Kiel University
Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel
CAU - right up there for 350 years

350 years Kiel University

History of its founding

Kiel University was formally inaugurated on October 5, 1665. While Kiel's city fathers clearly intended to enhance the city's long-term economic success, they could never have foreseen that one day the university would be one of its largest employers.

Friedrich III placed his son Christian Albrecht under the obligation to set up a duchy university. Following the end of the major conflict between Denmark, Sweden and Schleswig-Holstein in 1660, the moment had come. Christian Albrecht entrusted his chancellor, Johan Adolf von Kielmannseck, with putting the plans into action. Both Schleswig and Kiel were considered as potential sites, but the council of the city of Kiel made the better offer. Against the will of its citizens, who feared the corrupting influence of the students on the population, the council offered the former Franciscan monastery, free of charge, for use by the university.

On October 5, 1665, the new university was formally opened. Lectures by the first 18 professors were held in the disciplines of Theology, Law, Medicine and Philosophy. The books originated from the Bordesholm library and from Gottorf, and the Duke, who also assumed the office of Rector, donated the university insignia, the Vice Chancellor's sceptre and mantle, and the university seal. On January 22, 1666 the university held its first doctoral examinations. With this it was considered a full functioning university. For the next hundred years, Kiel University was always short of money and suffered under the warlike conflicts between the dukes of Gottorf and the kings of Denmark.

Tsarina Katharine revived Kiel University in the 18th century with financial support. (Oil painting of an unknown painter, about 1760/65, State Library Schleswig-Holstein)
Tsarina Katharine revived Kiel University in the 18th century with financial support. (Oil painting of an unknown painter, about 1760/65, State Library Schleswig-Holstein)

Developments by a visionary

During the reign of the Russian Tsarina Katharine, Kiel University stirred to new life. Her steward in the duchies, Caspar von Saldern, devoted great attention to the university. He planned its reform as well as the construction of a new building as a focal point. A new university building was constructed next to the castle. The Tsarina also distributed new colours – purple and white – to Kiel University.

The glory and prestige of Kiel University continued to exist even after the unification of the duchies in 1773. Kiel was the northernmost German university and the southernmost Scandinavian university at the same time. It was a leading influence in many subject areas, for instance medicine and midwifery, but also the humanities. It also provided important new impulses to politics, particularly on the question of nationhood around 1848.

When the duchies were annexed by Prussia, circumstances in Kiel changed rapidly. The status of the university was brought into line with the other Prussian universities. Now, it was one among many. Following times of stagnation in the early years of Prussian rule, numbers of students rose considerably from the 1870s onwards. From 1908 female students were allowed to enroll as well. The old buildings were no longer adequate for the number of students. The Prussian government had no choice but to commission a new building, which was designed by the Berlin based architects Gropius and Schmieden. Until World War II, numerous other buildings were constructed – mainly for the disciplines of natural science and medicine.

Old University building at Schloßgarten, about 1920 (City archive of Kiel)
Old University building at Schloßgarten, about 1920 (City archive of Kiel)

The dark chapter

The upheavals of the 20th century in Germany had a drastic impact on Kiel University, like all German universities. Over the years, Kiel University had changed from being an imperial institution during the Weimar Republic towards an educational institution run on strict National Socialist principles. Its Jewish members were brutally expelled at an early stage, a move that took a severe toll on the quality of teaching and research.

In Kiel, the process of enforced conformity happened fast and without any major resistance. Parts of the student body and teachers saw themselves as visionaries in implementing National Socialist principles of education and racists policies. The conformity cut deeply into the University constitution. It also had a deep impact on the academic staff – almost 60 scientists had to give up research and teaching; they were deprived of their academic titles. A neutral jurisdiction or court of appeal no longer existed.

In 1993, Kiel University held a ceremony of National Remembrance of the Dead in memory of the persons who were expelled during the reign of the National Socialists. The then rector, Karin Peschel, took the opportunity to make a statement on the moral standing of Kiel University: She declared all the University's politically motivated deprivation of academic titles between 1936 and 1945 as void.

Path into the future (Kiel University / Jürgen Haacks)
Path into the future (Kiel University / Jürgen Haacks)

Rebuilding process

The Second World War was almost responsible for the demise of Kiel University. Most of the academic buildings were located in the city centre and were devastated by allied air raids. Under these circumstances, in 1945 the university authorities took the decision to relocate the university to Schleswig. It was solely thanks to the efforts of Kiel geologist Karl Gripp and a group of courageous university medics that new premises were found in Kiel. Gripp and a group of courageous university medics were able to convince British occupying forces to continue academic education in the ELAC building, a former munitions factory on Westring, and on ships in the Kiel Fjord. On November 17, 1945 academic teaching resumed for the first time after the end of the Second World War.

Since then, Kiel University has expanded steadily. During the 1960s, new buildings were established on Westring: the University Library, the University Church and the new Auditorium Maximum. The institution had re-established itself as a campus university on the western side of Kiel.

The student uprisings of the late 1960s also made their mark on Kiel University. For a while, strikes, occupations and protests became the order of the day. As a consequence, the old university structure was modernised, and the old traditions were trimmed back.

In 1945/46, almost 2,000 students were enrolled at Kiel University; in the middle of the 1970s, the number of students had reached 10,000, reaching 15,000 during the 1980s. Today, 25,000 students are registered at Kiel University.

The University has seen expansion in all areas: Where there were originally four faculties, they now number eight. Thus the buildings on Westring soon ran out of space as well. In 1972 the university moved into the first buildings on Olshausenstraße. Sports grounds were added on campus, and the Engineering Faculty buildings went up on the eastern side of Kiel. In 2001, a new University Library was inaugurated in Leibnizstraße.

Laser test in the Future Ocean's Laser Detection Laboratory. (Kiel University / Ronald Frommann)
Laser test in the Future Ocean's Laser Detection Laboratory. (Kiel University / Ronald Frommann)

Further Developments

During its almost 350-year existence, Kiel University has given impetus and set new standards in many fields. That much is clear from its roll-call of Nobel prize winners. Some of the many recipients of this award to have taught at Kiel were Philipp Lenard (Physics 1905), Max Planck (Physics 1918) and Otto Diels (Chemistry 1950). Over the course of its history, Kiel University has developed from a regional training academy to an internationally recognised university.

In 2013, the government of Schleswig-Holstein approved funds to the amount of 165 million Euros for renovation and the construction of many new buildings. This refurbishment will enable further modern, cutting-edge research and new concepts of teaching and learning at Kiel.

Kiel Center for Molecular Bioscience (ZMB) and forecourt. (Kiel University / Jürgen Haacks)
Kiel Center for Molecular Bioscience (ZMB) and forecourt. (Kiel University / Jürgen Haacks)
CAU 350+ Zeichen

As part of the 350-year anniversary, we would like to make 350 positive marks together with you. Submit your personal experiences with reference to Kiel University!