A 650th Birthday Abounding with History


“Vivat! Crescat! Floriat!”

The University of Vienna is celebrating 650 years of her (“alma mater”) existence, one of the oldest universities in Europe.

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Rudolf IV (1339-65)

The portrait of Rudolfus – Archidux – Austrie (Archduke Rudolf IV of Austria), founder of the university Alma Mater Rudolphina, shows an ambitious man: he invented the depicted crown as well as the prefix “arch”: He was a simple duke like his father Albrecht II.

He also ordered the forging of the Privilegium maius ( “great letter of liberty”) to gain more influence in the Holy Roman Empire…He was hurt that the Duke of Austria did not belong to the seven Prince-Electors who had the power to choose the German king, who in addition was to be Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. Therefore he falsified the Privilegium minus (“small letter of liberty”), which was given in 1156 by the Emperor Friedrich Barbarossa (Frederick Barbarossa 1122 – 1190) and which included the elevation of the Bavarian frontier march of Austria to a duchy. He destroyed that document except for the imperial seal which was put under the forged document.

Emperor Karl IV (Charles IV 1316 – 1378) refused to confirm the Privilegium Maius because his advisor had recognized the forgery…Almost a hundred years later the Emperor Friedrich III (Frederick III 1415 – 1493), born at Innsbruck, confirmed the document.

“We put the questions. Since 1365.”

University of Vienna

And the university had men and women who gave the answers:

Philipp Semmelweis, the “savior of mothers”, who cut the incidence of puerperal fever by advising to use hand disinfection and the practice of washing with chlorinated lime solutions.

Charlotte Bühler (Buehler), her research and publications during her engagement at the University of Vienna led to the development of the “Viennese child psychology school”.

Konrad Lorenz: he shared the Nobel Prize in medicine with two other scientists and is regarded as one of the founders of modern ethology.

And of course Erwin Schrödinger (Schroedinger), who shared the Nobel Prize in physics with another scientist in developing a number of fundamental results in the field of quantum theory. His famous thought experiment from 1935 dealt with the problem of the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics. His scenario presents a cat which might be simultaneously both alive and dead.

The future Pope Pius II (1405 – 1464) taught literature at the University of Vienna during his work as royal secretary to Emperor Friedrich III, who crowned him poet laureate. Before becoming bishop of Trieste and later pope he served as a parish priest in Upper Austria.

Kurt Gödel (Goedel): You remember “Gödel, Escher, Bach – An Eternal Golden Braid” by Douglas R. Hofstadter – please do have a look again at this book. I do not dare to write anything about the work of Kurt Gödel…

There is indeed one question the university tries to answer: How did it act during the years between 1930 and 1945?

In 1965 – the 600-years-celebration – only a few notes were found among the documents and leaflets. The society was not really willing to discuss the participation of the university on behalf of the expulsion of Jewish teachers and students.

This has now changed. One of the main speakers of today’s celebration judges: “The University of Vienna has to understand itself much more a trailblazer of the NS than its victim.”

Right now there is a fine exhibition in the State Hall of the Austrian National Library. The shown precious objects include the portrait of Archduke Rudolf IV and the letter of foundation with Rudolf’s signature in his own hand…

Other Matters

The 7-foot-high and 117-foot-wide wall painting Beethoven Frieze, done by Gustav Klimt in 1902, will not be restituted.

This decision is final. The frieze will stay in Austria, in Vienna.

The representative of the community of heirs called it “a sensational wrong decision!”.

Meanwhile, you might buy the 100 Euro coin – The Secession Coin – minted in 2004, when you visit Vienna to have a pleasant memory…

Please do have a pleasant memory of me and the Pocket Vienna