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Modern Dreams, Modern Nightmares: Vienna and Berlin in the Twentieth Century


Vienna, Berlin, Austria, Germany

Program Description

By focusing on twentieth-century Vienna and Berlin, the course explores the 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 state, Vienna and Berlin showcased the modern dreams and nightmares of the last century. Before departing for Europe, students will watch a series of films—like the 2011 movie “A Dangerous Method” on Sigmund Freud—complete a series of readings—like sort stories by the Viennese author Arthur Schnitzler—and write several brief essays. Then, we will visit Vienna first, staying in the inner district close to the beautiful Hofburg Palace, the royal residence of the Habsburg rulers of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire. In Berlin, we will reside in the eastern part of the city, which 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 importantly, their twentieth-century history and culture. No knowledge of German is required.

Location Description

“Modern Dreams Modern Nightmares” takes place over two weeks in Vienna and Berlin, the capital cities of Austria and Germany. In this course, we study Vienna and Berlin as laboratories of the modern political and cultural movements that shaped Central European history for much of the 20th century. Both cities played an important role in the history of National Socialism, the fascist movement led by Adolf Hitler responsible for World War Two and the Holocaust. Both cities were centers of the twentieth-century modernist movements in literature, art, and architecture. Vienna and Berlin were also both deeply affected by the political movement of socialism: Vienna as a laboratory for socialist experimentation by the city government in the 1920s, and Berlin as the capital of the post-World-War Two East German communist state.

In Vienna, students will stay in the historic first district close to the wondrous Hofburg Palace, from where the Habsburg monarchs ruled much of Europe for over 600 years. This part of the city is 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 Europe’s greatest thinkers, like Sigmund Freud, and political monsters, like Adolf Hitler. In Berlin, students 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 had 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


In Vienna and Berlin, students will reside a centrally-located hotel, close to historical attractions and public transportation, and they will share double rooms. Complimentary breakfast is served in a common dining room.

The program fee covers breakfast at the hotel each morning, as well as approximately six additional group meals. Students should plan to spend their own money for meals not covered by the program fee.

Additional Items to Consider

No knowledge of German is required.

Students must secure passports before their departure to Europe.

Applicant Criteria

Applicants must have a GPA minimum of 2.0

Students at every level are welcome (freshmen, sophomores, juniors, and seniors).

Application Process

This list serves as an application preview. To apply, students will need to complete the following:

  • Study Abroad Online Application ($25 fee)
  • Short essay 
  • Interview may be required
  • Official transcript required for non-JMU and first semester transfer students.

Further details and instructions about these application requirements will be available upon log-in. 

apply now Closed for 2016

Application Deadline


All dates are tentative and subject to change


HUM 251: Modern Perspectives. Modern Dreams, Modern Nightmares: Vienna and Berlin in the Twentieth Century (3 credits)

Courses listed here are to be used as a general guideline for program curriculum. *All courses are considered pending until approved by the Academic Department, Program, and/or College.