The Francke Foundations - unique in the European context of the early modern period

The Francke Foundations are an impressive collection of buildings, whose historical heart came into being in less than one generation around the Linden Courtyard. However, they also form a building of thought, whose fundamental idea can today still captivate a good 300 years after its construction.
The religious school town, which August Hermann Francke (1663-1728) began in 1698 with an electoral privilege, was quickly considered by contemporaries to be the "New Jerusalem". It was the Pietist piety and the progressive pedagogy which created such an impression then. Francke's facilities consisted of an orphanage, a school system with many branches and scientific institutes. Additionally there were economic enterprises and agricultural lands. Francke succeeded in countering the social problems of his time with a widely admired example of Christian charity.

Stich-Gesamtansicht FS 3

Life in the School Town

Historischer Backofen  The institutions were consciously designed as an autonomous universe. Sheltered from the harmful influences of the environment, the school town provided pupils with a new, well-organised home from home. Medical care was provided in the Foundations´ own hospital. Large kitchens, bakeries and breweries, a field garden and large agricultural estates outside the city of Halle made the institutions self-sufficient. The foundation estate Stichelsdorf, which was returned to the Francke Foundations in 2001, is now used for agricultural production and an ecological education programme. The orphanage apothecary, bookshop and printing press, all founded as commercial institutions by Francke to finance his charitable activities, still exist today, although they are now separate private businesses.

The Educational Concept

Museumsnacht 2009_Illumination Waisenhaus

When August Hermann Francke founded the orphanage in 1695, he also set up a charity school for poor children. Shortly afterwards, he established the Paedagogium as an educational institution for children of the nobility and the wealthy middle class. In 1697 the Latin School was founded, which prepared middle-class and poor children for university, and finally the Gynaeceum for girls in 1698. These schools laid the foundation for a complex system of educational institutions which were well in advance of the standards of the time, offering children of all social classes the appropriate educational opportunities. The schools' curricula covered a broad canon of subjects, with particular emphasis placed on the sciences. These included manual skills and early technical teaching. They also entailed practical lessons, taught using special teaching materials and collections. This system was the origin of the German Realschule or technical secondary school.

A Rich Tradition of Academic Dialogue

August Hermann Francke  The Halle reform university, founded by the Brandenburg elector Friedrich III in 1694, was one of the most important centres of Pietism and the early Enlightenment. August Hermann Francke was one of the first professors to be appointed to the Friedrich University. His offices as pastor, university professor and orphanage director led to a close cooperation between the Foundations and the university. Students taught at Francke's schools in return for free board and in some cases free lodging within the walls of the school town. The presence today of numerous university institutions, for example, the Department of Education and the Faculty of Theology, on the grounds of the Francke Foundations reflects this traditional close relationship.

August Hermann Niemeyer

August Hermann Niemeyer  When Francke died in 1727, he left some 3000 people living and working in the institutions. His successors strove to continue his work in his spirit. During the later Enlightenment towards the end of the 18th century, however, the Francke Foundations experienced a period of decline. Francke's great-grandson, August Hermann Niemeyer (1754-1828), scholar and politician, writer and statesman, was an associate of Goethe, Schiller, Klopstock and other great figures of his time. He succeeded in giving the Foundations modern impulses and leading them to new heights. He was celebrated by his contemporaries as the second founder of the Foundations. In his capacity as Vice-Chancellor of the university and Director of the Francke Foundations, he exercised a major influence on life in Halle in the early 19th century, while the effects of his work as a politician on the Prussian education system and as an educational theoretician went far beyond the city walls.

The Later Schools

Bilderbogen Stiftungen 19. Jh.  In the 19th century the Foundations developed into a wellreputed Prussian school town. Modern school buildings were erected on the grounds: the Realschule (1857), the Lyzeum (1896), the Latina (1906) and the Oberrealschule (1914). However, their almost complete integration into the Prussian school system meant that the Foundation schools forfeited much of their former independence. Today the Foundations´school traditions are continued in the August Hermann Francke Primary and Secondary Schools, the Maria Montessori Reform School and especially the August Hermann Francke Latina Grammar School with its special language and music streams and boarding facilities. A walk through the grounds of the Foundations takes the visitor through four centuries of school architecture. The schools in the Foundations, with their wealth of teaching traditions, enjoy to this day an excellent reputation.

Decline under Communist Rule

FS 15_Ansicht Lindenhof_klein  Despite the adverse political climate, the Foundations managed to maintain the humanist spirit and the relative independence of their schools even under the Nazi regime. After the Second World War, however, the Foundations were taken under state control. For the duration of the German Democratic Republic the school buildings, boarding schools, commercial institutions, historical collections and the assets of the Foundations were taken over by the Martin Luther University Halle. A “Peasants´ and Workers´ Faculty”was erected on the grounds of the Foundations. The Christian schools became part of the socialist school system. The historical buildings fell into increasing decay. High-rise housing blocks were built on what had been plantations, and the walls and gardens enclosing the school town had to make way for an flyover cutting the Foundation off from the historic city centre. The Francke Foundations as they had been known were all but wiped from the city's memory. Despite sporadic initiatives by concerned citizens, the historic ensemble fell to rack and ruin.

Political Change Saves the Foundations

Kissinger und Gorbatschow am Francke-Denkmal  Everything changed in 1989, and especially after East-West reunification in 1990. The academic partners, the Herzog August Research Library in Wolfenbüttel in Lower Saxony and the Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg, were now able to start together with the Volkswagen Foundation an urgent campaign to save the Francke Foundations. An Association of Friends was founded to support the restoration work: it now has over 1200 members. In 1991 the Francke Foundations were re-established as a public foundation. In the following year they took up their work under Director Paul Raabe with a new statute and the appointment of the Board of Trustees, chaired by the prominent politician Hans-Dietrich Genscher, who was born in Halle. A few years later the official return of the nationalised property, the historical buildings, gave new impetus to the exciting task of restoring the Foundations and reviving the spirit of their founder in a modern society.

Old Buildings Restored to New Glory

The Francke Foundations are a unique example of 18th-century social architecture. A sensitive blend of reconstruction, restoration, and modernisation has been used to save the historic buildings directly surrounding the Linden courtyard and to equip them for their modern usage. Other buildings remain, however, in desperate need of restoration. The German federal government has categorised the Foundations as one of the "cultural beacons" in what used to be East Germany. Due to their national and international significance as a monument of cultural history, they are thus eligible for institutional federal funding.

Waisenhaus 1992   Historisches Waisenhaus


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