Why study German Literature?

1. German Literature is in many ways unique, since it is not only a mirror of German culture, society, history and politics, but also a constant  reflection on these issues. This reflection has not only aesthetical and philosophical implications, but it also deeply affects German Jewish Literature. In the German case it is practically impossible to detach the engagement in its literature from the big questions that accompany this culture, a culture which starts with an image of an enlightened utopia of freedom and justice in the 18th century and collapses in the catastrophe of the Third Reich. But Germany after the Second World War in search for reconciliation with its past is still striving for a new cultural identity following the division between West and East Germany during the cold war and the unification between these two Germanies within the new framework of Europe.

2. German literature is at the crossroad of deep tensions between utopia and ideology, between universalism and nationalism, between religion and secularity, between a radical modernism and a romantic yearning for the medieval past, between ideal and catastrophe. These tensions are not only reflected in German literature on all its levels of content, form and genre, in drama, novel and poetry, but in aesthetic theory and especially in philosophy as well which play a unique role in the self-definition of most of the German authors. There is practically no writer or poet from Goethe and Lessing to Heine, from Schiller to Thomas Mann, from Kafka to Paul Celan who would not engage in a philosophical reflection on the very foundations of German culture and history from an artistic and aesthetic point of view. Similarly German philosophy from Kant to Nietzsche, from Hegel to Freud, Rosenzweig and Adorno is engaged in an intensive dialogue with the arts, with literature and theater. 

3. The unique situation of German literature finds its special expression in the context of German Jewish literature. Since the enlightenment and throughout the age of emancipation and assimilation until the Holocaust, and also after World War Two, Jewish authors engaged in a permanent reflection on their very place within German culture and its catastrophic potentials. Often Jewish authors were functioning as  intercultural transmitters and representatives of this culture outside Germany. From Heinrich Heine to Franz Kafka, from Walter Benjamin to Else Lasker Schüler Jewish writers do reflect on culture from a unique sensitive and critical point of view as minority, outsiders or supposed enemy which often reflects the special Jewish perspective of their situation between acculturation and emancipation, exile and Messianic hope.

4. Obviously German Jewish literature can serve today as paradigm for basic issues concerning inter-culturality, cultural dialogue and conflict between majority and minority cultures. These issues have become especially relevant again in German culture since the 60’s of the previous century with the different waves of Turkish, East-European and today of Arabic immigration which created new challenges of cultural integration and communication as well as possible tensions between religious Islamic culture and secular democracy. From both perspectives, the German Jewish experience and the present drama of cultural integration, German  literature and culture can become of a new special interest with their origins in Lessing's and Goethe's vision of a cultural dialogue between West and East, between Christian, Jewish and Islamic cultures and a world literature, which transcends established norms, religious borders and life forms. Is not Jerusalem itself with its unique fabric of cultures, languages, religions and their inherent tensions, conflicts and immanent potentials for peace the ideal place for this adventure of a cultural and literary experience in German studies?

From the Chair of the Department

Welcome to the website of the Department for German Language and Literature. This is the only department in Israel where you can engage in German studies. I want to introduce our department to you which is undergoing a process of renewal and change both in its program and its basic orientation. Here you will find a short description of the study program and the different stages of the study program and possible fellowships.

Here, I want to invite you read more about our department and its orientation here. You will find my answer to the question "why should I study German Literature?" here. Here I say a few words on the special interrelation between German literature, German cultural history and the unique role of German Jewish literature, between enlightenment and Shoah, in the Weimar republic, in devided Germany after the second world war and in the Berlin republic.

The division of German Language and Literature provides students with instruction in German language, literature, and culture from the 18th century until the present. Special emphasis is placed on the exploration of German-Jewish literature from the 19th century to the present time. The division offers its B.A. students scholarships to study German language and culture in German speaking countries during the summer months. It also offers its advanced students the opportunity to take some of their MA or PhD. courses at German universities.

Please come to visit us in order to get more information and advice. We will be happy to help you and answer your questions in more detail.  


-Prof. Christoph Schmidt
Prof. Christoph Schmidt

Contact Us

Division Chair: Prof. Christoph Schmidt
Room: 7738
Office hours: Tuesday, 9:30-10:30 and by appointment

Students’ Advisor: Dr. Dafna Mach

Room: 4702
Office hours: By appointment

Department Secretary: Mrs. Shulamit Lasnes
Room: 4502
Office hours: Sunday, 11:00 - 14:00
Monday thru Thursday, 10:00 – 13:00
Telephone: +972-2-588-3851
e-mail: shulamitl@savion.huji.ac.il