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Overcoming borders – Helmstedt University Days

Vier Personen diskutieren auf einem Podest auf den Helmstedter Universitätstagen (Copyright: Stadt Helmstedt)

Information: If you think of Helmstedt, you tend to think about history: particularly because this was the site of the most important border crossing point between the FRG and the GDR prior to reunification. The town has played a special role in analysing the history of Germany’s division ever since then and has created an important platform with the Helmstedter Universitätstagen (Helmstedt University Days).

At the Helmstedt University Days each year, renowned academics hold discussions, in dialogue with the public, on how borders in political reality and in people’s minds can be better overcome. We invite you to join us on a tour of discovery on which not only the Helmstedt university tradition, but also the ‘Grenzenlos' (No Borders) project comes to life.

A university with roots in the 17th century

Helmstedt’s Juleum gets a new lease on life in the autumn each year. This is when the former university building with the striking red facade is filled with academics and journalists from all over Germany and Europe. For two days, they gather here not only to talk about various developments in both German states, but also to generally focus on the question of how borders can be overcome and East and West brought together more effectively as part of lectures and discussion events. The researchers definitely don’t keep to themselves here, according to Professor Martin Sabrow, academic director of the Helmstedt University Days: ‘By organising this format, we want to contribute to making borders easier to cross: the borders between East and West, the borders between the political centre and political periphery, the borders between experts and the public.’

At the same time, the event series first introduced in 1995 picks up on Helmstedt’s 250-year tradition as a university town, which is demonstrated to this day by the magnificent main building and also the former university library. Many prominent figures such as former Dominican friar Giordano Bruno of Italy, spent time at the university founded in 1576 by Duke Julius, Prince of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel, which was the first Protestant alma mater in the northern half of Germany. Its reputation spread, causing Academia Julia to become the third largest university in the German-speaking world by the start of the 17th century.

Religion: does it bring peace or conflict?

Back in the present, Tobias Henkel, chairman of the Supervisory Board at the University Days, emphasises that the University Days would also like to serve as an important platform for debates about current political conflicts. ‘The Protestant and Catholic religious conflicts, which we are very familiar with from our history here in Helmstedt, make this place a very suitable one for people to discuss the question of the extent to which belief and religion contribute to reconciliation, but can also be the causes of violent conflicts.’

Besides academic debate, the Helmstedt University Days also contribute to the town’s cultural scene with an attractive range of related events. And the Student University Days give the younger genereation space to exhibit and present their own work and projects on political and historic issues in the foyer of the Juleum.

Helmstedt Juleum
The former university building with the striking red facade: Helmstedt Juleum. (Photo: Stadt Helmstedt)

Experience history live

In Helmstedt, the task of conveying history is considered important terms of looking back to the time of Germany’s division. To this end, the ‘Grenzenlos’ (No Borders) project offers a three and a half hour tour that takes its participants from the Helmstedt zonal border museum, over the border fortifications in Hötensleben, and to the Marienborn memorial. For this tour, valuable historic documents were combined with carefully researched background information to form a historic journey through the story of Germany’s division.

The Helmstedt University Days, which take place each year around the same time as the ‘Day of German Unity’, are considered an academic component of this project, which is unique thanks to its combination of tangible history and academic analysis. Both are definitely worth experiencing.

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