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Federal President Visits Heidelberg and the University

7 February 2007

Horst Köhler in the Great Hall of the Old University — Federal President informed about plans to extend the College of Jewish Studies — Rector Hommelhoff: "The University of Heidelberg watches over its little sister with affectionate care" — New biography of Friedrich Ebert — Support for Sinti and Roma

Heavy rain accompanied Federal President Horst Köhler on his visit to Heidelberg today. The near 5-hour programme began on the premises of the College of Jewish Studies in the Landfriedstraße.

Here the eminent visitor from Berlin, accompanied by Baden-Württemberg's higher education minister Prof. Dr. Peter Frankenberg, was welcomed by the director of the College, Prof. Dr. Alfred Bodenheimer, and the vice-president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Prof. Dr. Salomon Korn. Horst Köhler inspected the library and the plans for an extension of the College.

The proposal submitted by the Heidelberg architects Hansjörg Maier & Partners provides for a two- to three-storey extension on the Plöck side of the present site. The aim of the extension is to assemble all the College's institutions in one location. At present they are spread out at four different points in the city. The existing building will then house offices for the Rector and the teaching staff, while the extension will accommodate lecture halls, the student secretariat and the administration. A student refectory is also planned, in a historical vaulted basement to be integrated into the extension.

As these new premises are still in the planning stage, the encounter between the Federal President and teaching staff and students took place in the Great Hall of the Old University. Members of the University and public figures from the city of Heidelberg were also in attendance.

A unique institution

Outside the Old University the Federal President was welcomed by the city's CEO Dr. Eckart Würzner and University Rector Prof. Dr. Peter Hommelhoff, who accompanied him first of all to the Bel Etage of the Old University. Here Horst Köhler entered his name in the Golden Book of the City of Heidelberg and the Guest Book of the University. In the Great Hall he confessed that, though he had been to Heidelberg on various occasions, he had never been "in this magnificent hall. This is an omission I am very glad to rectify today."

The Federal President referred to the College of Jewish Studies, established by the Central Council of Jews in Germany in 1979, as a unique institution that Germany was rightly proud of. He saw it as embodying both hope for the future and mourning for the past, as it made clear what had been destroyed by National Socialism. Many of the students at the Colege are not Jewish themselves, which Horst Köhler interpreted as a sign of major interest in Judaism and Jewish culture.

In the podium discussion with students Stephanie Appel and Vladislav Mitushenko the President expressed his gratification at the arrival of Jewish people from the countries of the former Soviet Union, regarding this as an indication that they would like to live in Germany. He hoped that at some stage in the future they would say: "I am of the Jewish faith but I am German."

Concluding the event in the Great Hall, Professor Hommelhoff referred to the establishment of the College of Jewish Studies as a sign of great trust and assured the audience that "the University of Heidelberg watches over its little sister with affectionate care." He hoped that he would soon be able to welcome the Federal President to the University itself.

Tribute to Friedrich Ebert

During his visit to the memorial site in honour of former President of the Reich Friedrich Ebert, Horst Köhler said that his great predecessor looked over his shoulder not only here but also in his Berlin offices in Bellevue Castle. In Heidelberg he was welcomed by the managing director of the Ebert memorial site Ulrich Graf and the chairman of the board of directors of the foundation Jan Hoesch, who informed the President about the tasks of the foundation and the memorial site.

Chief among them, said Hoesch, are the presentation of the biography of Friedrich Ebert and his significance for the Weimar Republic with a view to "communicating the value of democracy to visitors and above all to younger people." He described the research work done by the memorial institution as largely dedicated to the period of the Weimar Republic.

Horst Köhler emphasised that he was glad to come to the memorial site to pay tribute to Friedrich Ebert in his native city. A further reason for his visit was to receive a copy of the latest Ebert biography. Its author Dr. Walter Mühlhausen, a member of the academic staff of the foundation, was on hand to present the weighty work (1,060 pages) to the President. Subsequently the Federal President, minister Frankenberg and CEO Würzner entered their names in the guest book of the memorial site.

Federal President of the Sinti and Roma

Horst Köhler gave two reasons for his visit to the Documentation and Culture Centre of the German Sinti and Roma. One was that this was an important memorial site, the other that as German Federal President he was also the Federal President of the Sinti and Roma. Horst Köhler was welcomed in the courtyard of the Documentation Centre by members of the Central Council of German Sinti and Roma and its chairman Romani Rose.

Rose accompanied his guest on an inspection of the permanent exhibition on the Nazi genocide of Sinti and Roma. Subsequently Horst Köhler said: "Here the whole dimension of the criminal mentality of National Socialism becomes apparent."

The Documentation and Culture Centre has been in existence for 10 years, the Central Council was established almost exactly 25 years ago. Both institutions, said Romani Rose, had contributed to the spread of knowledge about the Sinti and Roma. He pointed out that members of this minority were exposed almost daily to neo-Nazi attacks and state-organised repression, notably in the new EU member states in eastern Europe.

Accordingly, the Central Council of German Sinti and Roma advocates an EU guideline against the discrimination of Sinti and Roma. The Federal President declare his support for this intention. He saw it as self-evident that the German Sinti and Roma should feel responsible for the whole of Europe. "Where else are impulses of this kind to be expected, if not from Germany?" he added.

At the conclusion of his visit the Federal President was presented with the memorial volume on the Sinti and Roma exterminated by the Nazis and a book of views of Heidelberg from CEO Dr. Würzner.

Jürgen Brose

Please address any inquiries to:
Dr. Michael Schwarz
Press Officer of the University of Heidelberg
phone: 06221/542310, fax: 54317

Editor: Email
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