Founded in 1409, Universität Leipzig has developed a broad curriculum encompassing virtually all fields of scholarship during the course of its history. Thanks to the synergy generated by its ties with the city of Leipzig – a centre of trade and the venue of major trade fairs – the University has grown into one of the leading academic centres in Germany and in Europe as a whole, and an important source of impetus for the development of academic studies.

of Universität Leipzig
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15th/16th Century

The Second Oldest

Officially recognised for a Studium Generale by the confirming bull issued by Pope Alexander V on 9th September 1409 and with opening celebrations attended by the Wettin sovereigns on 2nd December 1409, the Alma Mater Lipsiensis can claim to be one of Europe’s oldest universities. In Germany, it is, after Heidelberg, the second oldest "Hohe Schule" (University) at which there have been teaching and research without interruption - at the Artist Faculty, later Arts Faculty, set up when the university was formed, and the three Faculties of Medicine, Law and Theology.

Scholars of world renown contributed to shaping the Universität Leipzig, such as Hellenist Petrus Mosellanus, philosopher Christian Thomasius, philologist Johann Christoph Gottsched, theologian and poet Christian Fürchtegott Gellert, psychologist Wilhelm Wundt, neurologist Paul Flechsig, chemist Wilhelm Ostwald, historian Karl Lamprecht, national economist Karl Bücher, physicists Werner Heisenberg and Gustav Hertz, educationalist Theodor Litt, the philologists Theodor Frings and Werner Krauss, philosopher Ernst Bloch, literature scholar Hans Mayer and many more. No less well known are the names of numerous students, such as Georg Agricola, Ulrich von Hutten, Thomas Müntzer, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, Johann Wolfgang Goethe, Robert Schumann, Richard Wagner, Friedrich Nietzsche, Erich Kästner or Carl F. von Weizsäcker, who all spent university years here.

 As early as the 15th century, the University owed its fast-growing significance to the need of the developing territorial state for a well educated future elite, to the cosmopolitanism of a blossoming fair and trading venue and to relatively generous support from funding by the state sovereign and the church. In July 1409, the Leipzig Council gave the university magistrates a building between Schlossgasse and Petersstraße and in December of the same year, the state sovereign donated the "large" and the "small" Fürstencolleg along Ritterstraße. In association with other colleges and hostels, a "Latin Quarter" was created on Ritterstraße and Brühl in the middle of the city. It expanded considerably after taking over the former Dominican monastery between the city wall and "Neue Neumarkt" (Universitätsstraße) in 1543 and was a primary feature in Leipzig’s cityscape.

Special mention must be made of the work of Caspar Borner, in whose period of office as Rector the Pauline monastery and several villages were assigned to the University (1543). In this way, the conditions were set to enable development of the impetus produced by Humanism and Reformation in Leipzig. So it is this Caspar Borner that we have to thank for revitalisation of the Universität Leipzig in the 16th century. After the political changes of 1989, the University endowed a medal bearing the name of Caspar Borner, awarded for contributions to renew the Alma Mater Lipsiensis.

The upswing of book printing and book selling in Leipzig would be inconceivable without the intellectual discussions relating to Humanism and Reformation in the 15th and 16th century. From 1682 onwards, Leipzig professors issued the first German academic journal, Acta Eruditorum, and contributed, in the spirit of the Enlightenment and Pietism, to Leipzig becoming the centre of German journal publication.

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16th/19th Century

Reform University

The University frequently suffered the direct effects of crises in state and city and was repeatedly faced with the challenge of reform during the course of the centuries. The transformation that began with the Reformation in 1542/1544, namely development from a medieval place of learning to a centre for education of the intellectual, legal and educational elite of Albertine Saxony, was finally recorded in the University Constitution in 1580. The battle for a renewed university reform at the beginning of the 19th century was fought by the Reform Senate appointed in 1830. In the period that followed, it was the faculties that shaped the University. A new university constitution met the demands of Saxon state reform in transforming a still widely feudal country into a civil state. In 1836, the University was almost bursting at the seams and gained a new three-storey main building in the style of classic architecture, called the Augusteum, with nine lecture rooms and laboratories as well as an assembly hall. The transition to a more intensive combination of research and teaching called for an end to the limited space given to the university seminars, from which natural science research institutes, in particular, developed. Although the Universität Leipzig reacted to the needs of a changing academic landscape by expanding natural sciences and medicine in the 19th century, the characteristic preponderance of the humanities was not lost, although now put on a more modern basis.

The autonomy of university self-administration won in 1830 was relativised by the University Statute of 11th August 1851, stipulating closer ties to the state. Museums, collections, institutes and seminars, cabinets and the large University Library were all features of the fast-growing Landesuniversität (State University of Saxony), together with faculties subject to an accelerated process of differentiation and reflecting the development of specialised academic disciplines. Hand in hand with this development, university buildings expanded beyond their traditional limits in the city centre. In 1900, Leipzig’s university held a leading position among German universities. With at times almost 12,000 students (1908) and thus one of the universities with the highest attendance in Germany, alongside Berlin and Munich, it was able to boast achievements of international standing at its 500th anniversary celebrations in 1909. However, it was soon to be faced with financial problems and the consequences of the First Wold War. In the post-war years, it was primarily the natural sciences and the Faculty of Medicine which won international recognition and the range of subjects was expanded with the integration of the Dresden Veterinary College founded in 1780 into the Universität Leipzig as the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in 1923.

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20th Century

Gleichschaltung and Renewal

After its decline in the Third Reich - some 30 professors and lecturers lost their jobs on racial and political grounds and student numbers fell from 7,350 in 1932 to 1,560 in 1939 -, the University also suffered severe material losses as a result of bombing during the war years between 1943 and 1945. More than 60 per cent of buildings were destroyed. The University, which had basically remained "bürgerlich" ("civic") despite all attempts at Gleichschaltung (former rector Hans-Georg Gadamer: "The Nazis were barbarians who despised us. That gave us space."), sought to eliminate all traces of Nazi dictatorship after the end of the war and to set the course for a genuine new start. But soon there were again restrictions on the freedom of research and teaching, now imposed by the Soviet occupation and the SED (Sozialistische Einheitspartei Deutschlands - the ruling party in Eastern Germany). Many distinguished Leipzig academics fled to Western Germany to escape growing political and ideological pressures.

Later, attempts were made to separate the University from its past as far as buildings were concerned too, as illustrated by the new University complex on Karl-Marx-Platz (Augustusplatz). So, in an act of barbarism in 1968, the Universitätskirche St. Pauli (University Church of St. Paul), although undamaged by bombing, as well as the only partly damaged and still usable old main building, the Augusteum, were destroyed. Until the peaceful revolution in 1989, university life was characterised by political instrumentalisation of science and restriction of academic self-government. A plaque of honour in the Bibliotheca Albertina and a roll of honour that can be inspected there commemorate the victims of the two 20th century dictatorships. The list of people who were executed or died in prison comprises 16 names and that of those arrested and imprisoned between 1933 and 1989 runs to 100. The last person sentenced to death was Herbert Belter, a student of economics, who was arrested as the head of a small opposition group in 1950 and was convicted and executed in the Soviet Union.

It was not until the political change in the autumn of 1989 that it was possible to completely restructure the University. In a ballot that was secret for the first time since 1933, the Konzil elected a Rectorate in February 1991 and simultaneously decided to return to the old name of "Universität Leipzig", having been forced to take on the name of "Karl Marx" as part of the Communist programme in 1953. Along with intellectual, moral, personnel and structural renewal, there was also the task of compensating for the severe cutbacks in the staffing plan by restructuring teaching, courses and research both externally and internally, particularly in the disciplines that had been closed due to political reasons. At the same time, it was essential to integrate the new academic staff (one third from western Germany), who had been called to the Universität Leipzig or joined it through mergers with other Leipzig colleges. So completion of these two processes to create a new and efficient profile was the major focus of efforts to present a modern, cosmopolitan and future-oriented university.

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Today – Future

Future Plans

In view of the University’s great traditions, the aim must surely be to reoccupy a leading position among German and European universities. One major milestone along this path will be the University’s 600th anniversary in 2009, especially since conditions for teaching and research will have seen decisive improvement in terms of buildings and space by then. An architectural competition was completed in 2004 and construction expenditure of 140 million euros for a new campus at the old location in the middle of the city confirmed. So there will be a new Aula-Kirche-Gebäude "Paulinum" (assembly hall and church building), an auditorium maximum, faculty buildings and a cafeteria, while the buildings housing lecture rooms and seminars will be converted, extended and redeveloped. The "Paulinum" will also be a suitable home for the works of art rescued from the University church blown up by the GDR government in 1968. Then, on Augustusplatz, the University will again have a building complex worthy of its significance for the future of the state.


Geschäftsstelle 2009
Tel +49 (0) 341 97-35035
Fax +49 (0) 341 97-35039