Week I



* PUBLIC EVENT.  (Please note: this syllabus still subject to adjustment.)
Syllabus includes Core Readings and Films. Please also see: Institute Resources.
NB: Workshop discussions often focus on lectures/films that take place the DAY BEFORE.

UMass Building Abbreviations:
ILC: Integrative Learning Center, 650 North Pleasant Street, Amherst MA
SC: South College, 150 Hicks Way, Amherst MA
SOM: Isenberg School of Management, 121 Presidents Drive, Amherst MA


13:00 – 16:30: Registration and check-in, North Apartments, UMass Amherst

17:15 – 18:45: Opening Reception with Five College Faculty

*19:00 – 22:00: Film Screening, SOM 137, UMass
Intro by Skyler Arndt-Briggs, UMass Amherst

DVD-Release & US Premiere

Dusk: 1950s East Berlin Bohemia
Dämmerung: Die Ostberliner Bohème der 50er Jahre. Germany, 1993, dir. Peter Voigt, color, 98 min., doc.
During the 1950s, a group of artists frequented the Ganymed restaurant, considered to be the hub of East Berlin’s avant-garde arts scene. In this film, they gather before the camera decades later, at the request of director Voigt, also a member of the scene.

(This special screening is also supported by the Goethe-Institut Boston and the DEFA-Stiftung, Berlin.)


9:00 – 11:30: Workshop, Skinner 112, UMass

Introductions / Syllabus / Curriculum & Research Projects
During the first half of this opening workshop, Institute faculty will introduce themselves, the arc of Institute subject matter and the interdisciplinary approach being undertaken. Participants will then introduce themselves, their disciplinary background, and their connection to the topic. The second half of the workshop will be devoted to a discussion of possible Curriculum Projects that participants have in mind. 

11:45 – 12:30: Pick Up UMass ID Cards, 151 Whitmore Admin Building, UMass

12:00 – 13:50: Lunch, Franklin Dining Hall, UMass

14:00 – 16:30: Keynote Lecture I, Old Chapel, Umass
April Eisman, Iowa State University

Five Myths about East German Visual Art
East German art has long been ignored by Anglo-American scholars, who tend to believe that the GDR did not have art—just kitsch or political propaganda. With its suggestion of provincialism, the myth of artistic isolation behind the Berlin Wall further reinforces this assumption. In actuality, however, East German artists engaged with modern art—and with German and international artistic traditions—throughout the Cold War period and, by the 1980s, were creating large, Neoexpressionist paintings not unlike their highly praised West German neighbors. In addition, GDR art was not limited to painting. Just before the Wall fell, installations and performance art appeared in a number of official exhibitions—and not just by “dissident” artists. This talk will engage with these and other myths that haunt the reception of GDR art to the present day.


9:00 – 12:00: Workshop, Skinner 112, UMass

Visual Arts in East Germany
This workshop will feature images of GDR visual arts through the 1950s and focus on discussion of the readings and keynote lecture on visual arts in the GDR, as well as the film Dusk: 1950s East Berlin Bohemia. It will give participants a chance to speak in-depth with April Eisman about her lecture and writings.


April Eisman, “East German Art and the Permeability of the Berlin Wall,” German Studies Review 38, no. 3 (2015): 597-616.

April Eisman, “Denying Difference in the Post-Socialist Other: Bernhard Heisig and the Changing Reception of an East German Artist,” Contemporaneity: Historical Presence in Visual Culture 2 (2012): 45-73.

12:10 – 13:50: Lunch, Franklin Dining Hall, UMass

*14:00 – 16:30: Film Screenings, ILC S240, UMass
Introduced by Sean Allan, University of St Andrews

Two short films on the roots and history of artists and intellectuals in East Germany:

Revolution of a Culture
Revolution einer Kultur. GDR, 1968, dir. Heinz Müller, b/w, 39 min., doc.
A documentary about postwar cultural developments and the 1948 articulation of the need to create art that would inspire the masses.

Intellect and Power
(Geist und Macht) That Was the GDR, Part V
Germany, 1993, dir. Christian Klemke & Lothar Kompatzki, color, 45 min. doc., ST
A post-Wall overview of the history of intellectuals and artists in the GDR.

*19:00 – 21:00: Screening, Amherst Cinema, 128 Amity Street
Introduced by Barton Byg, UMass Amherst

Marriage in the Shadows
Ehe im Schatten. Germany, 1947, dir. Kurt Maetzig, b/w, 104 min., ST
The first German film to address the Holocaust, only two years after WWII. Set in Nazi Germany and based on real events, the film tells the story of celebrated actor Hans Wieland and his wife, the Jewish actress Elisabeth Maurer; as anti-Semitic policies increasingly infringe on their lives, they struggle to survive, until Hans is given an ultimatum. Despite the critical content of the film, it is striking to what degree its dramatic, visual, and musical elements draw on the conventions of melodrama developed at the Ufa Film Studio during the Nazi period.


9:00 – 12:00: Workshop, Skinner 112, UMass

Redesigning Art in the Soviet Sector
After a short introduction, the facilitators will frame four to five perspectives from which to discuss: a) East German efforts to re-design art away from Nazi models and towards a new socialist society, b) the break with the leftist European avant-garde of the 1920s and ‘30s required by Stalinist ideas about art, and b) initial thoughts on the experience of musical, visual, and film artists in the first years after WWII. Participants will then break into interdisciplinary groups, each focusing on one of these perspectives, to discuss readings and film screenings. During the final 45 minutes, the groups will report back.


David Bathrick, The Powers of Speech: The Politics of Culture in the GDR (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1995), esp. pp. 87-107

Barbara McCloskey, “Dialectic at a Standstill: East German Socialist Realism in the Stalin Era,” in Art of Two Germanys/Cold War Cultures, ed. Stephanie Barron and Sabine Eckmann (Abrams, 2009), 104-117.

12:10 – 13:50: Lunch, Franklin Dining Hall, UMass

Optional: Individual talks with April Eisman

*19:00 – 21:30: Film Screening, SOM 137, UMass
Introduced by Johanna Yunker

The Marriage of Figaro
Figaros Hochzeit. GDR, 1949, dir. Georg Wildhagen, b/w, 109 min.
This film helps to set the stage for the Institute’s investigation of both the “canon” of German and European high culture and the question of whether the post-WWII period would be marked by cultural continuity or a radical break with the past. Mozart’s well-known work serves as the basis for this first East German opera film, although the screenplay diverges from the original libretto.


9:00 – 12:00: Workshop, Skinner 112, UMass

Pedagogy Workshop: Using Film in the Classroom
This workshop, led by Johanna Yunker and Sky Arndt-Briggs, will center on how to use film in an undergraduate classroom, teaching students the vocabulary of film analysis in an effort to encourage them to engage in active analysis and interpretation of film materials. After a short introduction to film analysis terms, participants will break into small groups to analyze a series of film clips taken from the previous day’s screening.

12:10 – 13:50: Lunch, Franklin Dining Hall, UMass

*14:00 – 16:30: Film Screening, ILC S240, UMass
Introduced by April Eisman

Selected short film portraits of important East German artists (see Recommended Viewing for details):

Fritz Cremer, Creator of the Buchenwald Memorial
The memorial erected at the Buchenwald concentration camp in 1957 became a rallying cry for antifascism worldwide.

Political Art: Kollwitz, Dix, Nagel
This short documentary on three artists features a score by Hans-Dieter Hosalla.

Otto Nagel 1894-1967
A poetic portrait of the autodidactic painter Otto Nagel directed by Karlheinz Mund, who specialized in artist portraits.

Theo Balden – Zeitzeugen Interview
A post-Wall interview with Theo Balden in which he discusses: his decision to return to Germany and his move to the east; his relationship as an artist to the East German state and stories about other artists returning from exile; the Formalism debate; and the GDR’s understanding of art.

*19:00 – 21:00: Screening, SOM 137, UMass
Introduced by Seán Allan

The Story of a Young Couple
Roman einer jungen Ehe, GDR, 1952, dir. Kurt Maetzig, b/w, 99 min., ST
This film, about two young actors making their way through the cultural maze of the period after the division of Germany but before the erection of the Wall, provides a good visual reference point for discussing socialist realism. It also deals with many of the big issues of the time: the legacies of German humanism (G.E. Lessing) and Nazi culture (Veit Harlan); the fate of antifascist literature (Anna Seghers) and its appropriation by the West; the rise of the bourgeois concept of the “Good German”—in Boleslaw Barlog’s theater production of “The Devil’s General,” (by Carl Zuckmayer) in the West, and the critique of humanist ethics and aesthetics in productions of Simonov’s “The Russian Question” in the East.


9:00 – 12:00: Workshop, SC E3470, UMass

Consolidating Socialist Realism
When exiled German artists and political figures made their way back from around the globe after WWII, the desire for art was great and the cultural and political situation was still fluid. By the start of the 1950s, however, the Cold War had become the international reality and a Stalinist political orthodoxy in the East, and with it the artistic tenets of Socialist Realism. Formalism was debated by artists and intellectuals, and condemned by cultural functionaries. The legacies of earlier avant-gardes and experimental forms that might have formed the GDR’s “national heritage” were under assault, and were only gradually able to reassert themselves after Stalin’s death in 1953 led to liberalization in the USSR and the entire East Bloc, including the GDR.


Joshua Feinstein, The Triumph of the Ordinary: Depictions of Daily Life in the East German Cinema, 1949-1989 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2002), Chapter 1 “Conquering the Past and Constructing the Future: The DEFA Film Studio and the Contours of East German Cultural Policy,” 19-44.

Heather E. Mathews, “Formalism, Naturalism, and the Elusive Socialist Realist Picture at the GDR’s Dritte deutsche Kunstausstellung, 1953,” in Edinburgh German Yearbook, vol. 3 – Contested Legacies: Constructions of Cultural Heritage in the GDR, ed. Mathew Philpotts and Sabine Rolle (New York: Camden House, 2009), 90-105.

12:10 – 13:50: Lunch, Franklin Dining Hall, UMass

*14:00 – 16:30: Screening, SOM 137, UMass
Introduced by April Eisman & Skyler Arndt-Briggs

Five Days, Five Nights
Fünf Tage, fünf Nächte. GDR/USSR, 1960, dir. Lev Arnshtam, color, 108 min., ST
This film posits the survival of art as central to civilized values in the context of a Soviet-style war-movie-cum-melodrama. At the end of WWII Dresden is in ruins; 2200 paintings are missing from its Old Masters Picture Gallery. The Red Army has been ordered to recover the lost paintings. For the next five days, Dresden’s residents join the search for the collection. This first GDR/USSR co-production, scored by Dmitri Shostakovich, based on his String Quartet No. 8, refers to actual events, but with a veneer of pro-Soviet propaganda that is especially interesting considering continued debates about the repatriation of the looted art. Rediscovered by and subtitled for the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC in 2012, this film complements Robert M. Edsel’s The Monuments Men.

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