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Berlin, Germany and Vienna, Austria

Program Description

This course examines the tumultuous history of the twentieth century through a central European lens, studying Vienna and Berlin as laboratories of the modern cultural and political movements that shook Europe between the late 1800s and the opening of the Berlin Wall in 1989. In particular, it explores how Germans and Austrians attempted to transform their societies by breaking from the recent past 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. Students emerge from the course with a sophisticated understanding of twentieth-century Austrian and German cultural and political trends and of the interrelationship between the intellectual ideas of the time—expressed primarily in literature, art, and architecture—and the politics of socialism, fascism, and communism.

Check out the program video here!

Location Description

In this course, we study Vienna and Berlin as laboratories of the modern political and cultural movements that shaped twentieth-century Central European history. Both cities played important roles 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 the location of 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 or near the historic first district close to the magnificent 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. We will visit historical-cultural sites like the Hofburg Palace and the medieval St. Stephen's Cathedral as well as learning centers like Vienna's Jewish Museum and the Museum of Modern Art.

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. While in Berlin, we will examine the culture, history, and architecture of the recent German past as revealed in the city’s many historical-cultural sites, like Nazi-era Sachsenhausen concentration camp (now a memorial), remnants of the former Berlin Wall, and the headquarters of the infamous East German secret police (now a museum).


Christian Davis | | History


Students will stay in hotels within or near the historic city centers, with two students to a room. The hotels provide breakfast, have internet access, and are next to public transportation.

Breakfast is provided each morning at the hotel. Five or six additional group meals will take place, also covered by the program fee. Students pay for the remaining meals out of pocket.

Additional Items to Consider

There are two parts to this course. The first is online. It takes place during the early summer—May and June--when students complete on their own a series of reading, writing, and film-viewing assignments and accompanying quizzes and exams, done on Canvas. Students may work largely at their own pace during this part of the course, but written assignments and quizzes must be completed before arriving in Europe. It typically takes students five weeks to finish the online portion of the course.

The second component takes place abroad, where we will live in Vienna and Berlin for fifteen days. While abroad, there are no classroom meetings or written or reading assignments: instead, we spend each day exploring the cities.

No knowledge of German is required for this course, and there are no course prerequisites. All majors are welcome.

COVID-19 Location Information:

Each country has different requirements upon entry with regard to COVID-19. Please check this website for the most up-to-date information on what is required for the country (or countries) that are part of this program. Please note that this changes often, so we encourage you to check back frequently.

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 ($40 fee)
  • Short essay 
  • Interview with Program Director may be required
  • Official transcript required for non-JMU students

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

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.


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