Beginnings (15th Century)
In 1457 the Freiburg Cathedral was the site of the foundation of a university. The financier and figure after whom the institution was named was Archduke Albert VI, of whose dominion, Western Austria, Freiburg was then a part. The “Albertina” was founded as a comprehensive university, including all important faculties of the time: Theology, Law, Medicine, and Philosophy. Its purpose was to educate young theologians and administrators. Some of the first students lived in “Bursen” (hostels) on the site of what is now known as the “Old University,” where the first lectures also took place. Classes were held in Latin.
Success (16th Century)
A number of well-known humanists studied and taught at Freiburg’s university. They were dedicated to the ideals of education and tolerance and understood the invention of the printing press as a signal. One of them was Martin Waldseemüller, the first person ever to use the name “America” for the recently discovered continent in his world atlas. The Reformation was a topic of heated debate at the University of Freiburg, the authorities finally opting for Catholicism and loyalty to Austria. Aristocrats and bourgeois who sent their sons to the university to prepare for a diplomatic or military career ushered in new trends: French became popular, the university hired fencing and dancing teachers.
Jesuit Influence (17th Century)
The 17th century was marked by the rivalry between the confessions. In 1620 the Catholic rulers introduced the Jesuit Order at the faculties of theology and humanities. Although the order was regarded as modern and strong in education, its influence also led to severe restrictions in the curriculum. The Jesuits introduced theater to the University of Freiburg and strengthened the tradition of debating (How many angels fit on the tip of a needle?). The building known today as the “Old University” (after its destruction in World War II and its subsequent reconstruction) was originally built by the Jesuits over the course of several decades and served as their theological college.
Reforms (18th Century)
The enlightened government administration had an ever increasing need for civil servants with practical skills, and the upper classes demanded a professional education. In 1768 Maria Theresa thus introduced an extensive reform which curtailed the financial independence of educational institutions in the empire, including the University of Freiburg. The reform increased competition among students by adding more examinations, limited the length of semester breaks, introduced modern textbooks and practical instructional materials, and replaced the instructional form of reading verbatim from books with explanatory lectures – in German. In 1773 the Pope dissolved the Jesuit Order (temporarily) in response to threats from several countries, and their theological college on Bertholdstraße was given to the university.
Expansion (19th Century)
As a result of the Napoleonic Wars, the Breisgau region fell to the Grand Duchy of Baden in 1805. At the same time, the University of Freiburg lost all of its possessions west of the Rhine, and with them a large portion of its income. Louis I, Grand Duke of Baden, arranged an endowment for the university in 1820, thus ensuring its continued existence. In thanks, the University changed its name to “Alberto-Ludoviciana” in honor of both of its founding fathers. Also in these years, the first student corporations were formed in a wave of enthusiasm for the nationalistic cause and democratic ideals inspired by the French Revolution. However, their hopes for a republic were soon dashed in the bloody revolution of 1848. Starting in 1850 enrollment began to grow, soon reaching 1500. The natural sciences campus was built to accommodate the increased enrollment.
Contrasts (20th Century)
In 1900 the University of Freiburg began admitting women to studies – as the first university in Germany. In 1902 the new University Library was opened (in what is today university building IV), and in 1911 the new main university building (today university building I) was dedicated, providing space for the 3000 students now enrolled. The tower of the building still contains the “Karzer,” a detention room in which students who had misbehaved were locked up as punishment. This privilege was banned in 1920. In the same year, the new University Medical Center opened its doors on Hugstetter Straße.
On the top floor of university building I there is still a monument for students and employees of the university who were among the victims of the two world wars. In the heart of the same building, in the main foyer, the university erected a memorial in 2005 to commemorate the almost 400 known employees and students of the University of Freiburg who suffered death, banishment, or severe discrimination under the National Socialist regime. However, many other victims remain unnamed: Over 1500 persons were assigned to forced labor at the medical center, where there is also evidence of criminal medical interventions. The university followed the orders of the National Socialists, at times even with conviction. Martin Heidegger’s appointment as rector of the university in 1933, for instance, was celebrated as a “takeover.” Heidegger did not comment on his role as rector of the university until his death in 1976.
Several of Freiburg’s professors, including Walter Eucken, as well as their wives, were members of the opposition.
Along with the entire inner city of Freiburg, all university buildings were heavily damaged or destroyed in 1945. The university was able to save 75% of the materials from the flames, mostly books. By the fall of the same year, the French occupation authorities had already granted their approval for the reconstruction and reopening of the University of Freiburg. Before matriculating, each student had to put in 100 hours of manual labor to help with the reconstruction efforts.
Until 1949 denazification procedures were carried out for all university employees, but no more than ten years later almost all who had been fired were again working at the university. With the advent of the Cold War, an anti-communist stance was evidently regarded as more important than one’s behavior during the National Socialist era. The university experienced a boom in these years: In 1957, on the University of Freiburg’s 500th anniversary, a new constitution was approved. The reconstruction was almost completed by this time, ground had been broken for new buildings like university building II, and the university now had a total of 10,000 students.
Not until 1968, when the student protests in Berlin and Frankfurt reached Freiburg, was the generation which had remained in power without interruption since the war called into question. The students’ battle cry was: “Unter den Talaren, Muff von tausend Jahren” (“Under the gowns, the stench of a thousand years”). The students demanded a democratization of the universities, holding strikes and teach-ins and handing out flyers to support their cause. The student protests initiated a cultural transformation.
The following decades saw the expansion of the Faculty of Medicine and the natural sciences. In 1995, the Faculty of Engineering was established, further expanding the spectrum of disciplines offered at the university. By the end of the century, there were already 20,000 matriculated students at the University of Freiburg. Instruction and research were profiting from international exchange and enjoyed an excellent reputation abroad. This could be seen in the increasing number of international students and junior researchers who came to Freiburg to acquire further qualifications.
Accolades (21st Century)
In 2007 the University of Freiburg became one of nine top universities in Germany to be honored in the Excellence Initiative for their research.
The University of Freiburg was among the winners of the nationwide “Excellent Teaching” competition in 2009. Organized by the Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs and the Stifterverband for German Science and Research, the competition recognizes innovative instructional concepts.
The State Teaching Award, conferred yearly for already implemented instructional concepts at higher education institutions in Baden-Württemberg, has also gone regularly to lecturers at the University of Freiburg since it was first organized in 1993.
All of these accolades and the funding they produce contribute to the University of Freiburg’s goal of maintaining a competitive edge in the German higher education landscape.
In 2007 the University of Freiburg celebrated its 550-year anniversary with over 300 public events. Several projects which will shape the further development of the university were launched during the festivities.
In 2007 the university opened the Uniseum, a museum documenting the university’s history and a forum for events, as well as the UniShop.
The board of trustees of the 2007 anniversary celebration established the “New University Endowment.” It is designed to provide funding for endowed professorships, international visiting lecturers, and scholarships for outstanding students.
Finally, in 2007 the University of Freiburg also held its first Innovation and Dialog Workshop. The workshops now bring experts from the university and external institutions together about once a year, for instance to develop a modern concept for the university or a vision for 2030.