It is a black and white photo from the founding times of the university: A child carrying a backpack is stood in a field and is looking up at a large construction sign. “The Free Hanseatic City of Bremen is building the University of Bremen here” it says. 50 years later, this image can be seen on a large sign in the campus park at the Universitätsallee / Bibliotheksstraße crossing. On the other side, big letters spell out “WARUM,” which means “why” in German. What’s it all about? Who is the child on the historical photo? And why was the photo taken?
The roughly 4 by 4 meter sign in the campus park is one of the special birthday initiatives of the University of Bremen, which will turn 50 this year. Where can the university be found across Bremen? And why? 50 locations are to be examples of places where researchers, students, as well as graduates play an important part of Bremen’s economy, politics, administration, education, and culture, and why the whole community benefits from this. Every location is marked with “WARUM.” Those who are interested can directly find out the answer via signs or banners, as well as via digital content that can be found using QR codes. For example, via the sign in the campus park, one can find out from the university President why the university was founded in 1971 and why it is so important for our society. The campus park and the bremer shakespeare company in the Neustadt district are the first locations. A central exhibition in the Lower Town Hall will bring all locations together in October.
Reform University Opened in 1971 with only 459 Students
And who is the child on the historical photo? In order to find that out, Oliver Behnecke, project leader of “50 Years of the University of Bremen,” contacted the photographer Jochen Mönch. He was press photographer for the Bremer Nachrichten newspaper back then and took all photos, for example of the Founding Board of the university, construction work, roofing ceremonies, building openings, protests in the town, and also this construction sign.
“Those were wild times at the university,” says Mönch. When the first semester started on October 19, 1971, the reform university had only 459 students and most of them were training to become teachers. However, the university was on everyone’s lips across the country. This was down to the fact that the “Bremen Model” was practiced on campus – a system that broke with some ideas of the traditional university. Many of the academic establishment regarded it as too radical. Which is exactly why many young people found it so attractive. The “Bremen Model” anticipated many developments that were in store for all German higher education institutions. Its key elements remain untouched at the university today: interdisciplinary work, research-based projects, practical orientation, and responsibility towards society. New goals have been added over time: internationalization of teaching and research, gender equality, and environmentally friendly actions.
“I Thought it might Be a Nice Motif”
On the spur of the moment, Jochen Mönch decided to take his daughter with him when he went to photograph the construction sign around 50 years ago. “I thought it might be a nice motif: A child stands with its school backpack in front of the construction sign – theoretically, it might be a future student, I thought.” But that didn’t quite go to plan: His daughter, Svenja Mönch, moved to Hamburg. She studied there and now works as a psychologist and speech therapist. She can’t remember the situation with the photo. “My father often used to take me to photo sessions back then,” she explains. “I unfortunately cannot remember each and every one.” But she always had fun during the sessions.
What Svenja Mönch does, however, remember quite vividly are the early days of the University of Bremen. “I remember how I once ate lunch in the Mensa cafeteria as a school pupil. It was exciting with all the many students.” She also sometimes went swimming in the university pool as a child. There were only a few buildings on campus in the 1970s. “There were many free spaces. The campus seemed huge to me back then.”
The photographer’s daughter, who lives in Hamburg, still has a connection to the University of Bremen campus. Her husband works as a researcher at the Leibniz Centre for Tropical Marine Research (ZMT) in the technology park. The institute is closely connected to the University of Bremen as a part of the U Bremen Research Alliance (UBRA). And it will soon be a “WARUM” location.
Construction Sign Had to Be Swapped
The construction sign that Jochen Mönch photographed had to be swapped for another. The reason: The federal government had not been listed as a developer. Jochen Mönch cannot exactly remember where the sign stood. “Probably there where the Universum museum stands today,” he states.
Alongside the 50 “WARUM” locations in Bremen, the university is also planning further events and initiatives to mark its birthday. You can find out more here uni-bremen.de/en/50years
Find out more about the university’s history here.