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What do Germans laugh about? A Performative History of German Comedy from 1945 until Today

There is something special about German humor. In this course, we will find out how culture and history made a significant contribution to the development of German laughter. What is considered to be funny in Germany and how is this related to taboo and trauma in German culture? And then… we will experience humor and comedy ourselves, hands-on!

Course periodJuly 20, 2020 - Aug. 14, 2020 Session II
Category Cultural Studies & Religion
Course levelsBachelor, Master, Ph.D.
Class size

max. 18 participants in class

Credits and certificate

Participants will receive a final grade certificate and 5 ECTS credit points only in the event of regular attendance (must be present 80% of the time), as well as active participation. Additionally, six weeks after the end of the course a Transcript of Records is issued by Humboldt-University.

Application deadline June 1, 2020, or when participant quota is reached
Course fee680.00 Euro | (excl. program fee and discounts)

The comedy „Er ist wieder da“ („He’s back“) was released to German cinemas in 2015 (Director: David Wnendt). The movie imagines – with historical irony – the reappearance of Adolf Hitler in contemporary Germany, bringing German audience to the limits of what is permissible to laugh about.

The course departs from the thesis that Germany, in the aftermath of WWII and the historical crimes of the Holocaust, has developed a very specific sense of humor and comedy. We will investigate German comedy, which has – both in the GDR and FRG as well as in the unified country – produced specific formats and traditions and look at the performative history of comedy from 1945 until today. Through various texts from popular culture (cinema, TV, live comedy) we ask for the relations between what is funny and how this is related to taboo and trauma in German culture. Of special interest are questions like: which actors (may) embody that which is humorous and transgressive and what kinds of laughter are produced in the audience (open laughter, embarrassed laughter, laughter which gets caught in your throat)? The course’s aim is to give a historical and cultural overview of what Germans laugh(ed) about at certain times, the limits of that laughter, and the historical and political significance of these limits.

The course offers a practical part towards the end. In five sessions, we will assemble a professional performance team and develop and produce a small play (30min.). Form and content of that play will incorporate results and things learned in the course, as well as performative improvisations we will develop and work through together. The seminar concludes with the premiere of our play in which all participants can join – as writers, actors, technicians, musicians, prop people, asf. All who’d like to engage theoretically and performatively with German comedy and humor are welcome!


Course Program (pdf)

Course structure

Academic lessons

  • You will receive a total of 45 contact hours (one contact hour equals 45 minutes; 11 contact hours per week).
  • The lessons are held three times a week.
  • Lessons will comprise lectures, group work, discussion sessions, excursions.


Schedule (Track C)

Tuesday: 1.30 pm – 3 pm & 3.30 pm – 5 pm
Wednesday: 1.30 pm – 3 pm & 3.30 pm – 5 pm
Friday: 9 am – 10.30 am & 11.00 am – 11.45 am


Cultural extra-curricular activities:

HUWISU offers a fine selection of interesting extra-curricular activities and aims to give all participants an unforgettable stay in Berlin. Your program includes excursions, sport activities and social gatherings providing you the opportunity to get to know the city, the university and your classmates better and to meet students from all parts of the world. The costs for these offers are included in the course fees.

Activities and tours we offer regularly: Federal Chancellery, German Parliament, House of Representatives, Topography of Terror, Political Archive, Museum Island, Kreuzberg Tour, Daytrip to Potsdam, Boat trip, Beach Volleyball, Exhibitions, Farewell Party…

Language skills English: B2
Motivation Letter about one page in English
Student Profile

This course is designed for undergraduate/graduate students and Ph.D. candidates who have an interest in German cultural history and like to investigate in a theoretical and performative manner the relationship between German humor (if there is such a thing?) and the historical crime of the Holocaust. Students who attend this course should therefore know basic facts of German history and cultural phenomena like WWII, German shame, the Student Revolution, Cold War, the Reunification and the so called Welcome culture. This course offers not only a theoretical but also an artistic reflection on German humor and its underlying relation to the Holocaust. This artistic reflection ranges from the reenactment of a film scene, the imitation of the body language of a comedian to the acting out of humoristic subtexts. Students should not only enjoy academic but also performance related research methods. Course related department/s and faculties are: German studies (Literature and Linguistics), Film Studies, Cultural Studies, Performance and Theatre Studies.

In order to follow the course, a very good command of English is required.

The minimum age requirement is 18 years.

Dr. Susann Neuenfeldt

Dr. phil. Susann Neuenfeldt studied German, English and American Studies at the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin. She did her doctoral thesis „Schauspiele des Sehens: Die Figur der Flaneurin, Voyeurin und Stalkerin“  at the Institute for American Studies on the political relations between visuality and gender. Her postdoctoral studies – from the perspective of artistic research – develop a trauma history for the dental imaginary in the German context.

Dr. phil. Susann Neuenfeldt is currently working as a free lancing scholar of Cultural Studies and director of the Berlin Theatre Collective „Panzerkreuzer.Rotkäppchen“.

CoordinatorPierre Steuer/ Carmen Opolski/ Sanja Müssig
Contact detailsInternational Department
Unter den Linden 6
10999 Berlin


This course can be combined with: