An Iron Kingdom? History and Legacy of the Prussian Expansion

An expanding territory, a buoyant economy, a political and military powerhouse – Prussia was an aggressive newcomer at the heart of Europe. But it also had a gentler side, as a significant center of culture, science and education. By looking at Prussia from different angles, this course will chart and evaluate its rise (and rise) from obscure duchy to Great Power, unifying Germany and upending the European balance of power along its way.

Course periodJune 20, 2022 - July 15, 2022 Session I
Category Social Sciences, Politics & History
Course levelsBachelor
Class size

max. 15 participants

Credits and certificate

Participants will receive 5 ECTS credit points and a certificate if they attend regularly (at least 80% attendance) and participate actively. Additionally, six weeks after the end of the course a Transcript of Records is issued by Humboldt-University.

Application deadline May 15, 2022, or when participant quota is reached
Course fee730.00 Euro | (excl. program fee and discounts)


Prussia still casts a long shadow over Berlin. The historical reasons are obvious, but Prussia now again plays a prominent role in the public imaginary, through a more recent resurgence of Prussian memory in the city center, as manifested in the reconstructed Prussian City Palace, opposite Museum Island and the Berlin Protestant cathedral, two other important Prussian artefacts.

This course will try to explain this comeback by giving an overview of the history, the legacy and the memory of the “Iron Kingdom”. It will embed Prussia into the history of both Germany and Europe more broadly – explaining the continuous rise of this entity by looking at its geopolitics, as well as its geography, economy, military, religion, science and culture.

We will follow the development of Prussia from a small duchy beyond the Eastern periphery of the Holy Roman Empire to one of the most powerful kingdoms at the center of Europe. Much of European history since the Thirty Years’ War can indeed be understood as a function of this “Prussian Expansion”, a fateful development that upended the traditional balance of power and ultimately led to the creation of a monster at the heart of Europe: Imperial Germany, hell-bent on acquiring the great power status it so desperately thought it deserved.

But there is another, less tragic story that can also be told about Prussia: One of enlightened culture, of world-renowned education and universities, of state modernization and democratic rights that resonates until today. Between Königsberg, Potsdam and Berlin a particular worldview took shape that was both distinctly Prussian, German and cosmopolitan.

By the end of this course, you should be able to describe Prussian political and social history since the 17th century as well as its ramifications for Germany and Europe, and analyze modern narratives and collective memory in Berlin regarding Prussia. Humboldt University, a direct result of the Prussian Renaissance after Napoleon, was at the center of this “Berlin Classicism” around 1800, but we will look for this legacy (and how it is remembered) in other parts of the three Prussian capitals as well.

Syllabus will be available soon
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 B)

Monday: 9 am – 10.30 am & 11 am – 12.30 pm
Wednesday: 9 am  ­– 10.30 am & 11 am – 12.30 pm
Thursday: 1.30 pm – 3 pm & 3.30 pm – 4.15 pm

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

Undergraduate students of all relevant subjects with a strong interest in the course topic.

This course is taught in English, including readings in English. For the understanding of the texts and the discussions in class a language level B2 (Common European Framework of Reference for Languages) is required.

Participating students need to be at least 18 years old.

Mr. Christian E. Rieck

Mr. Christian E. Rieck is Assistant Professor in Contemporary History and International Relations at the University of Potsdam and Senior Analyst for Regional Powers and Regional Integration at the Global Governance Institute in Brussels. He also teaches regularly at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin and the Universidad Rey Juan Carlos in Madrid.

Previous posts in applied research include the foreign policy think tank at Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, the European Foresight Program at the technology think tank Stiftung Neue Verantwortung, the Latin American Institute of the German Institute for Global and Area Studies GIGA, as well as a Carlo Schmid Fellowship in the area of competition policy at the United Nations in Mexico City.

Christian has also taught international relations, global governance and foreign and development policy at renowned universities throughout Latin America as well as in Canada, France, Greece, Ireland and Singapore – and continues to be a country tutor at the Academy for International Cooperation at GIZ in Bonn. He was a member of the Think Tank 20 process of the G20.

The area studies specialist holds a postgraduate degree in Latin American Studies by the University of Oxford. Before that he studied law and economics in Bayreuth and Seville, then European and international public law at HU Berlin as well as at the European University Institute in Florence. His prize-winning work on European integration was awarded, among others, the Prize on the Future of Europe from the German Council on Foreign Relations.

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

This course can be combined with: