Göttingen: Stadt, die Wissen schafft

I’d be remiss not to say a few words about Göttingen, the lovely university town where I spent the past few days for a Fulbright orientation. The orientation itself was mostly a practical information overload (what kind of insurance to get, how to register my address with the authorities, etc.). But the city deserves a brief discussion. Why?

– Cause it was home to lots of important people. Two of them were the Brothers Grimm. We in America know them for their fairy tales, but they’re also credited with founding the field of Germanistik (the integrated study of German language, literature, and history), and they undertook to create the first German dictionary (they made it through the letter E). And they’re among the Göttingen Seven, who protested the authoritarian new king of Hannover (which ruled Göttingen) and were banished as a result. Cool dudes.

– Cause it’s pretty. I wish I had more photos to share with you, but here’s the famous Gänseliesel, whose statue in the town square all PhD recipients are supposed to kiss:

– Cause there were lots of duels. Particularly among students. This irritated the administration to no end. The university started expelling students who dueled (and there were quite a few, since dueling was a major element of the proto-fraternities that dominated life in Göttingen), but there was still the nasty problem of seconds, the fellows who aided and abetted the duelists by bring their guns and lending moral support. So the university created holding cells to lock up the seconds (and other delinquents) for up to a few weeks at a time. One chronic inmate was young Otto von Bismarck, who spent much of his three semesters at Göttingen locked up, before finally calling it quits (and, you know, going on to unite the German states and defeat the French and all that). Anyway, these holding cells haven’t been in use for a hundred years, but the university has preserved them. They’re covered in graffiti from the turn of the century, and earlier:

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