Writing's on the wall for campus cell

February 17, 2006

Göttingen University in Germany is trying to raise €80,000 (£55,000) to save a series of damp, graffiti-lined rooms that once served as a campus prison, writes Clare Chapman.

The eight cells were built in 1837 after the closure of the original prison, which was erected 100 years previously but no longer had the capacity for all the university's offending students.

Until 1933, and the start of the Third Reich, the university had jurisdiction over its students and handed out sentences of up to 14 days for a long list of offences that included riding horses too fast in the streets, emptying chamber pots out of windows, rabble-rousing outside the houses of professors and laziness.

The cells were sparsely furnished, containing only beds with thin straw mattresses and wooden tables that allowed the students to keep up with their studies while behind bars.

Poet and writer Heinrich Heine and Jewish-born philosopher Edith Stein, who died in Auschwitz in 1942, were both incarcerated in the prison.

Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, the founder of modern-day Germany, was also locked up for 18 days in the original cells.

The university is trying to save this piece of history, along with the pictures and poetry that are scribbled over every inch of the walls.

Over the years, the cell walls have become scratched and damp and the graffiti is fading.

In the past, the cells were also used to store some of the university's archives. But the team behind the restoration campaign has now arranged for the archives to be transferred to a different part of the university with the aim of turning the cells into a tourist attraction.

Bernd Hackstette, spokesman for the campaign to raise funds to restore the building, said: "The walls of the cells hold centuries of university tradition and history.

"Although the prison is one of the best preserved in Germany's universities, it is becoming irreparably damaged and urgently needs restoring," he said. "It would be a crime to let the cells rot without doing anything to save them," Mr Hackstette said.

Campaigners want people to "sponsor" part of the prison, founded in 1737 by British King George II, who was also the Duke of Hanover.

Sponsors can adopt a square metre of the cells for €200 or an entire cell for €8,000.

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