Kennedy had just been named an honorary member of Freie Universität Berlin in June, delivering a speech in front of the Henry Ford Building that was cheered by faculty and students alike. With such fresh memories, the university shared in mourning the president. His death cast a pall over the start of the 1963 winter semester. Herbert Lüers, at the time the university’s rector, wrote a circular about the events on the occasion of the enrollment celebrations, in it expressing a deep personal sense of loss. Lüers also called the speech the U.S. president had given during his visit in June Kennedy’s legacy for Freie Universität.
At the time, the university had close ties to North America: In the 1950s, shortly after its founding, Freie Universität established its first few partnerships with top American universities, including Stanford, Princeton, and Columbia; plans for an institute of North American studies were already in the works at the time. The founding of the institute was ultimately made possible by the Ford Foundation , which provided about a million dollars intended for various purposes, including to develop the library.
The institute’s founder, Ernst Fraenkel, also had ties with the Americans, which helped him to set the tone. Fraenkel, a German Jew, was able to flee to the United States on the eve of World War II – and he was one of the few scholars to return to Germany in the 1950s. With his work on the American system of government and theories of democracy, he was considered one of Germany’s leading political scientists at the time.