Mapping the City: The Urban Landscape as Text

By exploring literature and film narratives about Berlin in Berlin, students construct their own topographies of the city, create mental maps of existing or destroyed buildings, stores, squares, and parks, and confront them with the present urban landscape. The course engages with contemporary Berlin as a multilayered area in which people experience and interact with the past through language, architecture, literature, and the visual arts. No background in German is required for this course.

The course, offered in English and intended for students with no or little knowledge of German culture, explores works of literature and film set in Berlin and discusses them as expressions of life in the modern metropolis. The course will incorporate three components: 

  1. a core discussion group, led by Prof. Kazecki,
  2. a W1 workshop, also led by Prof. Kazecki,  and
  3. a W2 workshop, led by Prof. Cernahoschi. 
The discussion group will meet weekly for 2 hours, while the writing workshops will meet biweekly for 2 hours.

Exploring multiple layers of Berlin's past. Photo: Sergey Larenkov "Attack on the Reichstag" (2010)

In this course, students interpret poetry and prose texts, as well as feature and documentary films, and place them in the contexts of urbanization, industrialization, immigration, multilingualism and multiculturalism in Germany from the 18th to the 21st centuries. The analyses of common themes and topics emerging from these works provide students with the ability to use more sophisticated instruments of literary and film criticism, expanding their cultural literacy. At the same time, by being able to identify the topography of the city as described in the works and comparing it with the contemporary geographical and architectural features of Berlin, the students are exploring the concept of city as an palimpsest, a multilayered area in which people experience and interact with past times through language, architecture, literature and visual arts. Students follow the traces of the Berlin Wall in the streets, place destroyed buildings back on the skyline of the German capital, discover its empty spaces, hear the voices of its missing inhabitants, and see bridges between its cultures and languages. 

The main focus of the course is on cultural products created in the last 100 years: in the Weimar Republic (the Berlin “Golden Years”), in the aftermath of WW2, in both German states, the German Democratic Republic (the so-called East Berlin) and in West Berlin, and after the reunification of Germany in 1990. A section of the course includes works of authors and filmmakers who represent today’s “hyphenated” identities, for example German-Turkish, German-Russian, German-Polish, or German-Romanian artists working and living in Berlin and depicting their experiences either from the position of a migrant or second-generation resident. The course encourages students to explore underrepresented discourses and depart from the notion of German literature or culture as monolingual and homogeneous, especially in the context of the social and economic changes in Germany in the last 25 years.

Mapping Berlin: Painting a map of the city on the Schlossplatz, part of the event series "Stadt der Vielfalt" (2012).  
Photo: elmada via Compfight cc.

List of Anticipated Materials:

The readings for the course may include excerpts from the following titles:

  • Constantine, Helen, ed. Berlin Tales. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.
  • Elkins, T.H. Berlin: The Spatial Structure of a Divided City. New York: Methuen & Co., 1998.
  • Haxthausen, Charles W. and Suhr Heidrun ed. Berlin: Culture and Metropolis. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1990.
  • Ingram, Susan, ed. World Film Locations: Berlin. Bristol: Intellect, 2012.
  • Ladd, Brian. The Ghosts of Berlin. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997. 
  • Lefebvre, Henri. The Production of Space. Oxford: Blackwell, 1991.
  • Moretti, Franco. Graphs, Maps, Trees: Abstract Models for a Literary History. London and New York: Verso, 2005.
  • Neumann, Dietrich. Film Architecture. New York: Prestel, 1996.
  • Parkes, Stuart. Understanding Contemporary Germany. New York: Routledge, 1997.
  • Schürer, Ernst et al., ed. The Berlin Wall. New York: Peter Lang, 1996.
  • Wiedmer, Caroline. The Claims of Memory. Ithaca: Cornel University Press, 1992.
  • Wise, Michael Z. Capital Dilemma. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 1998.

Films about Berlin will be selected from the following:

  • Berlin: Symphony of a Metropolis (Berlin: Die Sinfonie der Großstadt), dir. Walter Ruttmann, 1927 (and its remake by Thomas Schadt, 2002).
  • Metropolis, dir. Fritz Lang, 1927.
  • Adaptations of Alfred Döblin's novel Berlin Alexanderplatz (1931, 1980).
  • Christiane F. – We Children from Bahnhof Zoo (Christiane F. – Wir Kinder vom Bahnhof Zoo), dir. Uli Edel, 1981.
  • Wings of Desire (Der Himmel über Berlin), dir. Wim Wenders, 1987.
  • The Architects (Die Architekten), dir. Peter Kahane, 1990.
  • Berlin Babylon, dir. Hubertus Siegert, 2001.
  • Good Bye, Lenin!, dir Wolfgang Becker, 2003.
  • Berlin Blues (Herr Lehmann), dir. Leander Haussmann, 2003.
  • Summer in Berlin (Sommer vorm Balkon), dir. Andreas Dresen, 2005.
  • Rabbit à la Berlin, dir. Bartosz Konopka, 2009.

The instructor will prepare a reader with texts required for the course (including translations of poems about Berlin by Erich Kästner, Günter Grass, Wolf Biermann, Georg Heym, Sarah Kirsch, Paul Celan, Tanya Dückers, Kerstin Hensel, Stephan Krawczyk, Günter Kunert, and others, as well as selection of short stories, reportages, and novel excerpts by Adelbert von Chamisso, Arno Holz, Hans Fallada, Walter Mehring, Alfred Döblin, Theodor Fontane, Siegfried Krakauer, Kurt Tucholsky, Joseph Roth, Egon Erwin Kisch, Krzysztof Niewrzęda, Brigita Helbig-Mischewski, Wladimir Kaminer, and others).