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To research, to teach, to educate and form

To research, to teach, to educate and form

The inscription on the lecture building endowed in 1911 reveals Hamburg’s commitment to research, teaching, and education even before the University itself was founded. Public lectures have been held in Hamburg since 1764. In 1821, the Botanical Garden became the first of ten Wissenschaftliche Anstalten, or academic institutions. At the end of the 19th century, Werner von Melle, who was responsible for the city’s upper-level schools, began preparing to realize his vision of a Hamburg University. He expanded the lecture series and initiated the founding of the Hamburgische Wissenschaftliche Stiftung (a foundation to help fund the various academic institutions). At his urging, the Colonial Institute was also brought to Hamburg in 1908. His plan bore fruit: after the Hamburg Parliament had initially rejected the founding of a university, a new, democratically elected parliament made it possible to establish the institution in March 1919.
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Werner von Melle (1853–1937)

As a legal advisor for the Senate, senator, head of the school authority, and first mayor, Werner von Melle’s influence on science and education from 1891 onwards was unparalleled. He pursued the founding of a university strategically and with excellent connections. In 1919, he achieved his goal with the help of the first democratically elected Hamburg Parliament.

Werner von Melle, bust by Friedrich Wield, 1925, smaller-scale reproduction 2019
Universität Hamburg, Zentralstelle für wissenschaftliche Sammlungen
Werner von Melle, bust by Friedrich Wield, 1925, smaller-scale reproduction 2019
Universität Hamburg, Zentralstelle für wissenschaftliche Sammlungen
In his memoirs Werner von Melle describes his years of efforts to found a university.
Universität Hamburg, Zentralstelle für wissenschaftliche Sammlungen
Excerpt from: Werner von Melle, Dreißig Jahre Hamburger Wissenschaft 1891 bis 1921. Recaps and personal memories, 1923, Volumes 1 and 2.
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The Hamburg Scientific Foundation

At the initiative of Werner von Melle, influential Hamburg citizens founded the Hamburg Scientific Foundation in 1907. Among the founders were Edmund Siemers, Adolph Woermann, and Moritz Warburg. Their goal: to advocate for the founding of the University by providing financial support for professorships.

Archiv der Hamburgischen Wissenschaftlichen Stiftung
The first meeting of the Board of Trustees of the Hamburg Scientific Foundation, painting by Henry Geertz, 1911 (burned)
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Edmund J.A. Siemers (1840–1918)

Edmund Siemers, who made his fortune trading petroleum and saltpeter, advocated for the founding a university. He funded a building for the General Lecture Series and the Colonial Institute, for which the City granted him the construction site on the Moorweide free of charge.

Edmund Siemers, bust by Wilhelm Kumm, 1911, smaller-scale reproduction, 2019
Agreement to donate the lecture building
Staatsarchiv Hamburg, 361-5 I_1327
Agreement between Edmund Siemers and the city of Hamburg to donate the lecture building, 1907, State Archives Hamburg, 361-5 I_1327
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A lecture building for Hamburg

“This golden key to the lecture building was presented to Mayor W. von Melle upon dedication of the building,” reads the handwritten note. For Werner von Melle, who probably urged Edmund Siemers to endow the building, it was also the key to the University’s future.

Golden key with hand-written note, 1911
Bird's eye view of the design of the lecture building
Universität Hamburg, Arbeitsstelle für Universitätsgeschichte
The young architects Hermann Distel and August Grubitz won the first prize for their design of the lecture building. With that they were established in Hamburg. Design by architects Hermann Distel and August Grubitz, 1908
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To research, to teach, to educate and form

The inscription above the entrance to the lecture building and present-day University Main Building was proposed by Edmund Siemers. Formulated in 1910/11, it became the University mission statement. Today, it appears in the University logo.

Universität Hamburg, Foto: Richard Ohme
Inscription on the University Main Building, 2019
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An inscription for the lecture building

Edmund Siemers insisted on an inscription on the lecture building. Max Förster, a senior government aide, approached several no-table figures, including the historian Prof. Erich Marcks, for suggestions. However, the sources do not answer the question of who actually formulated the mission statement.

Letter from senior government aide Max Förster to Prof. Erich Marcks, 1910, facsimile
Staatsarchiv Hamburg, 361-5 I 1330 Heft 8
Letter from senior government aide Max Förster to Prof. Erich Marcks, 1910, facsimile, page 1
Letter from senior government aide Max Förster to Prof. Erich Marcks, 1910, facsimile
Staatsarchiv Hamburg, 361-5 I 1330 Heft 8
Letter from senior government aide Max Förster to Prof. Erich Marcks, 1910, facsimile, page 2
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For a future university

The Hamburger Woche newspaper published a special insert on the dedication of the lecture building in 1911. In a hand-written note, Edmund Siemers dedicated the building to research, teaching, and education. The official English translation reads: “To research, to teach, to educate and form.” Annointed “Universität Hamburg,” the founding of the University was within grasp.

First page of a three-page article in the Hamburger Woche, 1911, facsimile
Staatsarchiv Hamburg, 361-5 I 1334
First page of a three-page article in the Hamburger Woche, 1911, facsimile
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The academic institutes

In the course of the 19th century, ten academic institutes were established in Hamburg. Among them were a state physics laboratory and a state chemistry laboratory, as well as museums like the Museum of Natural History, where the rare mineral struvite, first found in an archaeological dig in Hamburg, was displayed.

Struvite, 1846/48
Overview of the scientific institutes in Hamburg
Staatsarchiv Hamburg
Overview of the scientific institutes in Hamburg, 1911 State Archives Hamburg, 361-5 I_1334
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The general lecture series

The General Lecture Series has been a Hamburg institution since 1764. The number of people attending soared after Werner von Melle reorganized it in 1895. In 1913/14, ten thousand men and seven thousand women attended lectures of general interest or to further their professional education.

Universität Hamburg, Arbeitsstelle für Universitätsgeschichte
The Academic Lectures Report on the year from Easter 1913 to Easter 1914
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Lectures in new rooms

The three thousand seats in the new building provided much-needed new space for the General Lecture Series. The lectures, for which admission fees were charged, were held by professors from the academic institutes and the new seminars. Guest lecturers from other universities were also invited to speak.

Universität Hamburg, Arbeitsstelle für Universitätsgeschichte
Interior view, lecture building, from: Edmund A. Siemers, Festschrift zur Übergabe des neuen Vorlesungsgebäudes, 1911
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Professorships and seminars

Between 1907 and 1919, Hamburg established fifteen seminars, the professors of which oversaw both the General Lecture Series and the Colonial Institute. Economist Karl Rathgen was the first professor appointed. There followed further prominent scholars, thanks to whom the Hamburg institutes were considered to be of university standard.

Karl Rathgen, bust by Albert C. F. Woebcke, 1929, smaller-scale reproduction, 2019
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The colonial institute

The central office of the Colonial Institute, opened in 1908, was on the first floor of the lecture building. Although the Institute trained only few colonial civil servants, it was nevertheless an important step toward establishing a university, since it justified creating new professorships and seminars.

Universität Hamburg, Arbeitsstelle für Universitätsgeschichte
Floor plan of the lecture building with the Colonial Institute rooms, from the 1914 course catalog
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The university

The years of beating the drums for scholarship and education paid off: On 28 March 1919 the Hamburg Parliament resolved to found the University. The University owes its thanks to the generosity of Hamburg citizens for more than just the Main Building. In 1994, Helmut and Hannelore Greve endowed both of the building’s new wings.

Architect’s model of the Main Building with wings
Prof. Dr. Dr. h. c. Helmut und Prof. Dr. h. c. Hannelore Greve (Stifter)
Architect’s model of the Main Building with wings, architect: Folker Schneehage, 1995