Once upon a time ...

“Teaching and Research Cannot Be Bound by National Barriers” – The Early Years of the International Office (IO)

This realization, which was put into words by the longtime head of the IO in the early 1970s, was expressed in the activities of individual departments even in the days of the Handelshochschule Mannheim (1907-1933): Since 1912, the regular excursions around Germany and abroad were regarded as indispensable for the education of the prospective merchants. Lecturers showed great dedication in carrying out these excursions in addition to their actual teaching tasks. For the same period of time, the oldest files of the University of Mannheim Archive contain information about a number of international students.  

Even in the post-war period, the cultivation of international student exchange at the newly named Wirtschaftshochschule Mannheim had to manage for a long time without its own operating resources and personnel. The head of the Institute of Geography, Prof. Ernst Plewe, who volunteered to supervise the international students in the 1950s, described himself as “houseboy to president, all in one person.” The scale of activities ranged from picking the students up at the train station to finding a room and helping them with enrollment to helping them settle into their new culture. The 1960s were then characterized by a growing number of international students, and student associations such as the African Student Union, the Association of Greek Students and Academics, and the Turkish Student Association were formed. In the winter semester 1964/65, 182 international students from 33 nations were enrolled (corresponding to 9% of the student body at that time), 128 of them from the European area, 51 from the Afro-Asian area, and 3 from the Americas. However, it was not until the university survey in 1967 that the work of the IO was professionalized by the appointment of Kurt-Friedrich Bohrer as managing director. Bohrer had already been involved in the International Office for several years at that point.  

In 1968, the University of Mannheim organized its first international summer course for 120 students from 21 countries. At the official reception for the foreign guests, the then Lord Mayor of Mannheim, Hans Reschke, described it as a “highlight of the university’s summer life.” In addition to the German courses held in the morning, excursions as well as visits to concerts and theaters were offered. These summer courses became firmly established in the university’s curriculum, and today’s summer school can certainly be traced back to them.

Text: Dr. Sandra Eichfelder / October 2022