Germany’s oldest university, officially known as the Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg, was founded in 1386. With an academic staff of 15,000 and 27,000 students, the university is historically centered around the Universitätsplatz, though its 12 faculties teaching 100 disciplines are scattered throughout the city and outskirts. The small University Museum honors the contributions of founder Ruprecht I of the Palantine (as a great swath of southwestern Germany was then known), who in 1386 wished to establish a center of learning and intellectualism within his holdings, and Karl Friedrich of Baden, who in 1803 helped revive and finance the flailing institution. Displays tout the university’s many distinctions and achievements, not the least of which is producing 55 Nobel Prize winners. One flight up is the Great Hall, a richly paneled and ornamented room installed for the university’s 500th anniversary in 1886. The huge painting of Athena, goddess of Wisdom, and ceiling frescoes honoring the disciplines of law, medicine, science, and philosophy could have been distracting when the Great Hall was used for lectures, though they provide a suitably lavish backdrop for university-related ceremonies now held here.
The museum and Great Hall share a building with the Student Jail at Augustinergasse 2.
On the ornately carved red sandstone façade of the University Library, on the corner of Plöck and Grabengasse, an image shows the god Prometheus, protector of mankind, pulling back the veil of knowledge—a good metaphor for what lies beyond the doors. Most treasured of the 3 million volumes is the Codex Manesse, an early 14th-century illustrated manuscript of courtly love songs; pages from a rare facsimile edition are on display in the foyer.
Among the university’s many academic holdings is the Prinzhorn Collection, a stash of more than 5,000 drawings, paintings, carving, and textile works by patients of Hans Prinzhorn, who practiced at the university’s esteemed psychiatric clinic in the 1920s and 30s. Prinzhorn was one of the first psychiatrists to use art as a way to help patients express their fears and relive traumatic experiences. Rotating exhibitions show pieces from the collection, which attracted the attention of Jean Dubuffet and many other European artists of the time. Works are displayed in a small gallery in the Psychiatric Clinic, Vosstrasse 2 (www.prinzhorn.uni-hd.de; 06221/564492); it’s open Tuesday to Sunday 11am to 5pm (Wednesdays until 8pm); admission is 2€.