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Tübingen - Germany's Quintessential University Town


Tübingen is one of Germany's oldest towns and is, perhaps, one of the most characterful. Whereas many German cities were severely damaged in the second world war by the allied bombing raids, Tübingen escaped with barely a scratch and, therefore, is a rare example of a large town retaining its medieval character. However, Tübingen isn't just a pretty face as it boasts one of the top universities in the country and a number of respected research institutes. It is also a true university town where students make up the majority of the population meaning it is a lively place to take up a career in research.

Tübingen© Nikada - iStockphoto.comBeing one of Germany's oldest towns, Tübingen offers a remarkable variety and infrastructure

Tübingen as a research location

Research in Tübingen is dominated by the Eberhard Karls University which is one of eleven universities in Germany which has reached the final round of the German Universities Excellence Initiative. This means that the university receives a significant share of the 2.7 billion euros which will be distributed between those universities identified as particularly important for research over the next few years.

The large research organisations also make a significant showing in Tübingen. The town plays host to the Max Planck Institutes for Biology, Biological Cybernetics and Developmental biology, making it a significant location for life sciences. It is also home to the Friedrich Meischer Laboratory which also belongs to the Max Planck Institute and was founded to allow gifted young researchers to run their own five-year projects on biological topics. The Hertie Institute for Clinical Brain Research can also be found in the town.


There is evidence that there was a settlement on the site of modern Tübingen in Roman times, but it is known that the town already held significance as a town for the Alemanni tribes in the 6th and 7th centuries. It is, however, not until 1191 that Tübingen is first mentioned by name in written records. As time moved on, the Counts of Tübingen gradually gained in power and influence, meaning the town also grew and was afforded special privileges. Eventually, the Duke of Württemberg saw the merits of the town and bought it in 1495. Since then, the town has almost always lain in the Kingdom or eventually the federal state of Württemberg.

The university has been a significant part of life in Tübingen for over 500 years. In 1477 it was founded by Eberhard the then Duke of Württemberg. It was one of the first in a flood of new universities which sprang up over Europe during the Renaissance. Tübingen University's status as one of the first in Germany also makes it one of the oldest universities in central Europe and has attracted many great minds over the years, including the famous Romantic poet Friedrich Hölderlin. Significant scientists who lived in the town include the neurologist Alois Alzheimer and the discoverer of nucleic acids, Friedrich Miescher, after whom the laboratory is named.

After the second world war, Germany was split into four zones and Tübingen fell into the area under French administration. For six years it became the capital of the new state if Württemberg-Hohenzollern until the boundaries of the federal states in the newly-formed West Germany were redefined. This period also saw the beginnings of the student movement in Germany which significantly shaped German culture. It is perhaps no surprise that Tübingen with its massive population of students was a center for this movement and there was even a small but significant number of supporters of the terrorist group the Rote Armee Fraktion. Today, things are not so radical but Tübingen remains a stronghold for green and liberal politics.

Living in Tübingen

In the 1990s it was reported that residents of Tübingen had the highest quality of life in Germany. This should be no surprise, because not only is the old town very beautiful, but the infrastructure and variety the city has to offer is remarkable. Transport links in the town are second to none and the pedestrianised old town offers anything you could wish when it comes to shopping or eating out. As you would hope of a town full of students, there are also plenty of bars and clubs meaning you need never be left wondering what to do on an evening.

The new influx of students every year means that finding an apartment in Tübingen is not the easiest task. However, there is a strong international community meaning that there is plenty of support for researchers coming from outside Germany. Most of the population being students has, however, meant that the cost of living has not been pushed too high by the high demand for property.

The city also provides plenty of distractions including a renowned art gallery and a much-loved outdoor cinema. There is always some kind of event or festival happening in the town including a number of film festivals and the largest Afro-brazilian festival in Europe.

What Tübingen is known for

Tübingen is, of course, famous for being a university town and the sheer number of students that live there. The quintessential image of a student in the town is a cocky fraternity boy, and to complete the image, he should be boating on the Neckar river which runs through the town.

The locals speak Swabian which has historically been called a weaver's dialect owing to the fact that this area used to be a center for German textiles. Germans from other areas claim they find Swabian difficult to understand, but you would be hard-pressed to find any town in Germany where true standard German is spoken.

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academics :: June 2013