Skip to content
Back to News

The long, deep ties between Harvard and Germany

May 22, 2019

The long, deep ties between Harvard and Germany

May 22, 2019
in Harvard Gazette

In 1971, Guido Goldman, founding director of the Minda de Gunzburg Center for European Studies (CES), walked into a meeting with West Germany’s then-finance minister, Alex Möller, hoping for a gift to help support the center. He left with a sweeping offer that he couldn’t have imagined.

“I was kind of blown away,” said Goldman, recalling that meeting. He had envisioned a $2 million gift to the center, then known as the Western European Studies program, as a way for Germany to say thanks for the aid that the U.S. had given it in the years following the world wars. “I said to the finance minister, ‘It’s just my feeling that Germany should say thank you for all this assistance,’” Goldman said. “After I made my little speech in German — because he spoke no English — he said, ‘I completely agree with you, and we will do it, and you will help us design [the initiative].’”

Goldman, astonished, inquired, “Could you tell me in what dimensions of financing you have in mind?” Möller replied, “‘I have in mind a gift of 250 million marks’ — which was $65 million.” In the end, $1 million of the gift went to the CES and the rest became the German Marshall Fund of the U.S., one of the most important trans-Atlantic organizations.

Yet the moment between Goldman and Möller was just another part of the longstanding history of connections between Harvard and Germany.

In the latest of these links, German Chancellor Angela Merkel will soon be the principal speaker at Harvard’s 368th Commencement, the fourth postwar German chancellor to do so. She’ll also receive an honorary degree from the University, as have five chancellors before her: Konrad Adenauer (1955), Willy Brandt (1963), Ludwig Erhard (1965), Helmut Schmidt (1979), and Helmut Kohl (1990). German President Richard von Weizsäcker was the speaker in 1987.

In advance of Merkel’s visit, the Gazette surveyed a number of key developments between Germany and Harvard during the 19th and 20th centuries, which ultimately speak to efforts in U.S., German, and European history to encourage trans-Atlantic relations and academic study. The connections have included art collections, fellowships and scholarship programs for German students and professionals to study at Harvard, and research and study-abroad opportunities for Harvard students and faculty to travel to Germany.