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History of the faculty



When the university was founded in 1388 as the fourth university in the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation (after Prague 1348, Vienna 1365 and Heidelberg 1386), it represented a speciality: It was not a pope, an emperor or a sovereign who brought it into being, but an urban citizenship. The Faculty of Law also had an innovation: it was the first German faculty to teach not only canonical law but also Roman law. In the centre of the teaching were thus both sources of law, which were used in the Middle Ages for the solution of legal cases, namely the "canones" of the church and the "leges" of the Corpus juris civilis. In terms of its requirements (Faculty Statutes of 23 March 1398), its teaching staff and the number of its students, the faculty for a long time occupied a leading position in Germany. Already the start was impressive: 166 lawyers enrolled in 1389. Among them were eleven professors, two of whom were doctors of both rights (the "canones" and the "leges"), four canonists and five legists. In the period from 1389 to 1500 165 teachers of law can be proved. We cannot find comparable figures at any other law faculty. In the first century only about a quarter of the students came from the Cologne region, the majority from the wider surroundings, especially from the Utrecht and Liège area. With the increasing national and later denominational separation and the growing number of competing university foundations (Löwen 1426, Tier 1454, Mainz 1476, Leiden 1575, Utrecht 1636, Bonn 1786), the attraction of Cologne certainly declined.

Probably the most famous lawyer who ever taught at the Faculty of Law in Cologne was Nikolaus von Kues, or Cusanus (1401 - 1464). He joined the faculty in 1425. In 1426 he participated with numerous other lawyers in an expert opinion on the duty-free status of Bacharach parish wine on the Rhine. He became known to his contemporaries through his diplomatic work in the service of the Church in the creation of the temporary agreement with the Eastern Church and, above all, during the Imperial and Church Reform of the Council of Basel (1431 - 1449). His philosophical writings, whose main work is called "Of learned ignorance" (de docta ignorantia, 1440), had a lasting effect. In 1491 Hermann Siegfried Sinnema was the first professor in Germany to give a lecture on public law, dealing in particular with the Golden Bull. However, a chair for public law was not established until 1726. Petrus Ravennas (from 1506) can be regarded as a typical representative of legal humanism. Johannes Oldendorp (from 1538) showed first natural-law approaches in his thoughts about "law and equity". Andreas Gail (from 1555) finally used his experience as a scholar and as a member of the Reichshofrat and Reichskammergericht to establish a new jurisprudential direction that wanted to combine theory and practice (Kameraljurisprudenz). The activities of Petrus Ostermann (from 1626), who advocated witch trials, were detrimental to Cologne's reputation. The Cologne professors' turn to practice was also evident early on in their extensive activities as experts. The first known expert opinion dates from the year 1398. In 1528 the Cologne faculty refused - despite the high salary which was in prospect - to prepare a commissioned expert opinion in the divorce affair of King Henry VIII of England. Very often the professors of law were active in the affairs of the city. Of the large number of students, only three are worth mentioning: Konrad von Heresbach, who studied in Cologne from 1512, became an important lawyer in the service of the lords of Kleve and Jülich-Berg. Dionysius Gothofredus, a pupil of Betzdorp and Gail, became a renowned professor at the University of Heidelberg. Heinrich Gottfried Wilhelm Daniels (1754 - 1827) worked as a lawyer in three eras: he was a professor at the Electoral University in Bonn, under Napoleon he worked as a procurator at the courts of cassation in Paris and in Brussels, under Prussian rule he became chief president of the Rhineland Court of Appeal in Cologne. With the dissolution of the university ordered by Napoleon on 28 April 1798, the Faculty of Law also perished. In 1818 Bonn won the competition to found a new university in the Prussian Rhine Province. It was not until 1919 that the second Cologne University was founded. In the winter semester of 1919/20, the Faculty of Law was able to reopen teaching with 255 registered students. When it was founded for the second time, the faculty had five full professors: A. von Thur, F. Stier-Somlo, H. Lehmann, H. Planitz and G. J. Ebers. In 1920, A. Baumgarten joined the firm as a criminal lawyer. Labour law, commercial law and business law were particularly emphasised at the young faculty: H. C. Nipperdey soon rendered great services in this area alongside Lehmann. During the first two decades, special emphasis was placed on H. Planitz in legal history, G. Bohne in the Criminal Science Institute and H. Jahrreiß in international law. In 1929 Hans Kelsen, one of the most famous constitutional lawyers of the 20th century, joined the faculty.


The faculty's relationship to National Socialism was not clear. Hans Kelsen was already granted leave of absence in 1933 for "non-Aryan descent" and emigrated via Geneva and Prague to the USA. In 1934 and 1935, for the same reason, Hans Walter Goldschmidt and Franz Haymann, professor of Roman law and civil law, were forced to emigrate. For political reasons, the same fate befell the former rector and church law expert Godehard Josef Ebers and the constitutional law expert Ludwig Waldecker in 1935. Under Dean Nipperdey, the faculty did not support these proceedings, but was particularly committed to the whereabouts of Kelsen and Haymann. At the same time, attempts were made to prevent the politically demanded habilitation of a dedicated National Socialist such as Klemens August Schmelzeisen. With the well-known constitutional lawyer Carl Schmitt and the later rector of the "Stoßtruppfakultät Breslau" Gustav Adolf Walz, prominent National Socialists taught for a short time in Cologne. Nipperdey and Lehmann also assumed leading positions in the National Socialist Academy for German Law. Their contributions, however, remained politically moderate.


The development of the Faculty of Law since 1945 has been characterised by openness, for more students, for new subjects, for practice, for foreign relations, and more recently also for various courses of study. The faculty, which was re-established in 1920, was not a closed society, did not sit in an ivory tower, but saw itself as modern, open-minded and close to life. All this has intensified considerably since 1945. Among the students of the Faculty of Law, statistics show a steady increase since 1945. In the winter semester 1972/73 there were more than 3000 for the first time. In the winter semester 1982/83 the 6000 were exceeded. Thus the high point was reached. In the winter semester 2019/20 a total of 5733 students were enrolled in the faculty. There were 4939 students enrolled whose goal is the 1st (state) examination. The number of female students has risen since 1945 and exceeded that of male students for the first time in the winter semester 2006/2007. The number of doctorates was already high after the re-establishment of the faculty, and this continued after 1945. It has now settled down at around 70 doctorates per year. The proportion of women also rose here, but still lags behind that of men. The number of university professors has also risen continuously since 1945 and was 38 in 2019, with a still low proportion of women of 6. In addition, there are numerous outstanding practitioners who take part in teaching. A characteristic feature of the faculty from the very beginning was the large number of institutes for individual subjects, which enable a lasting, mutually fruitful connection between the academic field (professors, staff and students) and practice. Many of these institutes were and are pioneers in their field. Even before 1945, the Institutes for Labour and Economic Law (since 1920, i.e. from the very beginning) had already existed criminal sciences, international law and foreign public law, canon law and the history of Rhenish canon law, insurance law and tax law. After 1945, until 1986, the Seminar for Philosophy of State and Legal Policy and the Institutes for Housing Law, International and Foreign Private Law, Air and Space Law, Banking Law, Roman Law, Public Law and Administration, Law of the European Communities, Social Law, Modern History of Private Law, Energy Law, Eastern European Law, Procedural Law, Broadcasting Law and Constitutional Law were added. To this day, the Faculty promotes and accompanies current legal developments by establishing new institutes. Among the professors and institute directors of the faculty there have been and still are great names. Karl Carstens, Federal President from 1979 to 1984, the first director of the Institute for the Law of the European Communities, founded in 1960, and Hans Carl Nipperdey, the first President of the Federal Labour Court and director of the Institute for Labour and Economic Law, became well-known far beyond the faculty. Both remained associated with the faculty in many ways, even in their high offices. The professors' and students' solidarity with their city and university is also great in other respects. Once Cologne - always Cologne, for the students it is at least until the end of their studies. Academic teaching is traditionally related to the final examination, formerly the "Staatsexamen" (state examination), now the "erste Prüfung" (first examination). Only recently has a change begun to emerge through the creation of additional courses of study, some of which are offered in conjunction with the Faculty of Philosophy. The establishment of a university focus area examination as part of the first examination has already strengthened the possibilities and the obligation to specialise during the course of study. The formation of many focal points in the faculty corresponds to its traditional versatility, which is expressed in the large number of its institutes. On the other hand, the Faculty has never overlooked the fact that the centrifugal forces of the individual subjects can only be held together by common traditions and convictions, as they are particularly cultivated in the Institutes of History of Law and Philosophy of State. Consequently, the Faculty plans to expand in both directions, to new subjects, but also to strengthen the foundations.

Note for all those who would like to know more:
Detailed statistics on students, teaching staff, doctorates and academic institutions at the university from 1919 to the winter semester of 1986/1987 can be found in Volume III of Cologne University History, published in 1988 on the occasion of the 600th anniversary of the university (traditionally the university celebrates its first foundation in 1388 more strongly than its re-establishment in 1919).  On this occasion a commemorative volume of the Faculty of Law with characteristic contributions of its former professors has been published. In addition, the history of the faculty was illuminated in greater depth in the work "Die neue Kölner Rechtswissenschaftliche Fakultät von 1919 bis 1950" (The New Cologne Law Faculty from 1919 to 1950) by Professor Hans-Jürgen Becker, published in 2021.