Within only a few years of the political revolution in East Germany the small Thuringian university city of Jena has blossomed into an internationally significant centre of learning. An atmosphere of change is dominant, but despite this new beginning one looks back fondly upon the grand tradition: Goethe, Schiller, Hegel and Fichte left their mark on intellectual life, Abbe, Zeiss and Schott laid the foundations for economic prosperity.
The roughly 19 000 students of the Friedrich Schiller University and the University of Applied Sciences give an eternally youthful flair to the city of 100 000, which is surrounded by muschelkalk cliffs and nestled fantastically in the Saale river valley. Generations of poets, philosophers and students have sung its praises in song and poetry, perhaps most beautifully Gottfried Benn: "Jena before us, in the delightful valley". Everywhere one goes culture is inescapable -- above all, that of Romanticism, Classicism, and the Gründerzeit. A uniquely student way of life also started in Jena and went on to have fundamental repercussions in high politics: this is where the very first student fraternity formed, whose black-red-gold banner, today the national colours, has signalled the democratic spirit of unity, justice and liberty ever since the meeting at the Wartburg in 1817. Fraternities may not play much of a role in late 20th century Jena, but the memory of this democratic emergence is preserved not only by these wearers of colourful ribbons and caps.
Radical changes and departures from the past appear to have always been a speciality of Jena. When the first two professors, Stigel and Strigel, and their 171 students moved in to the Collegium Jenense, formerly a Dominican monastery, in 1548, their sovereign, Johann Friedrich I, was still in imperial custody. As "ringleader" of the Protestant Schmalkaldian alliance the Wettin Electoral Prince had suffered a catastrophic military defeat against the Catholic crown and had to cede his old seat and university in Wittenberg to his hated cousin Moritz. In the territory now under his rule, which had dwindled to one-third its previous size, he chose Weimar as the new seat of government and founded in the neighbouring town of small landholders and wine-growers a Hohe Schule (college) for the training of Protestant clergymen and teachers. Only the valuable "Biblioteca Electoralis" of Friedrich the Wise was saved and brought from Wittenberg to Jena.
In the early days the academic newcomers were not exactly warmly welcomed, -- the exemption of the professors from the alcohol tax and the rough-and-ready manners of their students, who due to a large degree of legal autonomy could scarcely be prosecuted by local courts, were a thorn in the side of upright citizens. Intellectually, however, the humanistic, reform-orientated educational institution made rapid leaps in its development; by the mid-1550s Jena was already regarded as a leading centre of the Reformation, and the Jena edition of Luther’s works had outstripped a competing project at Wittenberg. But it wasn’t until 1558 that the Jena Hohe Schule received imperial privilege as a university.
Roughly 100 years later, out of an early modern era reform university with four faculties -- Philosophy, Theology, Law and Medicine -- had developed a research community with extremely varied interests. The mathematician and astronomer Weigel, who taught Leibniz, among others, is regarded as one of the founders of scientific thought. These are the roots of the university which, once in blossom, would earn the epithet "hoarder of knowledge". The person who went out of his way to express such high praise was, as "Superintendent of Direct Measures in Science and Art", not the least to thank for this development: the privy councillor Johann Wolfgang von Goethe methodically enlisted eminent thinkers and researchers into the small provincial duchy and systematically created ideal conditions for their work. Libraries, botanical gardens, a natural history archive and laboratories were all subject to his fiscal conception of order. Institutions such as the observatory and the mineralogical collection can be traced back to his initiative. At the same time Goethe’s own scientific ambitions profited from this infrastructure. He worked closely with the chemist Doebereiner, the founder of the periodic system, and with the anatomist Justus Loder. His successful search for the intermaxillary bone is regarded as one of the earliest examples of targeted medical research in the modern era; specimens prepared by the poet-prince himself are still preserved in the Anatomical Collection of the University of Jena.
Decisive, though, for the classical-romantic wonder years was an early "network", which under superb conditions gathered remarkable intellectual greats in one place. Hegel, Fichte and Schelling, Voss, the brothers Schlegel and Friedrich Schiller -- as professor of history -- all taught in the city on the Saale, while Novalis, Hölderlin, Brentano, Föbel and Arndt sat in their lectures.
Nowadays not only street names and plaques, but also lovingly restored buildings, bear witness to this period: for instance Schiller’s garden house, Fichte’s domicile, Goethe’s superintendent’s residence in the botanical gardens, or the Fromann House, which today serves as an institute for scholars of German and art historians. The astounding concentration of culture in those years, which marked the start of a radical paradigm shift in culture and science in the Ernestine dynasty’s twin capital, is now the subject of the DFG (German Research Council) Collaborative Research Project "Ereignis Weimar - Jena. Kultur um 1800".
But the foundation of Jena’s international reputation as an industrial centre wasn’t created until about 70 years later by a fortuitous constellation of personalities -- once again at the university. Zeiss’s precision engineering and optics plant and the glass chemical works Schott & Gen. came into being virtually as spin-off enterprises out of the Alma Mater -- much in the same way as many envisage the revitalisation of Germany as a high-tech location through a close dovetailing of science and the business world. This form of cooperation between university and industry evolved naturally in Jena, as it were.
The impetus for the emergence into the industrial age was given by Ernst Abbe (appointed Associate Professor in 1870), who, while still in his early 30s, developed his theory of microscope image formation, which took into consideration the familiar phenomenon of diffraction, and thus made the leap in microscope construction from trial and error to methodical design. He was given this commission by a university mechanic, Carl Zeiss, who had been steadily perfecting the construction of optical equipment in his private workshops. Otto Schott, who received his doctorate at Jena in 1875, was the third to enter into this alliance by founding, at Abbe’s urging, a "Laboratory for Glass Technology" in 1884, to produce the highly pure special lenses for Zeiss’s microscopes and optical equipment. Humboldt’s pupil Matthias Jakob Schleiden, Professor of Botany and famous for his cell theory, encouraged -- and later benefited from -- this process, which was to prove exemplary in German economic history.