George Grosz, Manner vor einer Stadtlandschaft (Men in Front of a Cityscape), 1920-22 (detail)

Babylon Berlin

A Fall 2020 First-Year Tutorial

 

George Grosz, Manner vor einer Stadtlandschaft (Men in Front of a Cityscape), 1920-22 (detail). Watercolor, 22 x 14 5/8 in. Grinnell College Museum of Art Collection, estate of Clinton A. Rehling ’39, by exchange. © The Estate of George Grosz.

 

Babylon Berlin

A First-Year Tutorial offered fall 2020, taught by Javier Samper Vendrell, assistant professor of German studies

This tutorial explores Germany’s history from 1918 to 1933. The Weimar Republic, as this period is called, is characterized by economic turmoil, political violence, and extremism that resulted in Hitler’s rise to power and the Third Reich. At the same time, this period also represents one of the most productive periods in artistic and intellectual terms in the 20th century.

 George Grosz, Manner vor einer Stadtlandschaft (Men in Front of a Cityscape), 1920-22. Watercolor, 22 x 14 5/8 in.
George Grosz, Manner vor einer Stadtlandschaft (Men in Front of a Cityscape), 1920-22. Watercolor, 22 x 14 5/8 in. Grinnell College Museum of Art Collection, estate of Clinton A. Rehling ’39, by exchange. © The Estate of George Grosz.

The “golden twenties” are often portrayed as a time of increasing gender equality and sexual freedom. Throughout the course we will discuss some of the key issues of the time as we watch the popular TV series Babylon Berlin (Netflix, 2017). Eric D. Weitz’s Weimar Germany: Promise and Tragedy will provide an engaging overview of the republic’s political, social, economic, and cultural history. Nevertheless, we will not only rely on history writing or a television show to paint a coherent picture of the Weimar Republic. You will write original essays based on detailed analysis of primary sources. Newspaper articles, literature, pamphlets, songs, and other visual sources will help develop your own historical arguments and improve your information literacy skills as you learn about one of German history’s most fascinating periods.

 

Why I Offered This Tutorial

"I chose to offer this tutorial because the TV series Babylon Berlin is set during the Weimar Republic, my main area of research. I am a historian of early 20th-century Germany, and I just published a book about the history of the gay rights movement during this period: The Seduction of Youth: Print Culture and Homosexual Rights in the Weimar Republic (University of Toronto Press, 2020).

"Babylon Berlin is a neo-noir detective story that fictionalizes some of the historical events that ultimately led to the rise of National Socialism. In addition to generic themes of right and wrong, revenge, or alienation, the series addresses topics very relevant to us today, including PTSD and its treatment, political polarization and violence, and women’s rights. In the class, we connect Babylon Berlin to the historical context and to contemporary discussions surrounding these issues."

– Javier Samper Vendrell

Taine Te Huki
Taine Te Huki '24

 

Why I Chose This Tutorial

I am a fan of history and always love to learn more about topics I have previously explored. The fact that we also get to watch Netflix for class was also a nice hook. With that being said, the class has exceeded my expectations as we do not only touch on the greater historical significance of the subject but why it is significant in and of itself. I have also immensely enjoyed the use of discussion as the driving force behind the class. To hear the insight of my peers alongside that of the professor makes the class both more though provoking and engaging.

– Taine Te Huki ’24

Lizzy Vermeulen
Lizzy Vermeulen '24

 

What I’ve Learned in This Tutorial

The class required a lot of critical thinking and higher-level analysis, which has pushed me to be a better student and overall person. By constantly going through the process of observing and questioning demanded by this course, my classmates and I have become independent and well-rounded thinkers. Although it may be over video screens, having open discussions and respectfully debating our ideas really made me feel welcome within the academic community of Grinnell even though I wasn't on campus.

– Lizzy Vermeulen ’24

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