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Departures - A Jena Tradition

Within only a few years of the political revolution in East Germany the small Thuringian university city of Jena has blossomed into an internationally significant centre of learning. An atmosphere of change is dominant, but despite this new beginning one looks back fondly upon the grand tradition: Goethe, Schiller, Hegel and Fichte left their mark on intellectual life, Abbe, Zeiss and Schott laid the foundations for economic prosperity.


The roughly 22,000 students of the Friedrich Schiller University and the University of Applied Sciences give an eternally youthful flair to the city of 100,000, which is surrounded by muschelkalk cliffs and nestled fantastically in the Saale river valley. Generations of poets, philosophers and students have sung its praises in song and poetry, perhaps most beautifully Gottfried Benn: "Jena before us, in the delightful valley". Everywhere one goes culture is inescapable -- above all, that of Romanticism, Classicism, and the Gründerzeit. A uniquely student way of life also started in Jena and went on to have fundamental repercussions in high politics: this is where the very first student fraternity formed, whose black-red-gold banner, today the national colours, has signalled the democratic spirit of unity, justice and liberty ever since the meeting at the Wartburg in 1817. Fraternities may not play much of a role in the early 21st century Jena, but the memory of this democratic emergence is preserved not only by these wearers of colourful ribbons and caps.

A Tradition of Changes

Radical changes and departures from the past appear to have always been a speciality of Jena. When the first two professors, Stigel and Strigel, and their 171 students moved in to the Collegium Jenense, formerly a Dominican monastery, in 1548, their sovereign, Johann Friedrich I, was still in imperial custody. As "ringleader" of the Protestant Schmalkaldian alliance the Wettin Electoral Prince had suffered a catastrophic military defeat against the Catholic crown and had to cede his old seat and university in Wittenberg to his hated cousin Moritz. In the territory now under his rule, which had dwindled to one-third its previous size, he chose Weimar as the new seat of government and founded in the neighbouring town of small landholders and wine-growers a Hohe Schule (college) for the training of Protestant clergymen and teachers. Only the valuable "Biblioteca Electoralis" of Friedrich the Wise was saved and brought from Wittenberg to Jena.

In the early days the academic newcomers were not exactly warmly welcomed, -- the exemption of the professors from the alcohol tax and the rough-and-ready manners of their students, who due to a large degree of legal autonomy could scarcely be prosecuted by local courts, were a thorn in the side of upright citizens. Intellectually, however, the humanistic, reform-orientated educational institution made rapid leaps in its development; by the mid-1550s Jena was already regarded as a leading centre of the Reformation, and the Jena edition of Luther's works had outstripped a competing project at Wittenberg. But it wasn't until 1558 that the Jena Hohe Schule received imperial privilege as a university.




The Classical-Romantical Wonder Years of Jena

Roughly 100 years later, out of an early modern era reform university with four faculties -- Philosophy, Theology, Law and Medicine -- had developed a research community with extremely varied interests. The mathematician and astronomer Weigel, who taught Leibniz, among others, is regarded as one of the founders of scientific thought. These are the roots of the university which, once in blossom, would earn the epithet "hoarder of knowledge". The person who went out of his way to express such high praise was, as "Superintendent of Direct Measures in Science and Art", not the least to thank for this development: the privy councillor Johann Wolfgang von Goethe methodically enlisted eminent thinkers and researchers into the small provincial duchy and systematically created ideal conditions for their work. Libraries, botanical gardens, a natural history archive and laboratories were all subject to his fiscal conception of order. Institutions such as the observatory and the mineralogical collection can be traced back to his initiative. At the same time Goethe's own scientific ambitions profited from this infrastructure. He worked closely with the chemist Doebereiner, the founder of the periodic system, and with the anatomist Justus Loder. His successful search for the intermaxillary bone is regarded as one of the earliest examples of targeted medical research in the modern era; specimens prepared by the poet-prince himself are still preserved in the Anatomical Collection of the University of Jena.

Decisive, though, for the classical-romantic wonder years was an early "network", which under superb conditions gathered remarkable intellectual greats in one place. Hegel, Fichte and Schelling, Voss, the brothers Schlegel and Friedrich Schiller -- as professor of history -- all taught in the city on the Saale, while Novalis, Hölderlin, Brentano, Föbel and Arndt sat in their lectures.

Nowadays not only street names and plaques, but also lovingly restored buildings, bear witness to this period: for instance Schiller's garden house, Fichte's domicile, Goethe's superintendent's residence in the botanical gardens, or the Fromann House, which today serves as an institute for scholars of German and art historians. The astounding concentration of culture in those years, which marked the start of a radical paradigm shift in culture and science in the Ernestine dynasty's twin capital, is now the subject of the DFG (German Research Council) Collaborative Research Project "Ereignis Weimar - Jena. Kultur um 1800".



Zeiss, Schott and Abbe

But the foundation of Jena's international reputation as an industrial centre wasn't created until about 70 years later by a fortuitous constellation of personalities -- once again at the university. Zeiss's precision engineering and optics plant and the glass chemical works Schott & Gen. came into being virtually as spin-off enterprises out of the Alma Mater -- much in the same way as many envisage the revitalisation of Germany as a high-tech location through a close dovetailing of science and the business world. This form of cooperation between university and industry evolved naturally in Jena, as it were.

The impetus for the emergence into the industrial age was given by Ernst Abbe (appointed Associate Professor in 1870), who, while still in his early 30s, developed his theory of microscope image formation, which took into consideration the familiar phenomenon of diffraction, and thus made the leap in microscope construction from trial and error to methodical design. He was given this commission by a university mechanic, Carl Zeiss, who had been steadily perfecting the construction of optical equipment in his private workshops. Otto Schott, who received his doctorate at Jena in 1875, was the third to enter into this alliance by founding, at Abbe's urging, a "Laboratory for Glass Technology" in 1884, to produce the highly pure special lenses for Zeiss's microscopes and optical equipment. Humboldt's pupil Matthias Jakob Schleiden, Professor of Botany and famous for his cell theory, encouraged -- and later benefited from -- this process, which was to prove exemplary in German economic history.

The success of the Zeiss plant brought numerous highly qualified workers to the city, and the population rose sharply by 150% in the time from 1870 to the turn of the century, to roughly 25 000. This new prosperity, which Zeiss and Abbe shared with employees through a pioneering social statute and the early transformation of the enterprise into a foundation, also yielded profits for the city and university: for instance the Volkshaus, a cultural centre and concert hall, was built with Zeiss money, and when professors and students moved into a new building on the 350th anniversary of the university in 1908, Zeiss Foundation contributions were not the least to thank for this. The largest single private donation for the splendid Art Nouveau structure by renowned church and theatre architect Theodor Fischer came from Otto Schott.

More Than a "Silver Age"

The time-span between the Gründerzeit and the Weimar Republic is, for Jena as a modern centre of learning, perhaps more significant than the oft-mentioned classical-romantic era. The biologist Ernst Haeckel, the most important evolutionary theorist after Darwin, taught in Jena, as did the mathematician and logician Gottlob Frege, whom leading contemporary Anglo-Saxon philosophers cite as an influence. Also worth mentioning are Hans Berger, who discovered the electroencephalogram (EEG), the psychiatrist Otto Binswanger, the philosopher Rudolf Eucken, the historians Johann Gustav Droysen and Alexander Cartellieri, the philologists Sievers and Delbrück, the reform pedagogues Stoy and Petersen, the jurist Eduard Rosenthal and Max Wien, one of the pioneers of wireless telegraphy. Jena enjoyed its heyday in the fine arts thanks to the avant-garde orientated circle of artists centred around Eberhard Grisebach and Botho Graef: after scandal in Weimar Auguste Rodin received an honorary doctorate in 1905, and in the years 1907-09 Ferdinand Hodler created the famous monumental painting "German students setting out for the War of Liberation of 1813" for the new university lecture hall. Working visits and exhibitions by leading Expressionists and the connection to the Weimar Bauhaus left their mark on the city's artistic life.

Despite -- or perhaps precisely because of -- its libertarian climate a harsh upheaval befell Jena's intelligentsia in the mid 1920s. The notion of a model National Socialist university quickly came into being, and the leading representatives of racial theory and euthanasia set up here -- in immediate proximity to the concentration camp Weimar-Buchenwald.

A Dissident Stronghold

Following a brief phase of reorganisation after 1945 the Alma Mater once again got caught in the whirlpool of political ideology, and was now expected to evolve into a "socialist university". The most visible symbol of this is the "research high-rise", built from 1967-72 according to plans by GDR star architect Herbert Henselmann and originally intended for the state-owned VEB Carl Zeiss, into which the academics had to move. At 127m this prominent signal of socialist authoritarian architecture towers above the city on the Saale. Nonetheless: in its shadow emerged an atmosphere of subversive resistance, and Jena was regarded as a dissident stronghold in the GDR.

In 1989 professors and students demonstrated in the streets together; the constraints on intellectual freedom had probably been felt nowhere so oppressively as in the fields of research and education. Immediately after the political revolution the University of Jena carried out severe and difficult measures: every teacher was evaluated, and out of the previously existing departments were formed the ten faculties of a contoured, classical, comprehensive university -- the only such university in Thuringia. A new campus was founded on the former site of the main Zeiss plant in the heart of the city, and the billion-mark building project "University Clinic 2000" got underway. In the direction of its teaching programme the university also took up old traditions: the highly diversified Philosophical Faculty, for example, in which seemingly "exotic" fields such as Ancient Oriental, Caucasian and Indo-Germanic Studies have found a home. Or in the Medical Faculty, which has assumed the role of top caregiver for all of Thuringia with its 1400-bed clinic. And of course physics and the biological sciences deserve mention.

The "Renaissance" of Jena as a Centre of Learning

Accessibility and a closely linked research network are the secrets of the renaissance of the city on the Saale as a centre of learning. Many directors and department heads of non-university institutes in Jena also hold professorships at the university. Beyond this the Uni Jena maintains a university alliance with Halle and Leipzig. Shared, in many cases interdisciplinary projects, e.g. in the five DFG Collaborative Research Centres and seven Innovationskollegs (lecture series), are the natural results. This fertile and expectant climate is bringing about a whole string of unusual and promising undertakings in research, many of which are being pursued on an interdisciplinary basis within cooperative networks.

But the climate in Jena also seems to be having a positive effect on teaching: the advisory relationship between students and lecturers is comparatively good, -- indeed to such an extent that the prospect of a rapid and intensive course of studies persuaded an apparently large number of students to give their Alma Mater top marks in the most recent university rankings by "Spiegel", "Stern" and "Stiftung Warentest". It is the common goal of those responsible at the university, and at city and state level that this development should continue uninterrupted.

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