Business matters recently led me to the University of  Göttingen, highest ranked university in Germany (Times Higher Education ranking place 43 in 2010/11), and only University in Germany named after a British monarch (Georg-August-Universität Göttingen, after George II of Great Britain). I whiled away a lengthy train trip by reading up on the history of Göttingen in Wikipedia (to which I can add some original research pursued during a bicycle trip of 800 km from south to north of Germany, just so you can admire me). What I found was a tale of glory mixed with abounding bitterness.

Stemming both from a little Saxonian village and an Ottonian Imperial Palace, the city apparently tried very hard to achieve the independency of a free imperial city, yet failed. This might have served it better than it thought, for, initially impervious to the Lutheran revolt, its ‘new wool weavers’, a progressive lot, coupled political strivings with adherence to Lutheranism and brought down a longer-ranging wrangle in their favour, protestant preaching being allowed in the Göttingen churches at last. Still, this might not have been a sustainable development, for Eric I, Prince of Calenberg, while dependent on the wealth of the city, was an adherent of the Old Faith. Unfortunately, he was also very tolerant (one feels tempted to say: ptui!) of the conversion to Lutheranism of his 25-year junior wife, Elizabeth of Brandenburg. This spirited lady managed to pretty much hold the reins during the regency of her son, Eric II, 12 years old when his father died. Apparently really convinced of the truth of Protestantism, she seems not to have been motivated by greed, because – quite uniquely, poor little historically illiterate me thinks – she put all monastery wealth into a trust that still exists today, serving the upkeep of churches and caritative purposes only. As a result, a number of Lutheran monasteries exist up to this date in Lower Saxony. *

Yet, everything might have turned out well. Eric II, in a way quite a failure of maternal expectations, went abroad, broadened his mind, and returned a Catholic. In his attempts to reverse his mother’s reformatory exertions, he was unfortunately, again, hampered by financial considerations. Hindsight teaches that the Göttingen Bürgerschaft quite lost power afterwards, what with the pest, and the Thirty-Years-War, and all that, so that a Duke might have brought the thing round to Catholicism after all.  However, Eric II.’s decendents failed to reproduce sufficiently, so that the whole area fell to Protestant Principality of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel.

The Thirty-Years-War, however atrocious, might still have helped Göttingen in the end. Conquered by Tilly for the Catholics in 1626, it was re-conquered by the Protestants in 1631, and remained thus (alas for anyone on a business trip looking for weekday Mass). The Principality rose to an Electorate in 1692; in 1714 the Prince-Elector became King of Great Britain;  his son, George II., decided that it was a bit pathetic for his Hannoverian lands not to have a single university, and founded that of Göttingen in 1737, into which three of his grandsons were immatriculated. The university was an immediate European success, but suffered somewhat form successive restrictive governments, against which it put up some spirited protest. A duel between students on 22. April 1766, resulting in the death of one combatant, became the cause of the technical re-organisation of the whole student duelling business in Central Europe (little hint towards a continuation of the Bodis Riper, at the behest of my inner child).

Bla, bla, revolutions, decline; being fed up with the Hanoverians and quite placidly welcoming the news of becoming Prussians, and an extremely bad chapter of history: a university town with a total of 40 Nobel Price winners – had an absolute majority for the National Socialists in the July 1932 (not! 1933 elections) , and an apparently pretty enthusiastic burning of ‘un-German’ books headed by the Rector. Only to a small extent justice has been done, as the university has shot itself quite in the own foot, for the most renowned scientists were Jewish, and found better places abroad.

* I visited one of those ‘Lutheran Monestaries’, in Marienberg. Originally following the Cistercian rule, its observance had quite declined by the beginning of the 16th century, or so. By a bitter irony, reform, in the true sense of the word, seems to have succeeded there shortly after, the Liturgy of the Hours and common meals, plus other stuff, being restored. Comes Elizabeth with her pious Protestantism, abolishing all and sundry on evangelical grounds, but not those two items. A hundred years or so, both are gone. What remains are noble women, or rich bourgeoise ones, living on state expanses in a comfortable life style together with their mothers and sisters, reading the odd devotional book, going to church together on Sunday, and that’s it.