70th anniversary Freie Universität

Walks in Berlin


On December 4th, 1948, students and professors founded the Freie Universität Berlin, the Free University of Berlin. The purpose was, to build a university where free speech, learning, teaching and research are possible. Where dialogue, openness and respect are the basis.

Veritas, justitia, libertas (Latin: truth, justice, freedom) -these are the words in the emblem of Freie Universität. A bear, the heraldic animal of Berlin holds a torch.

Two weeks ago the Festakt "70 Jahre Freie Universität" took place in the Henry Ford Building of the Freie Universität in Dahlem in the southwest of Berlin. The district Dahlem belonged after World War II to the American sector. The Americans supported from the beginning on the work of Freie Universität (FU). Not only by funding buildings but also with encouragement and cooperation. The international cooperation with students, teachers, researchers and universities from all over the world is a cornerstone of Freie Universität's approach. On Faces former students and teachers from Germany and abroad tell about their experiences (see also Blog 2 Oct 2018).

It was an honour and a pleasure to visit Berlin nearly thirty years after I had finished my education in medicine at FU and to take walks alone and with alumnis in Dahlem and "the rest" of Berlin.


Yesterday and today

The "Rostlaube" (rust pergola) and the "Silberlaube" (silver pergola) are in my view the centre of FU. Designed during the 1960ies by the architects Georges Candilis, Alexis Josic and Shadrach Woods, they underwent a profound restauration during the first decade of this century. The complex is inspired by souks, a marketplace or commercial area in North Africa and Western Asian. It is a grid of hallways, rooms and yards for seminars, teachers and administration. Students, teachers, other staff and visitors are invited to encounter other faculties. They must, because the institutes are distributed. I remember that we enjoyed it a lot to roam through this bazar as students during the first two years of our medical studies.

A few years ago the architect Norman Foster put a wonderful library into this complex, the Philologische Bibliothek. The area was formed by merging a number of yards. The builders removed several hallways and rooms (one "cross"). Thus something happened that Candilis, Josic and Woods had intended: they wanted the "Rostlaube" and the "Silberlaube" to be a flexible complex that could change and grow. Norman Foster created a building full of light, very convenient and respecting and considering ecological needs. As he tells the visitor during the guided tour: ecological and people's needs are not constraints that inhibit ideas but enhance design.

Find below in "Further Readings" links to FU reports with overviews on the history of the buildings and a wonderful gallery of pictures taken in course of the construction of the library. Furthermore you will find more links to information on the architects.


The ceremonial act

Of course there were the affectionate speeches and congratulations on December 4th, 2018. Thoughtful was the talk of Herta Müller, awarded with the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2009: "Freiheit steht nicht still." Freedom is not stationary.

The conversation of four FU-generations moderated by Professor Paul Nolte of the Friedrich-Meinecke-Institute brought together a student, who was one of the founders of FU, a student from the 1960ies, one from the 1990ies and a current student. Of course the first three are meanwhile graduated, two of them became professors. The third is commissioner of the federal state of Berlin and state secretary for civic engagement and international affairs.

Oral history at its best. The audience got first hand insights on the founding of the FU, the atmosphere during the 1960ies, the political developments after 9/11 and a message from the current student: We are often so much focused on our successful studies, collecting credit points. We should strive for more political and social engagement. That they have the gifts showed the films that were awarded on behalf of the contest "70 years campus international".


Berlin walks

I stayed two days longer in Berlin, filled with meeting former colleagues, a second visit of Norman Foster's library in Dahlem and of course walks on the Spree riverside. My favourite sensation was a home under a bridge just opposite the Office of the Federal Chancellor (Kanzleramt). A tend, a sleeping bag spread for airing, a litter bag, everything very trim. Two sides of a river, two sides of a city.

"What is your impression nearly thirty years later?" The lady, who asked this after the ceremonial act during our ride with the metro, had attended the ceremonial act with her husband. He had studied economics during the 1970ies at FU.

"Smarter, richer and still Freie Universität. I'm looking forward to share your and my insights at the 80th anniversary." - "Yes, that would be wonderful."

Christa Weßel - 17 December 2018


Further Reading

Recommendation: start with https://www.fu-berlin.de/, search "70 years FU" or "70 Jahre FU" and you will find comprehensive material on the history of FU and reports on the ceremonial act of Dec 4th, 2018, other celebrations and events. And proceed with the architects - you will find some links below.

Freie Universität (FU)

The architects