This four-week program begins with a two-day intensive seminar on Modern German History, providing a timeline and basic context for your studies in Berlin. From your chosen perspective of Visual Arts, Creative Writing, or German Language Studies, we will investigate the Weimar Republic, Nazi Germany, Divided Germany, and Germany from 1989 to the present through seminars, writing or drawing on site, and with tours of unusual locations. Each historical epoch resonates with the vibrant city that Berlin has become, as reflected in locations such as the Boros private art collection in Germany in a re-functioned WWII bunker, or the Counter Memorials to the Holocaust Memorial that are built on the Kaiser’s former hunting grounds. Berlin is a palimpsest, in every sense of the word.

In this rigorous program, we place great emphasis on learning by immersion, processing information through art-making, and helping students to deeply reflect upon their experiences.

2020 Focus

In 2020, the group excursion is to Leipzig, where the "velvet revolution" that ended communism and united Germany began. Since Medieval times, Leipzig has been a trading center. Students will tour some of the finest Renaissance architecture from the 16th century as well as Baroque period trading houses still in commercial use. We’ll also visit the Baumwollspinnerei, a vibrant utopian suburb of artists, galleries, art libraries and media center situated in a former cotton weaving "city". We also plan an evening at the Leipzig Opera House to see a full chorus, ballet, and orchestra production of Bach’s Johannes Passion. For a break we’ll visit The Arabian Coffee Tree, which first opened its doors to gentlemen and intellectuals in 1694. A small and fascinating museum tells the history of coffee, from politics and myth, to the personalities it influenced—and how it is to be enjoyed.

2020 is the 11th Berlin Biennale. Through guided and non-guided time, students will explore what a team of curators have determined to be the most avant garde art trends to-date. Exhibitions, installations, and events turn unexpected locations into viewing stages. We can expect to be provoked and inspired, engaged and even enraged as trending art from around the world is set against an unfamiliar backdrop of the city, its people and their relationship to art. That is Berlin!

Course Descriptions

Creative Writing

Instructor: Dr. Donna Stonecipher

Creative Writing accommodates students with interests in poetry and short fiction. There are two parts to the course: Morning Practice and Afternoon Seminar. Both sections are taught by Dr. Donna Stonecipher, a Sarah Lawrence College graduate and a prize-winning poet.

Morning Practice

Twice a week students will be writing on location. Prompts are provided. Locations include the neo-classical peacock island, the Nazi Bell Tower at Olympic Park, the very alternative art park RAW, and the monumental sculpture celebrating Russian sacrifice during WWII.

Afternoon Seminar

Afternoon seminars begin by introducing seminal writers of each historical period. Translated German texts provide the student with a broad-based understanding of literary responses to historical upheaval in terms of form, means of publication, and responses of the time. From Dada (nonsense) writers like Kurt Schwitters/Scheerbart responding to the horrors of World War I to Bertolt Brecht’s plainspoken political poetry and Walter Benjamin’s essays leading up to World War II; Paul Celan’s poems and Ingeborg Bachmann’s fiction post-World War II; East German writers like Christa Wolf and Helga Novak, West German ‘pop’ poet Rolf-Dieter Brinkmann; to post-1989 writers such as poet Monika Rinck, novelist Jenny Erpenbeck and hybrid fiction writer Yoko Tawada, who writes half in German and half in Japanese. The second half of each seminar is dedicated to workshopping student work.

Visual Arts & Architecture: Practice and Study
Practice—Fine Arts/Drawing

Instructor: Lara Faroqhi

Three mornings a week, drawing students explore the visual culture of Berlin, creating sketchbooks that include notes, drawings, found images, and creative writing. Students are on-the-go, visiting exhibitions, galleries and artists’ studios. Students are encouraged to refine and define their personal motivations for making and understanding art, while, at the same time, gaining insight into the Berlin art scene. In addition, some assignments use works of art and architecture to train the eye and develop an understanding for what is critical in a particular work.

Study—“Challenging Art and Architecture: Critical Interventions in Berlin”

Instructors: Gundula Avenarius, Christian Dengler

As the capital of a united Germany in search of its identity, Berlin is the place where east and west clash and mesh. International architects and artists have flocked to Berlin, fascinated by the vast open tracts in a European capital.

The breathtaking transformations of the last 30 years are, however, but another chapter in a tradition of upheaval in Berlin. Twice a week, students have 3-hour seminars on location, looking at art and architecture. Locations and topics are confluent with the core course in German history, enabling students to place art, architecture, and political history into context.

Examining vivid and often controversial positions in art and architecture, students learn to analyze each period as an expression of a (national or post-national) state of mind, and come to comprehend concepts like figurative or abstract, traditional or modern. By studying symbolic and image politics, students understand how art and architecture transport political ideas, and how these are read, displayed, and consumed. Students also learn about the changing notions of art, from Romanticism to Bauhaus to Beuys, and consider the concerns of the individual artists and architects as well as the wider historical, political, economic, social, and cultural background in which their works were created.

The key prerequisites for this program are intellectual curiosity and creativity, and the desire to interrogate personal assumptions about the meanings of art and architecture.

Note: Visual Arts students spend a lot of time on their feet each day, getting to various locations in greater Berlin and then exploring them, and should be prepared for the physical demands. 

German Language Studies

Please note: Students should have studied at least one year of German at the college level (or equivalent).

Our partner, Die Neue Schule, offers eleven levels of classes, enabling students to be accurately placed according to their current skill level. Classes meet every morning for five weeks, and twice weekly in the afternoon (four weeks) for intensive conversation. Language skills acquired at Die Neue Schule are reinforced in the German culture core seminar and by various excursions, and are thus experienced in a true historical and cultural context.