Focus on the north

Kiel University has a very special relationship with the Scandinavian countries. The historian Dr Caroline Elisabeth Weber considers the reason behind and history of this relationship.

Three Scandinavian flags fluttering in the wind
© pixelnest/iStock

The focus of historian Caroline Elisabeth Weber's doctoral thesis is the relationship between Kiel University and the Scandinavian countries.

Since the end of the war in 1945, Scandinavia has been a particular focus of Kiel University’s foreign relations. How these relations are shaped and the significance of raising Kiel University’s profile have been researched in detail by regional historian Dr Caroline Elisabeth Weber within the framework of her doctoral thesis at the CAU (PhD supervisor: Professor Oliver Auge). The book on this was published recently.

Kiel University has an established, historic relationship with Scandinavia, starting with the dynastic links between the university’s founder Christian Albrecht von Schleswig-Holstein-Gottorf and Danish royalty. Over the course of their history, the ties with Denmark and Scandinavia fulfilled different functions. While attention now tends to be drawn to commonalities such as when the duchies of Schleswig and Holstein belonged to the Danish unitary state, the Second Schleswig War in 1864, the Schleswig plebiscites in 1920 and, of course, Germany’s role in the world wars largely stood in the way of a harmonious relationship. “In the post-war period, however, the university was slowly able to rekindle the foreign academic contacts that are so important for work and research. As direct neighbours of Schleswig-Holstein and with their long shared history, the Scandinavian countries were among the first countries with which efforts were made to initiate talks,” explained Weber.

Kiel University thus became the first university in Germany with this type of focus region.

Caroline Elisabeth Weber

This was also the reason why Scandinavia became the international focus of relations with foreign universities across all disciplines and faculties – this was even written into the first Landeshochschulgesetz (regional higher education act) in 1973. “Kiel University thus became the first university in Germany with this type of focus region,” said the historian, now based at the Centre for Border Region Studies of the University of Southern Denmark (SDU). Compared with the university’s other foreign contacts, the focus on the north is evidenced by the greater number of (special) research projects, special collections, departments and professorships. The same applies to the university’s press releases and image brochures, which repeatedly remind the public of the Scandinavian focus and its history.

Although a long-standing relationship exists between Schleswig-Holstein and the Scandinavian countries, after the Second World War it was not easy to forge a path towards good academic cooperation across borders: initial contacts were made by students from 1947 onwards and increasingly in the 1950s. “Young people travelled to Sweden for sports competitions and guest appearances at theatres. Although there were great discussions in the Swedish press at the time about whether or not people should watch the production by the Kiel student theatre group, people longed for normality – and that included art and sport,” explained Weber. The first personal contacts were established through visits and return visits – independently of the faculties. The exchange became institutional in the 1950s: because it was not possible to study dentistry in Norway, young people came to Kiel. “And they came in such great numbers that some people joked that they wondered why the seminars were not conducted in Norwegian,” Weber discovered.

By 1965, Kiel University’s 300th anniversary, the university had fully rehabilitated itself in the international scientific community. “This was also demonstrated by the large number of foreign contacts,” said Weber. The link to the north became very clear at the anniversary celebrations: the University Board granted Scandinavia honorary citizenship of the university and established a permanent Danish guest professorship across all disciplines – this position still exists today as the Scandinavian Guest Professorship. Other departments such as the Zentrum für Nordische Studien (Centre for Northern Studies), the student hall of residence Deutsch-Nordische Burse and other projects followed. “Not everything still exists today, not all ideas were implemented,” said Weber. Yet there is a clear raising of Kiel University's profile.

Author: Jennifer Ruske


Further reading: Caroline Elisabeth Weber: Allen Ländern Skandinaviens und des Ostseeraums besonders verbunden (Closely connected to the countries of Scandinavia and the Baltic Sea region). Kieler Schriften zur Regionalgeschichte vol. 7. Wachholtz Verlag Kiel 2021.

Portraitbild von Caroline Weber
© Dr. Katja Hillebrandt

Caroline Elisabeth Weber