The Heidelberg University, the Ruperta Carola or Ruprecht-Karl-University is the oldest university of Germany. She was founded in 1386 by Prince Elector Ruprecht I. At that time the buildings were scattered all over the town and nearly all were destroyed in 1693. Prince Elector Johann Wilhelm of Palatinate cared for the reconstruction of the “Old University” during the years 1712 till 1728. At the end of the 18th century the university had to stand a further difficult period. Following the dissolution of the Palatinate in1803 she was taken over by Grand Duke Karl Friedrich of Baden and soon found her re-attraction.
Semper apertus – always open – demands the guiding principle on the wall of the foyer. Around 30 000 students are matriculated at the Heidelberg University. She as well is the most important employer of the town with more than 15 000 occupied people.
The so-called “New University” or “Schurmann-University” was erected between 1930 and 1932. She was financed by donations of US citizens. The dedication “To the living Spirit” is written on top of the entrance portal. On the university grounds you as well will find the so-called Hexenturm” – the “Witches Tower – which is the only remains of the town fortification of the 13th century. It served as lady’s prison for “witches and thieves”.
Worth seeing is as well the “Studentenkarzer”, the students prison in the Old University, which is very closed connected with the students life and the students corps: Between 1778 and 1914 the students were “imprisoned” as punishment for “gentlemen’s offences – peccadillos - such as students´ fencing duels or disturbance of the citizens night rest.
The American globetrotter Mark Twain reported very detailed on the students’ life in Heidelberg. He wrote on the student’s corps and connections whose members could be differentiated by their student’s caps and couleur bands. During the second half of the 19th century there was the peak of the exclusive corps. The Ruperto Carola was looked upon as the center of the aristocrat students. Besides we found student fraternities. which were connected with the national-liberal movement. The houses of the student’s corps were financed by the so-called “Old Gentlemen”, the former students. Thus especially around 1900 splendid villas in historic style were erected. Those “small castles” you will find especially underneath the Heidelberg Castle.
Many poets dealt with the liberal way of life of the Heidelberg students. Their works went around the Globe. Josef Victor von Scheffel who studied in Heidelberg law, composed the famous Heidelberg poem “Old Heidelberg dear city….” The theatre performance “Old Heidelberg” of Wilhelm Meyer-Foerster as well went around the Globe. It was translated into 22 languages and became one of the most played theater performances at the beginning of the 20th century. Siegmund Romberg’s operetta version “The Student Prince” became one of the biggest Broadway hits.
The University Bibliotheca
This representative Building of Wilhelmian style – opened in 1905 – was erected on the ground of the former “Black Nuns Monastery” just opposite the Saint Peters Church and the New University. It was built between 1901 and 1905. The Façade of the southern wing was formed in the style of the German and French Renaissance with first elements of the “art nouveau”. The book capacity of the book stalls goes up to around 3 million volumes.
To its most precious treasures belongs the Manesse or Grand Heidelberg Song Manuscripts, the “Codex Manesse”. It was created in the 14th century and stays in Heidelberg since 1490. It is the biggest collection of Middle High German Lyric and Minnesongs.
The Heidelberg University of to-day
The quality of education at the oldest University in Germany is of highest level in Europe. The law education for example is being appreciated as high as that of the English Universities Eton or Oxford.
Since pulling down the iron curtain between Europe and the former Soviet Republic, the number of Russian speaking students is steadily growing. But still their number is much less than those of the Chinese students. In this respect the “Russians” have much to do to reduce the distance and regain their former importance at the Heidelberg University.
Historic Student Inns
Whoever intends to experience student atmosphere, under all circumstances need to visit one of the historic Heidelberg student inns. Join me to an instructive and as well relaxing stay at the student Inn “To the Red Ox” and enjoy the historic flair. It is one of the oldest Heidelberg student Inns with tradition. The building was built in 1703 and since 170 years it is private property of the Spengels family. Nowadays Anne and Philipp Spengel continue the tradition.