What you want …

MOVE_Gebäudeplan Farbe_small The decision that several institutes of Göttingen University would room together from 1984 was not made at the spur of the moment. Building the new University Hospital began in 1969, and the first divisions moved in from 1976. In 1978, the Minister for Science and the Arts of Lower Saxony requested staff at the University to provide a list of staff members, which was duly sent. It is likely that the old Surgical Clinic was then already earmarked to receive "the Humanities". Colour-coded plans were drafted that indicated which institute was suggested for which part of the building.
Shortly afterwards, the departments were asked to compute how many rooms they would need. Providing a detailed list of divisions, staff positions and library spaces, the Department’s estimate ran to an impressive overall number of more than 70 rooms:

  • 57 offices for the various divisions and their staff,
  • five rooms for the management – which included space for the xerocopier and "the collation of materials", viz. cutting and sticking cut-outs together for master copies – ,
  • four rooms for the library staff (and for media equipment, meaning a microfiche reader and storage room for slides and records), not including the reading rooms,
  • some five seminar rooms, several small rooms for tutorials and exams,
  • and a somewhat unspecified number of rooms for socializing.

Rooms with "Erfrischungsmöglichkeiten", refreshment in the form of food and drinks (viz., a coffee machine, a kettle and a refrigerator, most likely) were expressly listed:

MOVE_Rooms list 01

The departmental board were looking after students and staff members, it seems (and of course they would sometimes have a cup of tea, too!). Just to be sure, the list contains a final cautionary note: "This list is based on an as-is state; if the rooms are to be allocated for a longer period of time, adjustments will have to be made." As a matter of fact, this was not empty talk; in the summer of 1984 one of the professors was granted additional funding for student assistants. This had not been reckoned with earlier, so another room was needed and requested.

… is not always what you get

There is no record of the Ministry's reaction to this – it is likely that there was none. In October 1980, apparently after some letters had been exchanged, the University's Office of Building and Structural Management (today's Gebäudemanagement) drafted a letter with a revised list of necessary rooms, noting that the English Department needed room for 57.000 books – calculated for the year 1990, fifteen years after the Great Move - , and a total of 50 offices, and that was that. (The German Department was to be allocated 60 offices.) The letter also provided the number of students in the departmental degree programmes (1250), but left open what consequences the Ministry was to draw from this. A comparison between the two lists shows a very different perception of what was necessary: When the Department drew up their list, they were very explicit about what uses the various offices were to have. They needed, or so they said, not only a professor's room, but also a "Vorzimmer" – which effectively translated into the secretary's office, but the terminology is interesting: "anteroom" - , plus separate rooms for student assistants and members of staff, and offices for computers and technical equipment. This is the list for the Medieval Studies division:
The Department's list
MOVE_Rooms list 02
The University's list
MOVE_Rooms list 03
By contrast, the University's list lumped types of rooms together, so that a total of five rooms for secretaries had to be provided, but none for the departmental management staff; rooms for technical equipment were scrapped. One reason for this was that by then a fourth institute, the Sprachwissenschaftliches Seminar or Department of General Linguistics, would also move into the building, which effectively reduced the number of rooms that could be given over to the English Department.

Allocatable and "not usable" rooms

The letters and memoranda that have survived show that the English Department politely but tenaciously fought for more rooms. One such room - which apparently has not survived - is the "Wachstation" located at the back of the staircase in the main tract (see image on the right). From its size it was probably not a recovery ward but rather a nurses' room, or a room for the night nurses. Other improvements were necessary, too. While the University's list had not listed a room for the library assistants doing front-desk services, the Department's clearly needed some kind of entrance supervision and petitioned for having construction work carried out to accommodate this. The infamous "aquarium" at the SEP library entrance dates from those days. The architect's sketch certainly looks quite attractive ... MOVE_Raumvergabe-Wachstation
MOVE_Sketch Aquarium_Thumbnail When the Department was first provided with site maps of what then still was the Surgical Clinic, many rooms were listed as "nicht nutzbar", as "unsuitable for use". The main reason for this appears to have been the room size; with often only four to six square metres, these rooms were unsuitable for any office use, or even for library storage, as the list below shows.


This was true especially for the rooms in what was euphemistically renamed "Sockelgeschoß", or foundational storey (a Sockel is a block of stone on which something is placed, such as a statue, or in architectural terms, the stone foundation for the upper levels) – in short, the basement. As a consequence, considerable rebuilding and restructuring had to be carried out to provide offices that could really be used. This was also true for rooms in the upper storeys, as the plan below shows: most of the rooms in today's literatures wing were to be halved.


Who goes where?

Once the new room sizes had been fixed, staff were asked to choose which rooms they would like to move in to. While the surviving memorandum seems to indicate that anyone could choose any room, other letters and notes show that some key decisions about the room allocation to the different divisions had already been made: The library was to move into the basement, best suited to their needs because of the proximity of the reading rooms. The literature divisions' offices were to be in the front wing, above the former Main Ward, while the linguists and medievalists shared the attic. The lectors – the largest group of staff, even though they were not counted as a separate division – were to be housed in the main, rear-end part of the building, above the library.


Coming to a decision about who would have which rooms seems to have been a very long drawn-out process. In late 1979 and early 1980, the Staatshochbauamt, the Ministry's office in charge of building and construction works, seems to have requested more than once to clearly and definitely name the future inhabitants. In answer to that, the departmental letters vaguely noted that "the individual allocation of rooms could not be effected yet", but at least provided a draft suggestion of which wings would be inhabited by which divisions. Not even this draft was uncontested, however. A letter from one staff member survives that requests – again very politely, but clearly showing raised hackles between the lines – not to be too hasty in carving up the wings.

Rooms, then and now

In spite of this, the arrangement was kept. Until today, the literature divisions are on the first floor of the front wing, and the Medieval Studies offices are located one storey higher. What changed, though, was the allocation of the lectors' and linguists' rooms. When, in 2001, the Chair of Linguistics went to Prof. Dr. Gert Webelhuth on the retirement of Prof. Dr. Thomas Gardner, he opted for changing rooms. Unlike his predecessor he preferred not to have an attic office but moved, with his assistants, to the main wing, ousting some of the lectors who then had to move to other rooms. By then, though, the number of lectors had dwindled drastically. In 1984, nine lectors were employed in teaching practical English language skills, while some of them also gave courses on aspects of English linguistics. In 2002, their number had gone down to six.

In other divisions, changes in staff numbers also took place. In 2004, the Linguistics division added a second professorship for Semantics to their number, and from 2005, a completely new division had to be accommodated with rooms: the English Department finally received a professorship for Teaching English as a Foreign Language. This resulted in a shifting and reshuffling of office space and room allocation, which still has repercussions today, and which is still not quite complete. Before the move in 1984, the Department wisely had planned for rooms to house research groups – these had not materialised. Today, research groups often have to find rooms outside the main departmental buildings. The major ERC project granted to Prof. Dr. Wilfrid Rudolf of the Medieval Studies division, for example, needs space for some 10 researchers, programmers and research assistants. Rooms had to be found elsewhere, so the project now resides in Heinrich-Düker-Weg 12.

Another problem the Department has to cope with as best as they can is the "unsuitability" of the rooms – with hindsight, the notes in the first site plans may have been prophetic. The buildings in the Altklinikumsbereich, the former University Hospital buildings, were erected in the late nineteenth century. In 1889, the Surgical Clinic moved into what is now the Jacob-Grimm-Haus. Much of the foundation of the building was built from red sandstone which keeps water like a sponge, and as was usual in the late nineteenth century, no action was taken to seal the bottom of the building against the wet coming up through the ground. The floor was covered by wooden planks, and later PVC coating was laid. As a consequence, some of the rooms especially in the library suffer from must, and sometimes more, sometimes less efficient precautions have to be taken against the spreading of mould. To remedy the situation, the floor of the building has to be sealed – resulting in major, and very costly, construction works. The University's budget unfortunately has not grown with the years. At present, no funding for such works is available.

Chairs, anyone? Or typewriters?
Rooms: To be continued ...

So far, only the distribution and allocation of rooms has been discussed. Readers might think that this was all to the logistics of room management before the Great Move. They would be wrong, though. Deciding who would occupy which room was only the beginning: some rooms had to be changed structurally, with getting new walls up or removing doors, and all rooms had to be furnished before the move could begin – but all of this provides more than enough material for a separate post …