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Modern Dreams, Modern Nightmares: Vienna and Berlin in the 20th Century


Vienna, Austria and Berlin, Germany

Program Description

Students will live in Vienna and Berlin for two weeks, studying the cities as laboratories of the modern cultural and political movements that shaped Central Europe for much of the 20th century. By focusing on Vienna and Berlin, the course explores the various ways in which Germans and Austrians attempted to transform their societies by breaking from the recent past in order to articulate a view of themselves in sync with modern times or, alternatively, to fulfill visions of a radically different, and purportedly better, future. From the rejection in Austria of conventional values and perspectives in modern art, architecture, and literature to the elaboration of new theories of the mind, and from the creation of a genocidal racial state in Hitler’s Greater Germany to the construction of an authoritarian East German communist government, Vienna and Berlin showcased the modern dreams and nightmares of the last century. At their own pace, students will watch a series of films--like the 2011 movie "A Dangerous Method" on Sigmund Freud--complete a series of readings--like short stories by the Viennese author Arthur Schnitzler--and write several brief essays before departing for Europe. Then, we will visit Vienna first, staying in the inner district, close to the beautiful Hofburg Palace, which was the royal residence of the former Habsburg rulers of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire. In Berlin, we will reside in the eastern part of the city which lay inside the East German dictatorship and was reconstructed after the devastation of World War Two to showcase the splendor of communism-in-action. Students will emerge from their experience with an intimate knowledge of both cities: of their food, their major sites and attractions, their streets and boulevards, their transportation systems, and, most important, their 20th-century history and culture. No knowledge of German is required.

Location Description

Participants will stay in Vienna for approximately one week before relocating to Berlin. In Vienna, we will stay in the historic first district close to the wondrous Hofburg Palace, a part of the city filled with late seventeenth- and early-eighteenth-century churches and aristocratic residences constructed in the style of the High Baroque, a period when Vienna underwent reconstruction and beautification following the repulsion of an invasion by the Ottoman Empire. Within this setting, we will explore the late-nineteenth and early twentieth-century transformation of Vienna into a modern city whose tumultuous society, politics, and culture inspired some of the twentieth century’s greatest thinkers (like Sigmund Freud) and monsters (like Adolf Hitler). In Berlin, we will stay in a section of the city that was absorbed into the post-World War Two communist state, a socialist dictatorship that arose out of the ashes of the racial empire constructed by Hitler, who lived in Vienna as a young man. While in Berlin, we will examine the culture, history, and architecture of recent German history as revealed in the city’s historical-cultural sites, like the former Berlin Wall and the headquarters of the infamous East German secret police.


Christian Davis | | History


Students will reside in hotels located within the city centers and will share single-sex rooms with each other. Several lunches or dinner per week will be included in the program fee.

Additional Items to Consider

Participants should be able to ride a bike, as city tours may be conducted on bicycles!

This program is targeted towards sophomore level students.

This program is instructed in English and no German skills are required.

Application Process

For this program, students are required to submit the following material(s):

  • JMU Short-Term Application Form

  • A supplemental essay:

    As part of their application, students must write a brief argumentative essay—300 to 500 words in length—on why they should be chosen to be a participant in the program.  For example, what academic interests and/or personal qualities make you a logical choice to partake in this travel-abroad course to Vienna and Berlin?  What academic interests and/or personal qualities will make you a good fellow traveler?

For more detailed instructions and to download the application, please click on the following link to the Applications and Forms section for JMU Short-Term Programs.

Official transcript required for first-semester transfer students and non-JMU students.

Application Deadline


All dates are tentative and subject to change


GHUM 251: Modern Perspectives: Modern Dreams, Modern Nightmares: Vienna and Berlin in the 20th Century (3 credits)