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11 October 2006

Thinking without Banisters: Heidelberg Honours the Memory of Hannah Arendt

Events marking the 100th anniversary of the birth of the great thinker Hannah Arendt — Commemorative plaque — Prof. Dr. Rainer M. Holm-Hadulla reads from the correspondence between Hannah Arendt and Karl Jaspers

"Politics is about different people forming a community." This statement by Hannah Arendt (1906-1975) is as timeless as her thinking and its impact on society. The political scientist and philosopher was born on 14 October 100 years ago. But she would not have agreed with this designation. Ahrendt rigorously rejected the "stigma" of being a philosopher, seeing herself rather as a "political theorist". She once called her work "thinking without banisters".

Arendt studied in Heidelberg from 1926 to 1928, completing her doctoral dissertation under the supervision of her mentor Karl Jaspers. Her last Heidelberg address was No. 16 Schloßberg, where a plaque commemorating her birthday was unveiled yesterday, although only one wall is left standing of the house where she lived. At the same time this was the starter for four other events engaging with the works of the Jewish scholar. The Equal Opportunities Office of the city of Heidelberg, the Heinrich Böll Foundation of Baden-Württemberg and the German-American Institute (DAI) have declared their intention to make the citizens of Heidelberg more familiar with Arendt's thinking. But what Arendt's work instils in us more than anything else is the necessity to think for oneself. Her message is addressed to the enlightened citizens of democratic societies. She calls for action based on responsibility — both for oneself and others.

The first of these four events took place at the German-American Institute yesterday evening, with Professor Dr. Rainer M. Holm-Hadulla reading from the correspondence between Hannah Arendt and Karl Jaspers. The body of over 400 letters that have come down to us is one of the most impressive documents of the post-war era and at the same time the reflection of an unusual friendship.

After finishing her doctoral thesis Arendt began researching the problem of German-Jewish assimilation. The result — "Rahel Varnhagen. The Life of a Jewess" — is the subject of a lecture by Dr. Susanne Himmelheber at 8 p.m. on Tuesday, 17 October at her bookshop (Theaterstraße 16).

For Arendt the potential for action was invariably bound up with the ability to promise and to forgive. In her eyes forgiveness was a panacea against the irrevocability of what we have done, while promises were a remedy for the "chaotic uncertainty of everything the future holds". At 8 p.m. on Wednesday, 8 November, Mechthild Hetzel and Dr. Andreas Hetzel will be giving a talk entitled "A Way of Beginning — Hannah Arendt on Promising and Forgiving". The probably most controversial love-match of the 20th century is the subject of a talk by Prof. Dr. Antonia Grunenberg at 8 p.m. on Friday, 10 November on "Hannah Arendt and Martin Heidegger". The 18-year-old Jewish philosophy student first met the rebellious philosophy professor in Marburg in 1924. The result was a stormy love-affair. In 1933 Arendt was forced to flee from Nazi Germany, while Heidegger discovered his enthusiasm for the National Socialists. After the war they met once again, the beginning of an anything but conciliatory dialogue on a century of destruction.

These commemorative events are designed as an appeal to think for oneself. As Arendt once said: "Only those with a mind of their own have a chance of evading collusion with totalitarianism, whatever form it may take."

Please address any inquiries to Dr. Michael Schwarz Public Information Officer University of Heidelberg phone: 06221/542310, fax: 542317 michael.schwarz@rektorat.uni-heidelberg.de http://www.uni-heidelberg.de/presse

Please address any inquiries to:
Dr. Michael Schwarz
Press Officer of the University of Heidelberg
phone: 06221/542310, fax: 54317
michael.schwarz@rektorat.uni-heidelberg.de
http://www.uni-heidelberg.de/presse/index.html

Irene Thewalt
phone: 06221/542310, fax: 542317
presse@rektorat.uni-heidelberg.de


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