On the morning of January 31, 1980, a fire broke out in on the third story of GW2 Building in stairwell A. It became clear quite quickly that this was arson. Thankfully, the fire had gone out by itself before the smoke was noticed by a university staff member at 8:40 a.m. However, extensive sooting of the walls occurred due to the strong development of smoke.
The rumor that Molotov cocktails or even bombs had been placed in the building quickly spread. What also heightened the tension was the anonymous caller who contacted the University Executive Board at 9 a.m. and said that further fires would start at 11 a.m. The police and fire brigade, who had been urgently called, quickly evacuated the building along with calm and collected university staff and the building was searched for further fire-related devices. Unsuccessfully. Together with the police it was decided that the university management would order an evacuation of the entire building at 10:30 a.m. The building was empty 20 minutes later. Even the experienced fire brigade was impressed with which speed and calmness this was carried out.
There was another shock shortly before 11 a.m. A loud bang was heard and the shocked eyes behind the windows of surrounding buildings looked to see if GW2 Building was still standing. It was. The noise was in fact on a jet breaking through the sonic barrier.
Everything stayed quiet after that. At 11:35 a.m., the university management and the police decided to open the building’s doors once more. Usual operations resumed at 12 p.m. after a very eventful morning. The damage incurred was estimated as amounting to 3000 German Mark.
But Who Started the Fire?
The arsonist needed to be found. The police searched and found flyers from a group that was referred to as “economics student group” in the press. Said flyers harshly criticized the university lecturer group “Reform University,” which was a group made up of university lecturers which had been active in reform since the university’s establishment.
The latter had presented a draft for amendment of the diploma examination regulations at the meeting of the economics degree course commission in January 1980. The background for this was the Bremen Higher Education Act (BHG) was came into force in 1977 and in accordance with which the general part of the diploma examination regulations (DPO) and the specific regulations for each degree had to be changed. The student body (StugA) for the economics degree clearly refused this draft, as it saw the “termination of significant principles of a democratic economics degree, for which the students had fought” to be a part of the draft. In the eyes of the student body, the suggested DPO amendments were nothing more than the cancellation of the Integrated Social Science Foundation Degree (ISES), the splitting of economic sciences into the fields of business studies and economics, the restriction of project and interdisciplinary studies, as well as the “schoolification” of the degree.
The degree-accompanying certificates of achievement that were typical at the University of Bremen were only to function as certificates of examination in select cases and the so-called “small certificates,” which were based on thesis papers and minutes, were to no longer exist at all. An elevated mandatory number of hours of nearly 50% was intended, whilst at the same time the minimum study duration was to be scrapped. As the majority of the university lecturers in the faculty were part of the Reform University group - and the group was also the decisive factor in the Academic Senate according to the student body for economics - their opinion and standing held enormous weight.
On January 1, 1980, the student body wrote the following title in their newspaper “Der Politökonom:” “University Lecturer Group Demands 9 Oral Examinations” and called for attendance of the economics general meeting on January 31, 1980, where topics such as “attacks by the ‘Reform University’” or “hatching counter measures” were on the schedule.
All of this led to a connection being made between the economics student body and the fire, especially as the flyers found in GW2 Building had images on them of stick people in flames as well as stating the date January 31, 1980.
Police Investigations Were Stopped
The economics study body was not at all pleased about the connection made between its political university protests and the arson attack. In the Bremen university newspaper from February 1980, the group wrote in a statement that “it is with shock that we, the economics student body, have noted the rumors that have connected us, the economics student body, to the crime” and hope “that only lazy work is the reason for the strange press releases and not any political motive!” The police investigations were most probably stopped - no further trace can be found in the university’s files.