Tracing the Great War in Berlin

I have just finished a productive trip to Berlin, where I dedicated myself to visiting the many museum exhibits dedicated to the topic.

First and foremost, I spent a long afternoon in the German History Museum. My last couple visits, I was more concerned with the Weimar and Nazi periods. The sections on the Great War and the Revolution were quite good. I read, snapped pictures, thought about how to integrate the material into class.

When I got back to my hotel that evening, I decided that I had failed to photograph a Dolchstoss-themed item. So it was back the next morning – musta been a false memory!

I have never been to the Museum of Photography. Went to an excellent exhibition on photography in the Great War. Not at all what I expected. I was surprised to learn how German land and air units used repeated, detailed photographic surveillance to reconnoiter the enemy’s positions.

I also visited an exhibition on the effects of the Great War on German fashion. About what you would expect. I neglected to pick up the exhibition guide, which I’m sure some students would have found useful for their Extension Projects. Darn!

One of the more interesting places in Berlin is the Museum of Things. They had an exhibit on the Cologne Werkbund Exposition of 1914. The Werkbund, akin to the Wiener Werkstatt arts and crafts tradition, was dedicated to making high-quality, exquisitely designed products. Consumer goods, furniture, houses. The Werkbund brought together designers and industry, bringing quality craftsmanship and high production standards to German products. There was an export incentive as well. Great Britain had drafted a new law that all Herman products (assumed to be shoddy) must be marked with the “Made in Germany” label. German export manufacturers decided to turn the table and make “Made in Germany” a quality mark by setting high production standards. The initiative was seen as so important that the Emperor opened the exposition. When War broke out in August, the exposition area was razed and became a staging area for troops and supplies moving West. Just another part of the Old World destroyed by the War.

The bookstores, new and used, got their usual working over, as well as the Sunday book flea market along the Spree. Too little time, not enough money, and no way enough space to bring back everything that I would like to have purchased.

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About George Vascik, Historian

A 1988 graduate of the University of Michigan, I have taught history at Miami University since 1992. I maintain blogs on teaching Western Civilization and on Great War. My research focuses on anti-Semitism and rural politics in northwest Germany. I am completing a monograph for Bloomsbury Press, Anti-Semitism and Rural Politics. You can follow my project at http://peasantsandjews.org. Along with Mark Sadler, I have published a book of primary documents on the Stab-in-the-Back Myth (Dolchstoßlegende). http://www.dolchstosslegende.com. I also invite you to visit my profession web page at http://georgevascik.org.
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