University history

Goethe University was founded in 1914

Goethe University was founded in 1914 as a unique “citizens’ university,” financed by wealthy citizens in Frankfurt, Germany. Named in 1932 after one of the city’s most famous natives, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, today the university has over 48,000 students. The following time line of Goethe University’s history highlights some of the major turning points and milestones from its beginning through the present day. 


With a student enrolment of over 48,000, Goethe University is the third largest university in Germany. In the 2019 Shanghai academic ranking of world universities, it ranks among the top 100-150, and among the top 5-7 within Germany.


Goethe University astrophysicists contribute to the first image of a black hole, the breakthrough scientific achievement announced by the Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration in April 2019. Simulations carried out by the team headed by Professor Luciano Rezzolla using supercomputers were fundamental for the interpretation of the results.


German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier visits Goethe University in September 2018 on the occasion of the German Association for Political Science (DVPW) congress “The Limits of Democracy." In his half-hour talk he recognises the important role Goethe University has played historically in the social sciences, and encourages more active involvement of political scientists in public debates.


France's President Emmanual Macron visits the Goethe University and discusses his vision for Europe with Daniel Cohn-Bendit, Gilles Kepel and Goethe University students.

More from 2017: 2017 Report


Formation of the Rhine-Main University Alliance: Goethe University, Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz and Technische Universität Darmstadt form a strategic alliance, collaborating in research, teaching, continuing education and the exchange of ideas.

More from 2015: 2015 Report (German)


Goethe University celebrates its 100th anniversary. The centenary celebration programme covering the whole year featured more than 100 events. Official ceremonies included the Mayor's New Year reception for Goethe University, and the official centenary ceremony with Federal President Joachim Gauck in the Paulskirche on 18 October 2014. This was followed in the evening by large celebrations on Campus Westend and ended with a magnificent firework display.

More from 2014: 2014 Report


The development of the Westend Campus and the biggest relocation in the university's history are largely complete. The Minister President of the State of Hesse, Volker Bouffier, and University President Prof. Müller-Esterl, ceremonially open the new buildings of the Faculties of Psychology, Educational Science, and Social Sciences (PEG) as well as the Governing Board and the Administration (PA) on Campus Westend.

In addition to university buildings, the House of Finance and the Max Planck Institute for European Legal History are also located on the campus.

More from 2013: 2013 Report


The German Research Foundation (DFG) renews its support for the Clusters of Excellence “The Formation of Normative Orders”, “Cardiopulmonary System”, and “Macromolecular Complexes”. This means a further 75 million euros will have been invested in top university research by 2017. 

The philosopher Prof. Rainer Forst, co-spokesperson for the Cluster of Excellence “The Formation of Normative Orders”, is awarded the Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz prize, endowed with 2.5 million euros, by the German Research Foundation (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft – DFG).

More from 2012: 2012 Report


The Dalai Lama speaks to 200 invited guests in the auditorium on the Bockenheim Campus and has over 2,500 online viewers watching the live stream provided by the university computer centre. Goethe University is placed among the world's top 100 universities in the Shanghai rankings for the first time and comes in sixth place among German universities.

More from 2011: 2011 Report


The Haus der Stille (House of Peace) opens on Westend Campus as a place of retreat at GU where members of all religions and cultures can meet to pray, meditate, and spend a moment of silence together.

More from 2010: 2010 Report


GRADE, the Goethe Graduate Academy, takes up work with an aim to improve the education and research conditions for junior researchers in the natural and life sciences. In the following year the senate decides that GRADE is to become a platform for doctoral candidates from all departments at Goethe University.

More from 2009: 2009 Report


Return to the legal form Stiftungsuniversität: university foundation under public law. Goethe University enjoys greater autonomy and the ability to generate income through endowment funds.

More from 2008: 2008 Report


Goethe University procures three Clusters of Excellence: “Macromolecular Complexes”, “The Formation of Normative Orders”, and “Cardiopulmonary System” (together with the Gießen University). All three are extended by another support period in 2012.

More from 2006: 2006-2007 Report (German)


The Frankfurt Institute for Advanced Studies (FIAS) is inaugurated. The independent research institution serves as a superstructure for basic research, bringing together theorists from the disciplines of biology, chemistry, neuroscience, physics, and computer science.


Goethe University wins a commitment of €1.2 billion from the state of Hessen to create the three campus concept by 2014: Westend (new main campus), Riedberg (natural sciences), and Niederrad (medicine).

1980s and 1990s

The university expands to two new locations: Riedberg Campus (natural sciences) and Westend Campus (humanities). Pictured here: the Biocentre at the Riedberg Campus.


A new Hessen-wide university law provides the student body with a stronger voice in university governance, including rights of co-determination in university matters. 

Groundbreaking for the new Institute for Chemistry at a location northwest of Frankfurt (completed in 1972).


Student protests break out at Goethe University following the attempted assassination of Rudi Dutschke and his call to exert “pressure on the imperialistic USA". The Socialist German Student Union occupies the university. Prominent thinkers of the Frankfurt School become their intellectual role models, albeit partly unwillingly. When the Institute of Social Research is occupied by students in 1969, Adorno has them evacuated by the police.

Image: UAF Abt. 850 Nr. 576


The state of Hesse takes over university funding. The city of Frankfurt had not been able to carry its half of the costs since 1965.

3000 students gather in the summer of 1967 to demonstrate their solidarity with the student Benno Ohnesorge who was shot and killed in Berlin.


With Max Horkheimer, Theodor Adorno and Friedrich Pollock back in Frankfurt, the Institute for Social Research reopens. Other scientists and scholars also return to Goethe University from exile, such as the economist Fritz Neumark, the biophysicist Friedrich Dessauer, and the physician Oscar Gans.

Image: Max Horkheimer. UAF Abt. 854 Nr. 2115


The university reopens after the end of World War II. The first elected rector is Walter Hallstein. In 1958, he became the first president of the European Commission.

Image: Walter Hallstein. UAF Abt. 854 Nr. 488

25. April 1945

The new rector George Hohmann begins the process of denazification which lasts for over a year. Many former professors are in exile, others are prisoners of war or missing.

18. March 1944

Heavy bombing in the night damages or completely destroys numerous university institutes. The university hospital is hit by over 800 firebombs.

Image: UAF Abt. 850 Nr. 898

1. September 1939

Closure of all German universities due to the outbreak of war. Lectures resume in Frankfurt on 8 January 1940, but the university closes in the afternoons due to massive coal shortages.


A new institute for “Genetics and Racial Hygiene”, headed by Ottmar von Verscheurs, is founded; Ernst Mengele also works here.


109 of 355 teachers are dismissed following the National Socialist Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service on the grounds that they are “jüdisch versippt” – closely related to Jews. Another 16 are dismissed for political reasons. With their exclusion, the university’s open and liberal climate of reform is extinguished. On March 5, the National Socialist Rector Ernst Krieck raises the red swastika flag on campus; it is followed five days later with the Frankfurt book burning.


The university is officially renamed Johann von Goethe-Universität.


The Institute for Social Research, from which the “Frankfurt School” will develop after 1945, is founded. Max Horkheimer becomes its director in 1930.


The foundation capital, which was predominantly invested in war bonds, is almost completely devaluated. Together, the city of Frankfurt and the Prussian State assume funding for the university.


Finding itself in financial difficulties due to war, the university is awarded a larger grant by the city of Frankfurt. The Akademie für Arbeit (Work Academy), is founded to act as an agent for career development and general education.

18. October 1914

Because of the war, the university opens with a simple speech by the rector Richard Wachsmuth to professors and students in the auditorium and “quietly" takes up its teaching programme.

Image: UAF Abt. 850 Nr. 40

16. October 1914

First enrollment. 618 students are registered, including 100 women. 377 guest listeners also sign up.

28. September 1912

The foundation contract for the “Königliche Universität zu Frankfurt am Main" (Royal University at Frankfurt on the Main) is signed at the Römer, Frankfurt's town hall. Royal permission is granted on 10 June 1914. Several scientific facilities are incorporated into the newly founded Frankfurt University: the Institute of Common Weal, the Academy for Social and Trade Sciences, the Institute of the Dr Senckenberg Foundation and the scientific associations proceeding from it - the Senckenberg Naturforschung Gesellschaft and Physics Union, Ludwig Edinger's Neurological Institute, the Carolinum Foundation. In addition to the traditional faculties for medicine, law, and philosophy, independent faculties for economics and social sciences, and for natural sciences exist. There is no faculty for theology.

1911 - 1914

Members of the Jewish citizenry including the patrons Georg and Franziska Speyer, Wilhelm Merton, and the industrialists Leo Gans and Arthur von Weinberg donate two thirds of the foundation capital. Anyone who contributes more than half a million marks receives a vote in the university’s Great Council. In the spring of 1913, the foundation capital amounts to 14,594,266 gold marks. An additional three million marks come from previous testamentary contributions. From the very beginning, the university has the reputation of being the “most modern and well-funded” university in Germany.


Franz Adickes becomes mayor of the city Frankfurt am Main. Over the next two decades, with the support of the entrepreneur Wilhelm Merton, he is the driving force behind the foundation of a university in Frankfurt.

Image: Adickes and Merton. UAF Abt. 850 Nr. 1052