Information in English

Dictatorship and Democracy in the Age of Extremes: Spotlights on the History of Europe in the Twentieth Century

title-page The Institute for Contemporary History in Munich, Deutschlandradio Kultur and the Federal Foundation for the Study of the Communist Dictatorship in Eastern Germany are jointly sponsoring an exhibition in 2014 about the history of democracy and dictatorship in 20th century Europe. The occasion for this is the upcoming series of major anniversaries that illustrate the linkages among national histories during the “Century of Extremes“: the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War I takes place in 2014. 75 years will have passed as well since the beginning of World War II, 25 years since the peaceful revolution of 1989, and 10 years since the eastward enlargement of the European Union.

Download exhibition leaflet (PDF) [1,0 MB]

The show "Dictatorship and Democracy in the Age of Extremes: Spotlights on the History of Europe in the Twentieth Century"portrays Europe’s twentieth century as a dramatic history of the struggle between freedom and tyranny, democracy and dictatorship. Inspired by the year 2014, it invites viewers to take a historical pulse of the past century. The exhibition presents almost 190 photographs and images from numerous European archives. The authors of the show are Prof. Dr. Andreas Wirsching, the director of the Institute for Contemporary History in Munich, and his colleague Dr. Petra Weber.

The exhibition is an ideal medium for sparking discussion in public places – such as city hall reception areas, adult education centers, local libraries, schools, or religious meeting places – about the history of dictatorship and democracy in twentieth-century Europe. At the same time the exhibition provides an appropriate setting for film showings, discussions with contemporary witnesses, book launches, as well as other events related to this theme.

How to order

English-language version: There is no cost to download the 26 posters that make up the exhibition, which is intended for use at schools and universities as well as for public education purposes. Universities and all other types of educational institutions wishing to show the exhibition may download the posters for free and then have them digitally printed at their own cost.
The posters are designed in such a way that they can be printed without any problem at most copy shops or printing presses. They are in DIN A1 (594 mm x 841 mm) format with a border of 5 mm, and have all printing information (cutting instructions, cutting marks, color control strips, etc.). We recommend an inexpensive digital print, preferably using a laser printer. Expensive offset printing is not necessary and only makes sense when making copies for more than 100 exhibitions.

German-language version: The exhibition consists of 26 DIN A-1 posters. A printed German-language version can be ordered for a nominal charge of 50 € (VAT included); additional charges for shipping are 4,30 € within Germany, 14,30 € for other countries in the EU, and 37 € for addresses outside the EU. The posters will be delivered carefully rolled-up and must then be framed or mounted on exhibition boards. Orders for the German-language version can only be placed via the following website:

Other languages
The exhibition is also available in the following languages:

  • Russian
  • French
  • Italian
  • Spanish

Please note: All images and texts in the exhibition are protected by copyright. It is expressly forbidden to make the pdf files of the exhibition available, in whole or in part, on the internet or to distribute them in any other way. Please request the printing data by sending the following form [70 KB] by fax to +49 30 31 9895 210, or via email to Dr. Ulrich Mählert who is your main contact person.

Content of the exhibition

26 large-size posters show how the "seminal catastrophe" of World War I and its orgy of violence abet the rise of totalitarian movements in the 20th century – and how the new democracies struggling for stability after the war quickly go on the defensive. The communists come to power in Russia, the fascists in Italy. Authoritarian regimes establish themselves in much of East Central Europe. Nationalism, leftwing radicalism, antisemitism, rassism, and conspiracy theories are not just widespread in Germany. But it is here that the National Socialists assume power in 1933. They singlemindedly prepare for a new war. At the same time mass terror rages in Stalin’s Soviet Union. 25 years after the outbreak of World War I, Germany invades Poland, thus unleashing World War II, which is conducted as a war of extermination in the East. The racial antisemitism of the Nazi regime escalates at the same time into a systematic murder of the European Jews.
The dictatorships of interwar Europe and World War II cannot be explained without reference to World War I. The erection of new communist dictatorships in eastern central Europe after 1945, as well as the subsequent division of Germany, Europe, and the world, are in turn the results of World War II. Democracy, freedom, and international understanding, which gradually become commonplace across Western Europe after 1945, do not obtain in eastern central Europe for another four decades. It is first with the upheavals and revolutions that take place there in 1989 that the people win their freedom and independence. The revolutions are not just the precondition for overcoming European and German division, but also for achieving European integration. Following the 1992 Treaty of Maastricht, the latter reaches a high point in 2004 with the first eastern enlargment of the EU. The peoples and states belonging to the European Union have learned their lesson from history. They have pledged to solve conflicts by seeking consensus and working together for the good of the international community.
The exhibition "Dictatorship and Democracy in the Age of Extremes" portrays Europe’s 20th century as a dramatic history of the struggle between freedom and tyranny, democracy and dictatorship. In so doing, and inspired by the year 2014, it invites viewers to take a historical pulse of the preceding century.

1First poster (no text)14War of Extermination in the East
2The "Seminal Catastrophe" of the Twentieth Century15The Persecution and Murder of the European Jews
3The Beginning of a New Epoch16Resistance to National Socialism
4Revolutionary Upheaval in Germany17The End of the War and a New Order
5The Fragile Peace Settlement18Democracy in the West, Dictatorship in the East
6Democracy in Retreat19Cold War in a Divided World
7The Stalinist Soviet Union20Uprisings in the Eastern Bloc
8Fascism in Italy21Economic Rivalry between East and West
9The Challenge of the World Economic Crisis22Liberalization in West Europe
10The Failure of Democracy in Germany23The Policy of Détente
11The National Socialists in Power24Peaceful Revolutions
12On the Road to a New War25Upheaval, Awakening, and a New Beginning
13World War II26Europe as Challenge

Organizers and authors

The Institute for Contemporary History, founded in 1949 and now with offices in Munich and Berlin, is the only historical institution in the Federal Republic that researches all of contemporary German history since World War I, with special attention given to international developments.

The Federal Foundation for the Study of the Communist Dictatorship in Eastern Germany promotes extensive engagement with the causes, history, and consequences of communist dictatorship in Germany and Europe by supporting various projects as well as through its own offerings.

Deutschlandradio Kultur is a multifaceted and thematically rich radio station that emphasizes cultural topics and music, including numerous in-house artistic productions. Its line-up includes radio dramas, features, live concerts, children´s programming, reporting from the current cultural scene as well as current events.

Foto: picture alliance / Süddeutsche Zeitung / Stefan Puchner Prof. Dr. Andreas Wirsching is the director of the Institute for Contemporary History Munich-Berlin, and teaches modern and contemporary history at the Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich. His book "Der Preis der Freiheit. Geschichte Europas in unserer Zeit" (The Price of Freedom: European History in Our Time) appeared in 2012.

Foto: privat
Dr. Petra Weber is a research assistant at the Institute for Contemporary History. Her research foci are the history of socialism, the Weimar Republic, and the two postwar German states.


We would like to thank the Federal Foreign Office for translating the exhibtion into Russian, French, Spanish and Italian.

Prof. Andrew I. Port, Ph.D., teaches modern German history at Wayne State University in Detroit (USA) and translated the exhibition from German into English.

Dr. Thomas Klemm, a historian and graphic designer from Leipzig who has already designed many contemporary exhibits for the Federal Foundation, was responsible for the design of the exhibit.