Cabaret has a long tradition at Berkeley, as the photos above attest. The seven photos in the series are from 1900, and they depict a Berkeley student of German acting in a departmental cabaret -- caricaturing one of his professors. That professor, Albin Putzker, is shown in the portrait at the far left of the series. More than 100 years later, the department hosts a student cabaret every spring.

A Long Tradition

The study of German language and literature has been a part of the university's curriculum from its start in 1869. Initially, German was one of four Western European languages taught by just one professor, Paul Pioda. In 1874, Albin Putzker became the first official professor of German Language, and ten years later a separate German Department, consisting of two members, was established. Because of it’s small size the department offered limited courses and lacked a cohesive graduate program during its first twenty years. However, because German was required for many science majors, it was studied by about approximately one third of the student body.

The turn of the century was a time for growth in German Studies at Berkeley. By 1907, the German Department boasted eight full-time faculty members, student enrollment increased, and undergraduate and graduate course options expanded. The decade beginning in 1910 was a period of transition. During and after World War I, student enrollment dropped sharply and the department was criticized for the supposed pro-German sentiments of some of its faculty. Yet there was a steady increase in student numbers in the late 1920s and 1930s, reaching a total of about 1,600 students on the eve of World War II. The decline during the war years was more than offset immediately after the war; in 1946, no fewer than 2,172 students enrolled in German courses.

After WWII, the German Department continued to expand and soon became the largest in the United States. In the middle 1960s, there were twenty-three full-time staff members, sixty-five to seventy teaching assistants, and three non-academic employees. This faculty provided a liberal arts education to thousands of students including some ninety to one-hundred undergraduate majors and a professional training as scholars and teachers to some eighty or ninety graduate students.

Today, more than 120 years later, the German Department at Berkeley has a dozen faculty members, several lecturers, and more than thirty graduate students in German literature and Germanic linguistics. We offer a full-fledged lower- and upper-division German language program, and teach courses in German literature on subjects ranging from the Middle Ages to the present from a crossdisciplinary perspective.