Study Abroad Spotlight: Berlin: History, Memory, and the Contemporary City

Berlin: History, Memory, and the Contemporary City

Berlin cityscape

Fernsehturm in Berlin. Photo by Claudio Schwarz | @purzlbaum on Unsplash

Institutional Association: York University, Toronto

Director: Prof. Christina Kranzle

Program Description:This course examines the city of Berlin from its emergence as a major metropolis in the early 20th century to the present. It poses the following questions: 1) how has the city been imagined and represented over time in a wide range of media; 2) who were the figures who shaped, and were shaped by, the city; 3) how is Berlin’s complex history remembered today through architecture, memorials, and other public spaces; 4) why has Berlin become an important case study for contemporary urban issues, e.g. gentrification, housing, migration, etc.? After an online introduction to these topics, students travel to Berlin visiting relevant sites and conducting field research for their final projects. 

How does this program benefit students? The Berlin course is a regular offering at the YorkU German studies program, but this was the first year we planned to offer it in the summer session with a two-week study tour. The additional study tour was intended to offer students the opportunity to experience the city in person and to undertake research projects that required them to actively engage with the contemporary city. The proposed model of 5 weeks online and 2 weeks in Berlin was designed for pedagogical and practical reasons. This format allows students to first encounter topics and areas of interest and to do initial project planning before arrival in Berlin. The blended format offered students who may be juggling other summer commitments a flexible and affordable option. The classroom activities are undertaken with our partners at the Hochschule für Technik und Wirtschaft and allow students to experience campus life at a Berlin university.  

What were students looking forward to about the program?Students were interested in exploring firsthand the urban spaces that this course investigates, meeting experts (e.g. curators, historians, activists) who could offer local perspectives on course topics, and the opportunity to gather information and materials for their projects on-site in Berlin.  

What's your favourite part of this program? My favourite part of this program was the opportunity to design assessments and a final project that allowed students to actively engage with Berlin's urban spaces and to gather and create their own materials on-site.  

A lot of universities in Canada are promoting interdisciplinary learning. In what ways does your program support that goal?The course, even in its more traditional on-campus model, is interdisciplinary in its mix of topics, media, and theoretical approaches. It typically attracts students from a variety of disciplines, in particular history, political science, film studies, German studies, and urban studies. 

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