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The Uniseum - More than just a museum


We all have certainly passed the Old University in Bertholdstraße hundreds of times on foot or by streetcar. The lettering "Uniseum" - white on blue (the colors of the University) - has probably also caught your eye there. However, only very few people know what can be found behind these walls and what this strange word means:

The Uniseum Freiburg, which turned 5 years old last year, is an institution of the University, which is unique throughout Germany and which now inspires other universities to follow suit. The Uniseum Freiburg is both a museum and a forum. This means that it not only aims to convey the more than 550-year history of the University and the city in an entertaining and vivid way - as many museums try to do - but is also a meeting place for many teaching and festive events. Lectures, seminars and tutorials are held here during free times; anniversaries and graduations are celebrated; newly appointed professors meet here; in short, the University brings its past and present together in the Uniseum. The name "Uniseum" is intended to represent both the comprehensive approach of the institution and the desire to be more than a "historical" museum.

The exhibition focuses on the University's research and teaching from its beginnings to the present day. Lively presentations, artworks and originals, stagings and installations allow visitors to experience the various epochs and influences of the eventful history of the University of Freiburg and the city. This includes, for example, the fact that women were officially admitted to study in Freiburg for the first time in Germany in 1900, which is why special attention is given to this thematic focus, as well as to the top scientists and Nobel Prize winners. In the historic vaulted cellar, also called “Bursenkeller”, the study, life, work and living of students from the 15th century to the present, as well as the construction history of the building complex of the Old University are presented.

The Uniseum came into being in its present form through some fortunate circumstances: The vision of Wolfgang Jäger, the rector at the time, and Dieter Speck, the director of the University Archive, to make a public place out of the rich holdings of the archives, coincided with the need to completely renovate the Old University shortly before the turn of the millennium - as a result, most of the construction costs had already been provided. The rebuilding of a museum at a time when the city was intensively discussing museum closures was, of course, not a foregone conclusion. A museum commission under Prof. Dieter Mertens not only defined the contents, but also ensured acceptance of the undertaking within the University. An internationally renowned designer was found with the office 'Ranger Design' in Stuttgart, so that the concept development and the reconstruction of the Old University could then begin purposefully in 2002.

Due to the 550th anniversary in 2007 - the second stroke of luck - the second construction phase was started soon after the opening. There are still old cellar vaults under the ground floor of the Old University, which were downright legendary in the 60s and 70s as the University's Bursenkeller. They were uncovered, scientifically explored and restored as an impressive example of early modern construction. In the basement, the medieval street pavement was found in its original state. So now the Uniseum is not only located on the site where the University started in Freiburg, but visitors also stand on the same ground as the magisters and scholars of the Middle Ages.

A special feature of the Uniseum is its structure - it is actually a museum without staff: Apart from the closer administration by the "mother" - the University Archive - all guided tours in the Uniseum are carried out by the "Uniseum team". This team consists of students and doctoral candidates who work out their own guided tours and take care of the visitors with a great deal of idealism and for a small remuneration - equivalent to a research assistant. Although the Uniseum can be explored independently during opening hours (Thu, Fri and Sat from 2 pm – 6 pm and additionally Fri from 6 pm – 8 pm), it is more interesting to participate in the guided tours, which take place every two hours (i.e. at 2 pm, 4 pm and 6 pm c.t.). Since the team members come from a wide variety of disciplines, the tours are also designed from a large number of perspectives. Visitors do not have to pay any entrance fee and the guided tours are free of charge, as well (donations in the donation box at the entrance are welcome, however). About half of the visitors, however, take part in freely arranged group tours (from 8 persons), which can be offered on any day of the week between 8 a.m. and 10 p.m. (booking via costs: € 45, flat rate per group (also in foreign languages).

Due to its very central location, the University's "showcase" has not only been a respected institution due to its conception, but also a well-visited one: Despite the limited opening hours, more than 5,000 visitors are welcomed each year. Nevertheless, it would be great if many more Freiburg citizens would indulge in the drive of research, i.e. amazement, there.


      K.D. Lange

Published in German in the magazine FREIeBÜRGER in March 2010