The Goethe University Moves onto the Westend Campus

Plans for moving the university to the new location were being considered as early as 1993, when the departure of the US Army from the Abrams Building—as it was then called—was first discussed. Considering its excellent condition and enormous architectural value, there was no question that the complex designed by architect Hans Poelzig in the 1920s should continue to be used. The only question to be decided was: by which organisation or institution?

Public discussion initially focused on whether the building should become the headquarters of either the European Central Bank or the Frankfurt police force.[1] Since both options were considered unsuitable, given the building’s National-Socialist past, in 1994 voices were raised in favour of its being used by a public institution. The then President of the Goethe University, Professor Meißner, seized this opportunity to move the university’s main inner-city location from Bockenheim to the Westend. Commencing with the humanities and social science departments, the move aimed to create a campus that would be the first of its kind in Germany. After lengthy negotiations, in 1996 the State of Hesse acquired the site from the Federal Government for 148 million Deutschmarks—complete with the building designed by architect Hans Poelzig for IG Farben. Because of budgetary regulations concerning the public use of so-called converted military property in force at the time, the Federal Government was obliged to remit 50% of this sum to the State of Hesse. In addition, it paid 50% of renovation and new building costs as part of the “Joint University Construction Initiative”.[2] The university financed its own share through budgetary restructuring: part of the money came from resources already approved by the State of Hesse for a new humanities building in Bockenheim.

Since not a few people associated the building with war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by IG Farben during the National-Socialist era, the move also became a matter of controversy within the university, added to which the university’s history was itself overshadowed by events dating from the Nazi period: the Goethe University too had fired many Jewish and otherwise politically undesirable professors, as well as conducting research in a number of areas in support of National-Socialist ideology and preparations for war. In 1935, the “University Institute for Hereditary Biology and Racial Hygiene” was founded, and fanatical National-Socialists such as Otmar von Verschuer and Joseph Mengele both taught and conducted research at the university.[3] In short, in the mid-1990s the university had by no means fully come to terms with its own history; thus the move into the IG Farben Building was an opportunity to scrutinise not only the building’s Nazi past but that of the university as well.

Controversy over the university’s occupation of the IG Farben site took many forms. For instance, a fierce debate arose over what the building should be called. Many voices were raised, in vain, in support of renaming it the “Poelzig Building”—a neutral title signalling a fresh start. But in 1999 a student initiative put forward a proposal to the University Convention arguing for the continued use of the designation “IG Farben Building”. The Convention voted to accept the proposal: this historical location was to be a reminder of the past as a warning to the present. When the university moved in, two commemorative plaques recalling the crimes of National-Socialism were unveiled in the IG Farben Building entrance hall. Other memorials, such as that to Norbert Wollheim, were to follow.

Restructuring the IG Farben Building and the adjacent Casino was an architectural challenge. Even though the US Military had left the buildings in relatively good shape, some of its interior reconstruction work had to be restored to its original form. For instance, the Americans had completely gutted the large boardroom formerly used by the IG Farben management and converted it into a squash court (today library rooms are located there, in cross-wing Q1).[4] Converting the listed building for use as a university thus had to be reconciled with preserving Poelzig’s architectural heritage. In 1997, a total of 125 teams of architects participated in a Europe-wide call for tenders. The Danish team of Dissing & Weitling was awarded the contract and designed the necessary alterations to the building’s interior. Much of the latter, including the foyer, the Eisenhower rotunda, and the staircases remained unchanged, but the large open-plan offices were stripped of their furnishings. Additional fire escapes were installed and the interior partitioned in line with the building’s new purpose. Reconstruction work was completed after only three years. On 26 October 2001 the building was reopened, and the humanities began their move from Bockenheim to the Westend Campus. Other departments and institutes followed, as did the University Council, as soon as their new buildings were finished. The third construction phase is now under way on the campus. When it is completed, the entire area—totalling some 70 acres (incl. space in reserve, it comprises about 82 acres)—between Fürstenbergstraße, Bremerstrasse, Hansaallee, Miquelallee and Grüneburgpark will have been developed for the university’s use.

Together with the Riedberg Campus, where the natural sciences are located, and the University Clinic in Niederrad, the Westend Campus is today one of the Goethe University’s three main locations. But it will take a while before all departments, administration offices, and other facilities have been moved to the new campus.[5]

© Frankfurt Humanities Research Centre


Literature and Links:

  • Drummer, Heike/Zwilling Jutta: Von der Grüneburg zum Campus Westend. Die Geschichte des IG-Farben-Hauses. Frankfurt am Main 2007.
  • Dudde, Daniel: “Das IGF als militärisches Hauptquartier. Wie bauten die Amerikaner das Gebäude für ihre Zwecke um?” In USE – Universität Studieren/Studieren Erforschen, Frankfurt am Main, 14.10.2014.
  • Hammerstein, Notker: Die Johann Wolfgang Goethe-Universität Frankfurt am Main. 3 Volumes, Neuwied und Frankfurt 1989, 2012, 2014
  • Meißner, Werner: “Die Zukunft der Goethe-Universität.” In Meißner, Werner/Rebentisch Dieter/Wang, Wilfried (eds.): Der Poelzig-Bau. Vom I.G. Farben-Haus zur Goethe-Universität. Frankfurt am Main 1999, 147-158.
  • Meißner, Werner: Goethe zieht um. Wie die Goethe-Universität ins Westend kam. Frankfurt am Main 2014.
  • Ortmeyer, Benjamin: Jenseits des Hippokratischen Eids: Josef Mengele und die Goethe-Universität. Frankfurt am Main 2014.
  • Uni Report: Attraktive Vision für Campus Westend. Land, Stadt und Goethe-Universität verständigen sich über Grundstückstausch. Frankfurt am Main, 1/2017, 1.
  • Wagner, Klaus: “Erwerbsgeschichte des Poelzig-Ensembles.” In Meißner, Werner/Rebentisch Dieter/Wang, Wilfried (eds.): Der Poelzig-Bau. Vom I.G. Farben-Haus zur Goethe-Universität. Frankfurt am Main 1999, 123-129.
  • Image: During the american usage of the building the former large boardroom of the IG Farben had been converted into squash courts. After reconstruction, the two-storied room now is part of the library for German Philologie in the IG Farben building.  Source: Goethe University

[1] Meißner 2014, 16f.
[2] Drummer/Zwilling 2007, 120.
[3] Wagner 1999, 126-128.
[4] Ortmeyer 2014
[5] Dudde 2014
[6] Meißner 1999; Uni Report 1/17, 1.