A young university
Universität Hamburg is one of Germany's younger universities. Its founding was not documented in some provincial foundation charter but in a sober official announcement issued by the Free and Hanseatic City on 1 April 1919.
Roots in the City of Hamburg
Nonetheless, the University's roots reach back to the early 17th century. In 1613, the Academic Gymnasium, an intermediary institution for students transitioning from school to university, was founded. For two semesters, students attended general lectures before specializing.
The first lecture building
Due to low attendance, the institution was forced to close in 1883. A "general lectures series," which was reorganized in 1895, remained in its wake. To accomodate this series, entrepreneur Edmund Siemers donated the lecture building in the street now named after him. The building officially opened in 1911, bearing the mission statement: "To research, to teach and to educate." Today, it serves as the University's Main Building.
The General Lecture Series flourishes
In addition to lectures for the lay public, there were also continuing education courses for particular professions such as theologists, administrative officials, customs officials, practical physicians, business people, pharmacists and teachers. The statistics testify to the importance of these lectures: in winter semester of 1913/1914, 300 courses were offered by 207 instructors. And in the very same semester, 4,300 course catalogs were sold.
More academic institutes founded
In the 19th century, several more academic institutes were established, such as the Botanical Gardens (1821), the Sternwarte or observatory (1833), the State Chemical Laboratory (1878), the State Physical Laboratory (1885), the Laboratory for Raw Goods (1885) and the Institute for Shipping and Tropical Diseases (1900).
The Professors' Convention
After the Academic Gymnasium shut its doors, its directors were obliged to continue giving public lectures. Together with lecturers appointed to the general lecture series, they established the"professors' convention" in 1892.
Founding of the Hamburg Scientific Foundation and the Colonial Institute
The founding of the Hamburg Scientific Foundation in 1907 and the Colonial Institute in 1908 were significant developments in the creation of the University.
The Foundation recruited scholars and supported research trips and scientific publications. The Institute prepared future colonial servants for their work abroad. The main office of the Colonial Institute was the documentation and information center, which dealt with questions regarding the entire overseas world. This center was succeeded by the Hamburg World Economics Archive.
At the beginning of the 20th century, Werner von Melle, first senator and then mayor of Hamburg, dedicated his life to creating a university from these separate institutions. His plans, however, failed to pass in city council.
Hamburg is a trade center
The majority wanted Hamburg to maintain its trading status and feared both the costs of a university and the social ambitions of its professors.
Thanks to individual initiative, "university courses" were offered to returning soldiers in the wake of World War I.
Founding of the "Hamburgian University" in 1919
Only then did a democratically-elected city council resolve in its first session to establish a "Hamburgian University." This was officially opened on 10 may 1919 in the Hamburg Music Hall. The unique honor rector magnificus honoris causa was conferred upon Werner von Melle in 1921.
The University thrives in the Weimar Republic
During the Weimar Republic, the young University attracted outstanding scholars in several disciplines and quickly gained an international reputation. Its close connections to institutions such as Aby Warburg's "Cultural Studies Library" or Albrecht Mendolssohn Bartholdy's "Institute for Foreign Policy" established new forms of interdisciplinary cooperation.
National Socialist casualities
The National Socialist dictatorship destroyed this brief flowering, primarily by having roughly fifty scientists and scholars, among them the University's most eminent, removed.
Memorial busts and plaques have been dedicated to several of these, such as the psychologist William Stern, the philosopher Ernst Cassirer and the physical chemist Otto Stern as well as students in the Hamburg branch of the "White Rose" who lost their lives in their struggle against the regime.
Creation of schools
Inititially, there were four "faculties" or schools: Law and Political Science, Medicine, Philosophy and Natural Sciences. The conditions for the creation of a medical school were already in place in the well-equipped hospital in the Eppendorf district, an institution which had gained an excellent reputation beyond Hamburg's borders during the great cholera epidemic in the 19th century.
"Universität Hamburg" since 1945
The number of schools at the University, which became "Universität Hamburg" when it reopened in 1945, increased to six in 1954 with the creation of the School of Protestant Theology and the School of Law, which had split off from the School of Economics and Social Sciences.
Expansion of autonomy in 1969
On 25 April 1969, the city council of the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg passed a new university law. The reform manifest itself particularly in the expansion of academic self-governance and the participation of university members at all three administrative levels (Council und Senate; departmental councils; institute councils), as well as in the creation of an executive office, or the appointment of a president, who publicy represents the University's autonomy in science and research and, within the institution, the interests of the state, which is both financially and legally responsible for the University.
Departments replace schools
The six original schools were divided into fifteen departments in 1969. In the following years, the number of departments increased to nineteen although the number went back down to 18 when the two departments of law merged in 1998. There are also seven so-called senate institutions, eight interdisciplinary degree programs and four joint university programs.
Absolute majority for professors
On 1 January 1979, the university law of 1969 was replaced by the Hamburg Higher Education Act , which adapted state law to the Framework Higher Education Act . Professors now enjoy an absolute majority in all self-governance bodies overseeing teaching, research and appointment matters.
Growing student body
In 1919 1,729 students studied at the University. At the beginning of the 50s, there were around 6,000 , in 1960 12,600 and in 1970 19,200 students. Today, roughly 40,000 students, including about 4,800 from abroad, are enrolled.
Architectural development of the campus
From the end of the 50s to the mid 60s, the campus at Von-Melle-Park near the Aussenalster in the heart of the city expanded continually. The University acquired several other large buildings in the immediate area in 1974 and 1975, including the Geomatikum, which houses the Departments of Mathematics and Geosciences. With twenty-two floors, the Geomatikum towers over all of the other buildings in the Eppendorf district.
In the fall of 1998, the "west wing" of the main building in Edmund-Siemers-Allee, donated by Hannelore and Dr. Helmut Greve, opened its doors.
University institutions throughout the city
There are many other University institutions in other parts of the city. These include the University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf (UKE), the new Botanical Gardens and the Institute for General Botany in Flottbek, the Institute for Hydrobiology and Fisheries Science in Altona near the harbor and the Elbe River, the Sternwarte or observatory in Bergedorf and a few physics institutes in Bahrenfeld, which is also home to the world-renowned Deutsche Elektronensynchrotron (DESY). Since 1994, the Department of Informatics has been located in Stellingen in the "Informatikum."
Since the early 1980s, Universität Hamburg has been taking a closer look at its own history. Its members have produced several publications, primarily in the series "Hamburg's Contributions to the History of Science," edited by the University and published by the Dietrich Reimer Publishing House (Berlin and Hamburg).
Since 1993, the "Hamburg Library of University History" in the Department of History has been devoted to these pursuits.