessner pp. 32-43

The German Empire (1871-1918) - politics, business and society


  • Zeiten und Menschen Bd. 2, pp.119-130
  • Klußmann, pp. 9-31

German Foreign Policy (1890-1918) : Reaching for the world power


  • Zeiten und Menschen Bd, 2, pp. 135-141
  • Speitkamp, pp. 24-48
5 The First World War (1914-1918)


  • Zeiten und Menschen Bd. 2, pp. 139-147
  • Angelow, pp. 9-31
  • Keegan, pp. 13-39
6 Field study trip: Local History. Freiburg during the First World War

Field study trip student presentation


The end of the Empire - Military defeat and the November Revolution


  • Zeiten und Menschen Bd. 2, pp. 149-164
  • Kolb/Schumann, pp. 12-27

Weimar Republic (1) : Difficult early years (1919-1924)


  • Zeiten und Menschen Bd. 2, pp. 164-176
  • Kolb/Schumann, pp. 36-55

Weimar Republic (2) : stabilization, crisis and decline (1924-1933)


  • Zeiten und Menschen Bd. 2, pp. 176-194
  • Kolb/Schumann, pp. 71-89
10 Midterm

The rise of Nazism


  • Zeiten und Menschen Bd. 2, pp. 200-221
  • Herbst, pp. 25-59
12 Germany under the rule of National Socialism ( 1 ) - policy, economy and society


  • Zeiten und Menschen Bd. 2, pp. 221-224
  • Kogon, pp. 55-59; Sofsky, pp.11-41

Germany under the rule of National Socialism ( 2 ) - The road to war


  • Zeiten und Menschen Bd. 2, pp. 225-239
  • Herbst, pp. 351-367

The Second World War (1939-1945)


  • Zeiten und Menschen Bd. 2, pp. 240-245
  • Michalka, pp. 3-24
  • Overy, pp. 11-41

The defeated Germany - Zero hour? 

The Nuremberg trial (1945-1946 and reconstruction)


  • Wolfrum, pp. 20-41
  • Görtemaker pp. 15-44
  • Gehler, pp. 47-69

Germany under construction - The early years of the Federal Republic of Germany and the beginnings of the German Democratic Republic (1949 - 1961)


  • Gehler, pp. 70-142
  • Malzahn, pp. 46-105

The Federal Republic in Transition: The social-liberal government and new social movements


  • Görtemaker, pp. 199-217
  • Wolfrum, pp. 169-181

Inner workings of the GDR : Berlin Wall and German division (1961-1989)


  • Taylor, pp. 207-228, 399-420.
  • Malzahn, pp. 107-188

25 years of German Unity : The Peaceful Revolution and the fall of the Wall (1989)


  • Görtemaker, pp. 336-357
  • Gehler, pp. 288-325
  • Taylor, 479-506

25 years of German Unity : The Last Days of the GDR and the path to reunification (1990)


  • Görtemaker, pp. 359-377
  • Gehler, pp. 326-362

Blooming landscapes? The 90s : From Chancellor Kohl to Red-Green


  • Gehler, pp. 363-395
  • Görtemaker, pp. 379-397

The Berlin Republic (from 1998) - The change in the matrix


  • Gehler pp. 396-426, 477-483
  • Görtemaker II pp. 46-57, 179-184



Required readings: 
  • Angelow, Jürgen;  Deutsche Geschichte im 20. Jahrhundert 2. Der Weg in die Urkatastrophe: Der Zerfall des alten Europa 1900-1914, Berlin 2010.
  • Bavaj, Riccardo, Der Nationalsozialismus. Entstehung, Aufstieg, Herrschaft, Berlin 2015.
  • Görtemaker, Manfred, Die Geschichte der Bundesrepublik Deutschland. Von der Gründung bis zur Gegenwart, Frankfurt a. M. 2004.
  • Görtemaker, Manfred, (II) Die Berliner Republik Wiedervereinigung und Neuorientierung, Bonn. 2009.
  • Gehler, Michael, Deutschland Von der Teilung zur Einigung 1945 bis heute, Bonn 2011.
  • Klußmann, Uwe/Berg, Stefan, Das kaiserliche Deutschland unter preußischer Herrschaft von Bismarck bis Wilhelm II., München 2014.
  • Herbst, Ludolf, Das nationalsozialistische Deutschland 1933-1945, Frankfurt 2010.
  • Keegan, John, Der Erste Weltkrieg. Eine europäische Tragödie, Reinbek bei Hamburg 2001.
  • Kogon, Eugen, Der SS-Staat. Das System der Konzentrationslager, München 1997.
  • Kolb, Eberhardt/ Schumann, Dirk, Die Weimarer Republik, München 2013.
  • Malzahn, Claus Christian: Deutschland, Deutschland - Kurze Geschichte einer geteilten Nation. Bonn. 2009.
  • Michalka, Wolfgang (Hrsg.), Der Zweite Weltkrieg. Analysen – Grundzüge – Forschungsbilanz, Weyarn 1997.
  • Overy, Richard, Die Wurzeln des Sieges. Warum die Alliierten den Zweiten Weltkrieg gewannen, Reinbek 2002.
  • Plessner, Helmuth, Die verspätete Nation, Frankfurt a. M. 1993.
  • Speitkamp, W., Deutsche Kolonialpolitik, Stuttgart 2014.
  • Taylor, Frederick, Die Mauer, Bonn 2009.
  • Wolfrum, Edgar, Die geglückte Demokratie. Geschichte der Bundesrepublik Deutschland von ihren Anfängen bis zur Gegenwart, Stuttgart 2006.
  • Zeiten und Menschen, Bd. 2, Herausgegeben von W. Borth und E. Schanbacher, Paderborn 2009