Friday, November 25, 2016


Within fifteen years, from 1803 to 1818, nearly half of the German-speaking universities disappeared which may be described as the great Universitätssterben ("die-off" of universities).  Among the talks given at the Ott Fest, a colloquium on the occasion of the 85th anniversary of Professor Hugo Ott, the presentation by Sandra Haas was the most lively and interesting one.

Emperor Joseph's decree (©Sandra Haas)
Throughout its history Freiburg's university was threatened with closure. In the second half of the 18th century the quality of teaching was bad at the Albertina. So it was no surprise that Emperor Joseph II also mentioned Freiburg when he decreed the closure of half of the six universities on Habsburg territory. While the University of Innsbruck was downgraded to a lyceum and Brno was closed, Freiburg miraculously survived.

Four waves of  "die-off" of universities in Germany (©Sandra Haas)
Sandra Haas told the audience that starting in 1803 one may distinguish four closing waves that swept over German universities. The first blow to their existence came in 1797 when the Second Congress of Rastatt resulted in a peace agreement between the French Republic and the Holy Roman Empire. In this agreement all German territories left of the Rhine River became French. Under French rule the cities of Löwen, Trier, Mainz, Bonn, and Cologne closed their universities.

German universities in 1797 (©Sandra Haas)
The next wave started on February 25, 1803, when the German princes who in 1797 had lost their territories on the left bank of the Rhine were finally "compensated" in the Reichsdeputationshauptschluss (German mediatization). Most of the land for their compensation was "gained" by secularizing ecclesiastical principalities and the sometimes vast territories of monasteries. So the prince-bishoprics of Bamberg and Fulda were dissolved and lost their universities while the city of Dillingen became Bavarian and the new sovereign downgraded its university to a lyceum.

In the same year Hercules III of Modena took possession of the Breisgau that Napoleon had imposed on him in the Treaty of Campo Formio compensating the duke for his territories lost in Northern Italy. As the Freiburg university officials feared the closing of the Austrian Albertina they sent a letter to Emperor Franz II begging for the preservation of the university. When the Freiburgers learned that the senile Hercules had appointed his heir and son-in-law, the Austrian Erzherzog Ferdinand, as regent of the Breisgau the letter fortunately became obsolete.

A third mortality wave swept over German universities during the years of Napoleonic rule, i.e., the time between 1806 and 1813. Only two new universities were founded during that period both at the expense of closing existing ones. When the University of Berlin, later Humboldt University, was founded in 1810 Frankfurt on the Oder was closed. Likewise, the foundation of the University of Landshut in 1801 was nothing else than a shift from Ingolstadt on the River Danube to the city on the River Lech. However, Landshut's university did not last long. Already in 1826 King Ludwig I moved the university to the Bavarian capital Munich.

German universities in 1818 (©Sandra Haas)
The fourth wave came in the aftermath of the Congress of Vienna. A "bad" example was Prussia that due to its territorial acquisitions was confronted with many "new" old universities. The universities of Duisburg, Münster, Paderborn, Wittenberg, and Erfurt overstrained the financial possibilities of the Prussian state and were closed.

The Congress of Vienna also confirmed the existence of the Grand Duchy of Baden that was suddenly faced with two existing universities: The Calvinist Ruperto Carola in Heidelberg of 1368 and the Catholic Albertina in Freiburg of 1457. In fact, Baden was in a difficult political situation with a Protestant population in the north while the acquired Breisgau was mostly Catholic. As Freiburg's professor and poet Johann Georg Jacobi wrote, it became more urgent to "marry" Baden's Protestant North with its Catholic South than to worry about universities.

Already in 1806 Elector Karl-Friedrich was asked to close one of the two universities but he answered: By no means, they do not belong to Baden alone, they belong to mankind. The following year, as a precaution and preventively, Freiburg's university officials offered the title rector magnificentissimus to their sovereign.

Now, following the Congress of Vienna in 1816, Baden's financial constraints were even greater. The government in Karlsruhe told a delegation from Freiburg that one university in Baden was sufficient. Being compensated by a Catholic bishop and the permanent stationing of a garrison Freiburg should not complain.

Titlepage of Karl von Rotteck's Promemoria (©Sandra Haas)
In this messy situation Freiburg's professor Karl von Rotteck wrote a Promemoria (memorandum) in which he stressed that the elongated form of Baden's territory justified two universities. Also, competition between the Ruperto Carola on the River Neckar and the Albertina on the River Dreisam would be good with respect to the quality of teaching. Baden's governor in Freiburg, Karl Wilhelm Ludwig Friedrich Freiherr Drais von Sauerbronn, added the argument that the study of theology should be Catholic in Freiburg and Protestant in Heidelberg.

On January 23, 1818, the relieving message arrived in Freiburg: an explicit ducal order guaranteed the existence of the university. When in 1820 Grand-Duke Ludwig granted the Albertina a yearly government subsidy of 15,000 guilders the thankful university officials asked their sovereign for his gracious permission to rename Freiburg's university: Albertina-Ludoviciana, vivat, crescat, floreat ad multos annos.

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