"I had to smile for so many pictures!" says Prof. Stanislaw Karol Kubicki. "All the Americans wanted a picture of the very first student. They really identified with the FU." He was the first student to be enrolled on November 5, 1948, because he had been appointed first Registrar (until an administrative position was created).
Kubicki was the head of the Clinical Neurophysiology Division from 1974 to 1991 (Photo: Kretschmer).
For Kubicki, the 22-year-old son of a Polish painter/author and a German painter/teacher, Freie Universität actually began to exist during the summer of 1948, when he was still a student at the Berlin university, Unter den Linden (the former University of Berlin, now Humboldt Universität). He belonged to the founding Student Body Council, and beginning in April (after three students had been expelled), spent every free minute here. "We didn't give much thought to the departure of the Allies, there was the Air Lift, and that gave us the security that we needed," said Kubicki. Withdrawing from the university in East Berlin was a necessity for him and his fellow students: "The interventions of the SED (Sozialistische Einheitspartei Deutschlands) were so similar to those of the Nazi era, that we couldn't take it any more." This rapidly growing alienation between East and West, related the professor, existed not only among the students, but also affected the population of Berlin. Only three percent of the West Berliners supplied themselves with groceries in the East, although 13 percent of the West Berliners voted SED.
Euphoria accompanied the founding of the new university, and its freedom from political constraints was announced in its name. Freedom, Truth, and Justice—things that had long been missed—were to characterize the new university. "It was our avowal of democracy," according to Kubicki, "since not one of us was apolitical." And they had many ideas: to raise money, balls were organized—two or three in the first two semesters. After expenses we had about 2,000 marks, which meant aid for new refugees! This financing system was typical for the city: a ticket for the ball cost about 10 marks, of which a maximum of 2 could be West marks. The rule was: about 75-80% in East marks and 20-25% in West marks.
About a third of the FU's students were refugees, according to Kubicki, most of them from Eastern universities, mainly Rostock and Jena.
Kubicki as a student, 50 years ago (Photo: personal transcript).
Daily life in 1948 was full of obstacles. Kubicki describes a normal day: "During the summer I would ride my bike from Britz (where I lived) to Dahlem, from there to the University Clinic in Westend, and back to Britz. But one could also take the S-Bahn, U-Bahn, or tram, using the time to read. "In 1945 there was no public transportation at all." A special feature for the medical students was the "Irrenbus" (bus for "mad people"), which connected the University Clinic at Westend with "Bonnie's Ranch" (Bonhoeffer Heilstätten [sanatorium] in Wittenau) and the "Gonococcus Tram," a streetcar to Britz Hospital, where Dermatology was located.
Until the construction of the lecture hall in 1950 there were no lecture halls in the Westend Clinic, but there were nevertheless wards for patients, which were full. Kubicki remembers many tuberculosis patients but does not recall seeing any empty beds.
The patients welcomed the medical students. "At least in the first four to six semesters, we were a community, one in harmony with the population of Berlin," explains Kubicki.
The student community not only expanded the body of academic knowledge, but also demonstrated improvisational and organizational talents. Sometimes lectures were held by candlelight or in movie theaters, and when children's seats were the only ones available, they simply sat a little lower. There was seldom electric lighting, and when it was available, it was at the most unusual times, so students sometimes studied at two or four o'clock in the morning. And everyone helped, not just the Student Body Council: hauling chairs, organizing rooms, acquiring books, etc.
Especially the Americans were impressed by the enthusiasm and the hard work of the students. The first contacts to Stanford University came about through a drive to collect clothing for FU students. In Dahlem, one could see the fine distinctions made by the Americans, when in June, 1948, for example, they chased away everyone but the FU founders from the lawn behind Harnack House (considered a "holy" building around the time when the FU was founded). Even at the International Student Conference in Tronje in the fall of 1949, no German students were invited, except for three students from Berlin.
There was also quite a stir at the founding ceremony, since the rector was not pleased to hear of the university having been founded by students, although they were undeniably the decisive pressure group. The rector had reserved the twentieth row for the students, the rows in front having been reserved for dignitaries. But the students refused to attend under those conditions. And so it happened that professors and students assembled together on the stage.