University of Erfurt

University of Erfurt

History and Buildings

A Brief History of the University of Erfurt

New beginnings for higher education on the continent in the (then) German-speaking world were the foundations of Prag/Prague/Praha (1348), Wien/Vienna (1365) and Erfurt (1379), the oldest university in Germany. The burghers of Erfurt had requested this privilege during the Western Schism (1378-1417) from Pope Clement VIII. in Avignon, not from pope Urban VI. in Rome, who confirmed the privilege ten years later.

Meanwhile the universities of Heidelberg (1386) and Cologne (1388) had been founded, and the 15th century was then to see the foundations of universities at Würzburg (1402), Leipzig (1409), Rostock (1419), Greifswald (1456), Freiburg (1457), Basel/Basle (1460), Ingolstadt (1472), Trier (1473), Tübingen, and Mainz (1477), to be followed by Wittenberg (1502), Königsberg/Kaliningrad (1544), and others.

Academic teaching at the University of Erfurt, which was founded in 1379 (in the same year as New College Oxford) started in 1392, and it soon became one of the largest German universities. Among its students was a Martinus Ludher ex Mansfeld, who matriculated in 1501, and gained his B.A. (1502), M.A. (1505), and Doctorate (1509) at Erfurt. Martin Luther later wrote: Fateor et agnosco: Mater mea Erfordiensis Universitas, cui non contentionem, sed honorem debeo  (Letter of 21 December 1514, WA Briefwechsel I p. 30). Erfurt is Luther’s alma mater.

Like other medieval universities in the German-speaking world, however, Erfurt has not had an uninterrupted institutional life. While the university of Würzburg was closed already less than a decade after its foundation (and refounded in the late 16th century), and while the University of Ingolstadt was moved to Landshut in 1800 (and on to München/Munich in 1826), the old universities of Cologne, Trier, and Mainz were closed in 1798, Wittenberg in 1813, and Erfurt in 1816. In all, more than 20 German universities were closed at that time. Prussia, to which Erfurt belonged from 1802, wanted to have only few ‘strong’ and preferably new universities. Only the institutions in far-away Greifswald and Königsberg/Kaliningrad were allowed to continue, while new universities were founded at Berlin (1809/10), Breslau/Wrozlaw (1811), Halle (1817), and Bonn (1818).

Re-foundations of old universities can mark new beginnings: Cologne (1388-1798) was refounded after the First World War in 1919, Mainz (1477-1798) after the Second World War in 1946, Trier (1473-1798) afterthe events of ’68 in 1970. The re-founding of the University of Erfurt (1379/1392-1816) is closely connected with Germany’s recent history: From 1987, Erfurt citizens in the GDR had lobbied, against many odds, for a re-founding of the university, two years later the re-unification of Germany made it at least imaginable to realize their dream. The actual foundation of the University of Erfurt dates to 1994, the first students were admitted 5 years later. It was amalgamated with a Teacher Training College in 2001, and a Catholic Theological Faculty in 2003.

Today, some 5815 students study at the University of Erfurt, many of them studying for a teachers’ degree, are matriculated in its four faculties: theology, arts, ‘state science’ (PPE & law), and education. Among the university's neighbours are the "Fachhochschule Erfurt" for applied sciences, the Helios Hospital, and the "Fraunhofer" Research Centre for childrens' media. The University's research activities are based both in the faculties and in the “Max Weber Kolleg” (an Institute for Advanced Studies), the "Willy Brandt School for Public Policy", and the famous library and Perthes archive in neighbouring Gotha,. The University of Erfurt is at the same time the oldest and the youngest state university in today’s Germany.

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