Political Landscapes

This course is offered for students enrolled in the Rotterdam Study Abroad Program.

This seminar invites students to analyze the political iconography of the countryside, and investigate possible redefinitions of “country life.” The seminar is structured in two blocks: a historical section covering the political iconography of the countryside, and a research-based section with excursions to several case-study sites where questions of repurposing former strip mines, coal and steel industry sites, abandoned rural sites, transitional spaces like former railroad embankments, as well addressing pressing social questions: Until the year 2030, East Germany will lose 15 percent of its population (only 4 percent in the West), and over a third will be over 65 years old, with even more dramatic numbers for the countryside.

Should, and if so, how can these villages be revitalized? This is especially urgent given the present refugee crisis in Germany. This year the country is expecting 800,000 migrants from Syria, Iraq, Africa and the Balkans, among other regions – and most will be settled in small towns and villages. This could be a new start for many dying towns in eastern Germany, with their thousands of empty single-family houses. The challenge is to avoid building modern-day ghettos in the countryside; this forces planners to seek political, educational, and design solutions that bring the local community and new arrivals together in transformed, refurbished rural structures.

Given this context, students should speculate as to how the concept of the ‘dense village’ and the “whole house” could be repurposed as a counter-model to suburban sprawl and an answer to changing demographics and migration. Another important question is dealing with countryside infrastructure and how these villages can be connected in a sustainable manner.

A trip to West-Germany’s coal-mining regions, where the interests of the mining industry collide with those of farmers, will offer students a possibility to reflect on questions of mining-induced displacement and resettlement, and hyper-scale agriculture.

Research activities should be focused on designing solutions related to food, biodiversity, land scarcity, village sprawl, land resource security, in response to economics, sustainability and demographics.

GSD students overlook the largest hole in Europe, a coal mining operation by RWE.
GSD students overlook the largest hole in Europe, a coal mining operation by RWE.


Niklas Maak discusses the political environment surrounding the RWE mining operation
Niklas Maak discusses the political situation surrounding the RWE mining operation.