Recognizing Berlin as the heart of the Cold War conflict and the city’s international relevance following World War II, Professor Saburova knew there was no better location for students to learn about these notorious world affairs than Germany’s capital city.
The 10 students that took this study abroad course with Professor Saburova possessed a diverse array of interests and majors, ranging from history and political science to international relations. “All that mattered,” Saburova explained, “was that each student who signed up for the trip had an interest in the Cold War history and Berlin’s historical and cultural significance.”
In addition to learning more about the history of the Cold War in Berlin, students in the course also gained exposure to other elements of life in the nation’s capital. “We stayed in the wonderful Kreuzberg neighborhood. This is one of the most culturally diverse neighborhoods in Berlin, which grants students the opportunity to explore the fantastic restaurants, parks, architecture, and witness the city life,” said Saburova.
On a typical day in Berlin, students spent their mornings visiting museum sites and doing fieldwork related to their academic curriculum. The group traveled to historically relevant locations like Potsdam where post-war decisions were made, the Berlin Wall and Soviet World War II memorials, museums and exhibitions, the former Stasi prison and headquarters, and had a joint class in Free University of Berlin. Student Daniel Precht recounts, “I believe the most interesting site visit was the Cecilienhof in Potsdam, due to the many times this location appears in our history books. I also found that the opportunities to seek out locations independently, such as the Fernsehturm, were very valuable to me.”
In the afternoon, students were often presented with a more flexible schedule, which allowed them to explore the dynamic city of Berlin, engage in activities related to their interests, and do research for their class assignments. Most evenings concluded with a group gathering and movie nights, where students could watch films portraying Berlin’s role in the Cold War.
The companion course was based at IU Europe Gateway in Berlin-Kreuzberg, where students would have discussions and receive small class assignments to conduct independent field work. These smaller assignments accumulated into the larger, overarching final digital StoryMap project of the study tour.
StoryMaps were utilized as a tool to share the histories of people affected by the cultural and political topography of the Cold War, such as those who were separated from their families due to the political conflict or individuals who tried to cross the Berlin Wall. Students were also asked to reflect on how these stories impacted them on a personal level.
“When students talk about Cold War history, it usually focuses on the big political decisions and cultural events, and often the stories of everyday people are forgotten. It was important to me that my students highlight these narratives that resonate with them on a deeper level,” said Saburova. “My students might forget a date or the name of a political leader over time, but they are far less likely to forget how they felt when hearing these personal historical accounts.”
With Carolyn Lantz of the College International Office, Professor Saburova arranged this study abroad experience hoping her students would gain this personal connection to the past. “Standing in the literal spaces where these historical Cold War events occurred provides the unique opportunity to get a tangible feel of the past,” said Saburova. “It truly brings the history you learned in the classroom to life.”
“The biggest takeaway from this trip was experiencing memories of the Cold War with students; we absorbed information everywhere we went and were able to reflect on how these events impacted the lives of people,” said Saburova. She anticipates taking students on another trip to Berlin in the summer of 2024, and expects the program to continue encouraging an interest for the history of the Cold War and a love for Berlin’s rich culture among students.