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Back Then: Bebel, Kafka, or Tristan?

The effort to give the university a name

“August 13, will mark the 60th anniversary of the passing of August Bebel, the co-founder and head of German social democracy. The undersigning parties request that the social democratic senate of the city of Bremen take this as an opportunity to give the university the name August-Bebel-University.” That is the beginning of a memorandum written in June 1973, which came from an initiative comprising university teaching staff, service providers, employee representative councils, and others.

The majority of an assembly of delegates of the SPD (Social Democratic Party of Germany) sub-district of Bremen city adopted the idea and in a letter dated June 26, recommended that the senate award this name. The university convent also agreed to the initiative with a majority. The agreement for August Bebel was based on the fact that his accomplishments for the labor movement and social democracy were undisputed. He was the last figure of consensus for the majority of the social democratic and socialist/communist groups – even if they argued over which interpretation was indeed right: Was Bebel the most significant opponent of revisionists or was he rather an important scientist, a revolutionary, or even the person who warned of the First World War?

Not Only Welcomed with Enthusiasm

Despite the above, the initiative was not only welcomed with enthusiasm. According to Moritz Thape, the education senator at the time, the university would formulate social expectations by agreeing. Social expectations that they could not fill. Job Günther Klink noted that the personality cult did not fit with hanseatic tradition. It was not enough that Horst-Werner Franke supported the name. The discussion within the SPD increasingly led to conflicts within the party. Yet, one did not have to wait long for the indignation of the other side to make an appearance: The Bremen section of the Union for Freedom of Science (Bund Freiheit der Wissenschaft) deemed the University of Bremen an unworthy place of commemoration for August Bebel. They questioned how long the university would remain a social democratic institute.

There was unrest on many levels, yet nothing official happened. The senate did not deem themselves responsible, as the giving of a name was an area of competence of the parliament of Bremen. The assumption that the initiative would just disappear if nothing were to happen by the planned date was correct. The former Social Democratic Association of Universities (SHB) and the Spartacus Marxist Association of Students (MSB) did indeed file another application to the Academic Senate at the end of October that the education senator be requested to initiate the change in name. However, this point was postponed and then simply “taken note of”.

… And then Kafka Came into Play

In the hope of receiving competent support, the SHB chairperson at the time brought up the initiative with the university president, Prof. Dr. Hans-Josef Steinberg. This was at the time when the GW2 building was nearly finished, just before the opening. However, whilst Steinberg was observing the building, an entirely different name, which would be fitting for the university, came into mind: Franz Kafka.

Just as this phase had ended, or so it was thought, new attempts were made to give the university a name. A private initiative believed Rudolf-Alexander-Schröder to be the most suitable person to represent the University of Bremen. This was based on the circumstance that he would most probably be the last great representative of the Republic of Scholars. This attempt was not successful due to the lack of legal options for the senate. Another way of placing emphasis on their matter was chosen by an autonomous women-lesbian-group (FrauenLesbenGruppe). They saw the national women’s strike on March 8, 1994, as a chance to autonomously give the university the name of the important socialist Flora Tristan. Spray-painting and a life-size reproduction of Tristan, which was erected in GW2, underscored their demands.

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