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Art and Politics in Berlin

Faculty Leader

Alena Williams

Alena Williams head shotAlena Williams is Assistant Professor in the Department of Visual Arts at the University of California San Diego. Professor Williams teaches courses in modern and contemporary art history and theory; film and media studies; and the environmental humanities. A curator and writer on modern and contemporary art, Professor Williams is interested in the way scholars, curators, and artists rewrite histories of art, media, and performance in the now, and the productive and constructive debates this work provokes. She is Associate Director of the Environmental Studies Program of John Muir College at UC San Diego, and an affiliate of the German Studies Program and the European Studies Program of the UCSD Institute for Arts and Humanities.


Why you should go

This Global Seminar focuses on contemporary art and politics in Germany’s capital of Berlin– an ever-changing palimpsest of activism, art, and culture. With a transhistorical emphasis, it reflects upon Berlin’s history to understand its present, its mix of new migratory flows and deep history. Approaching the city as a site for exploration, students will examine the architectural, discursive, and cultural spaces in which these forms of creative and political expression take shape – from art museums and theater houses to occupied buildings, independent publishing imprints, collaborative nonprofit organizations, and night clubs. Engaging the work of cultural activists, LGBTQ+ artists, and artist-run organizations, this seminar examines the remapping of art and politics in Europe with excursions in Berlin to former WWII bunkers, studio visits with artists, and cultural events, as well as excursions to major art museums in Kassel and Munich.

Who should go

Students with an interest in contemporary art and politics and who are keen to explore one of the most exciting cities in Europe should apply! Participants need no background in the German language. VIS 154GS Underground Berlin focuses on the city’s radical transformation shortly in advance of and after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 to the present. VIS 125GS Europe After Empire looks at art and migratory shifts in Europe as a whole, making use of Berlin’s centrality in the governmental politics of the European Union and its proximity to German cities beyond. This courses may fulfill several colleges' fine arts requirement and be of interest to European and film studies minors, German studies, history, political science, and visual arts majors. Consult your academic advisor to determine officially how the courses will apply to your graduation requirements.

Information Sessions

  • Tuesday, Jan. 30, 3:00 - 4:30 pm
  • Register here for the live Zoom link, and/or to get the post-session recording.
  • Information session presentation (pdf) - coming soon

See the Info Session Calendar


Departure from U.S.: Sat., June 29, 2024
Arrival: Sun., June 30, 2024
Mandatory Orientation: Mon., July 1, 2024
First Day of Class: Mon., July 1, 2024
Last Day of Class: Fri., August 2, 2024
Departure for the U.S.
(or personal travel):
Sat., August 3, 2024

Flight Information

  • You will be responsible for purchasing your own airplane tickets, and your program coordinator will provide guidelines and resources during the pre-departure process to help you find an appropriate flight.
  • Do not purchase plane tickets until the program is confirmed. All approved applicants will be notified by e-mail when the program has reached minimum enrollment.

Global Seminar Fees

All fees subject to change. See for current tuition and campus-based fees.

  UCSD Other UC Non-UC
Program Cost:
(includes $500 administrative fee)
$7,463.70 $7,463.70 $7,463.70
Estimated Tuition and Campus-Based Fees:
$2,514.43 $2,564.43 $3,454.43
(not including airfare or personal expenses)
$9,978.13 $10,028.13 $10,918.13

Budget Sheet

Funding Options

See the funding options page to learn how financial aid and scholarships can help you pay for this program.

Local Site Visits

  • Guided tour of Berlin Wall Memorial, a site that honors the history and impact of the Berlin Wall, a symbol of division during the Cold War. It serves as a reminder of the struggles faced by those affected by the wall's construction and stands as a testament to the reunification of Germany.
  • Guided tour of The Boros Foundation, a contemporary art institution founded by Christian Boros that is known for its unique exhibition space housed within a converted World War II bunker. It showcases rotating exhibitions of contemporary art from the Boros Collection, offering a thought-provoking experience in a historically significant setting.
  • Visit to Nordbahnhof Station and its museum. It is a historic train station that played a unique role during the division of the city, as its platforms were located both in East and West Berlin. Today, it stands as a memorial site and museum, providing insights into the challenges faced by Berliners during the Cold War era.
  • Guided tour “Under the Berlin Wall,” which will give you an insight into the history of the escape tunnels and delves into the subject of the subterranean border - in the subway and sewer systems, which were used by those trying to flee the East.
  • Guided tour of the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe to learn about German history. It is Germany's central Holocaust memorial site, a place for remembrance and commemoration of six million victims during World War II. It consists of the Field of Stelae and the underground Information Center.
  • Guest lecture on “Parapolitics - Art and the Cold War” by Dr. Paz Guevara, curator, House of World Cultures
  • Guided tour of Schwules Museum, a key institution dedicated to LGBTQ+ history, culture, and art
  • Visit to Christopher Street Day Berlin and alternative Pride events
  • Guided walking tour of East Side Gallery, an open-air gallery in Berlin, where a significant portion of the Berlin Wall stands covered in vibrant murals and artwork.
  • Visit to Wolfgang Müller Studio
  • Guided tour of Museum Europäischer Kulturen, which showcases Europe's cultural heritage.
  • Guided tour of FHXB Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg Museum, a local history museum dedicated to the district's vibrant and diverse cultural and social history
  • Visit to Decolonize Berlin e. V., a nonprofit organization committed to challenging and addressing the legacies of colonialism and racism in Berlin
  • Guided walking tour of Kreuzberg, including Kotti & Co, Kottbusser Tor, and Audre-Lorde -Strasse
  • Visit to Prof. Natascha Sadr Haghighian's studio
  • Admission to KW Institute for Contemporary Art, a dynamic hub that showcases avant-garde exhibitions and events
  • Admission to Humboldt Forum, a cultural complex that brings together museums, exhibitions, and events, aiming to foster discussions about global cultures and their interconnections.
  • Visit to Ming Wong's studio

Overnight Excursion to Kassel

  • Train tickets from Berlin to Kassel (Travel time: approx. 3 hours)
  • One night in twin rooms with private bathroom, including breakfast, at the IntercityHotel Kassel
  • Public transportation pass for the duration of your stay in Kassel
  • Visit to the documenta archiv, a repository of materials that chronicles the history of influential documents and contemporary art exhibitions, offering valuable insights into the development of modern art.
  • Meet & greet at Kunsthochschule Kassel, class of Prof. Bjoern Melhus
  • Guided tour of the Fridericianum, known for hosting contemporary art exhibitions and cultural events.
  • Guided walking tour of Kassel, including the Monument for Strangers and Refugees (artist: Olu Oguibe) and Karlsaue Park, a scenic and diverse urban park.

Overnight Excursion to Munich

  • Train tickets from Kassel to Munich (Travel time: approx. 4 hours 15 minutes)
  • One night in twin rooms with private bathrooms, including breakfast, at the Ibis Muenchen City Hotel
  • Public transportation pass for the duration of your stay in Munich (zone M)
  • Guided tour of Haus der Kunst, known for its exhibitions of contemporary and modern art, as well as its historical significance as a venue established during the Nazi era.
  • Guest lecture on “Global Modernisms and Migration” by Burc Dogramaci, art historian at Ludwig-Maximilian University
  • Train tickets from Munich to Berlin (Travel time: approx. 4 hours 15 minutes)

Excursions are subject to change without prior notice. No refunds are possible.


  • Single room in a student hotel in the Mitte district within a short walking distance from Alexanderplatz (10 minutes), Museum Island, and Holzmarkt
  • Wireless Internet available in rooms and common areas
  • Sheets and towels provided
  • Rooms will be cleaned once a month.
  • Washing machines and dryers available in the building
  • Fullly equpped kitchen on each floor
  • Hotel includes gym, music studio, and a restaurant
  • Housing arrangements are subject to change based on local circumstances without prior notice. No price adjustments are possible.

Included Meals

  • Welcome dinner upon arrival
  • Breakfast during excursion to Kassel and Munich
  • Farewell dinner at end of program

Classroom and Computer Access

  • Classroom space at VICTORIA - Academy of Languages
  • Wireless Internet in classroom
  • There is no computer lab available - plan to bring a laptop.
  • Wireless access may be intermittent due to local conditions. No refunds or price adjustments are possible.


  • Transportation by private bus to and from Berlin Brandenburg Airport to the student housing is included in the program. Two different pick-up times will be arranged based on the most common flight arrival times.
  • A local transportation pass for Berlin (zones AB) will be provided for each student.
  • Transportation for all out of town excursions


  • Information about how to obtain a local SIM card will be provided at the pre-departure orientation.
  • Students will be responsible to purchase their own calling time/minutes.

Insurance, Health, and Safety

  • Comprehensive insurance package with CareMed
  • An in-depth orientation will be given on the morning after arrival, including health and safety procedures.
  • Program partner staff will be available by telephone after hours.
  • All students will be registered for UC travel insurance This is free coverage, but registration is required prior to departure.