The Grotemeyer era comes to an end

For more than 22 years he was at the helm of Bielefeld University: When Professor Karl Peter Grotemeyer, the University’s figurehead, is bid farewell on 8 October 1992 in a moving ceremony attended by all groups of the University and distinguished guests from politics, business, science and society from the city of Bielefeld, the region and the country, this happens for a very mundane reason. Grotemeyer has reached the age limit.  

  • Karl Peter Grotemeyer wearing the professorial “Talar” (gown) of the Mathematical Institute of the Free University Berlin (FU) as American President John F. Kennedy is named an honorary member of the FU in the courtyard of the Henry Ford Building on 26 June 1963.

    Photo: unknown
    Source: Universitätsarchiv Bielefeld, FOS 01995
  • Dr. Eberhard Firnhaber, who was Chancellor of Bielefeld University from May 1968, and Professor Dr. Karl Peter Grotemeyer, at that time a member of the Scientific Advisory Board of the University, standing at the edge of the first University Ball in Bad Salzuflen on 7 September 1968.

    Photo: Günter Rudolf
    Source: Universitätsarchiv Bielefeld, FOS 00651
  • Congratulated on his election to Rektor by his predecessor Professor Dr. Ernst Joachim Mestmäcker on 5 March 1970.

    Photo: Hans-Dieter Johner
    Source: NW Archiv (Universitätsarchiv Bielefeld, FOS 00706)

From East Westphalia to Berlin and back again

Born in Osnabrück in 1927 and raised in Minden, Karl Peter Grotemeyer studied mathematics, physics and astronomy in Göttingen from 1947. After his doctorate and habilitation, he held a professorship at the Free University Berlin as early as 1958. There he had already made a name for himself as an enthusiastic and inspiring university lecturer before accepting an appointment at the newly founded Bielefeld University in 1969, where he had been a member of the Scientific Advisory Board since 1965. Only a few months after his appointment, he had to stand in for the newly elected Rector Ernst-Joachim Mestmäcker as Vice-rector, who had stood down for health reasons.

„Rektor for Life“

This “substitution” lasted over 22 years, which is unique in the German university sector. During his tenure, Karl Peter Grotemeyer became a representative figure of the young University. He and University chancellor Dr. Eberhard Firnhaber had much in common, not only their birth year of 1927 but also their tireless commitment to their University and later, their deep friendship. It was fortunate that this duo was at the head of a university founded with ambitious aspirations for far-reaching higher education reforms under increasingly difficult economic conditions. Not least due to their efforts, the University became an internationally renowned location for science and research with astonishing speed.

  • Karl Peter Grotemeyer acts as “patron” for the President of the Federal Republic of Germany Gustav Heinemann, who visited the ZiF at Bielefeld University on 22 May 1974.

    Photo: Hans-Dieter Johner
    Source: NW Archiv (Universitätsarchiv Bielefeld, FOS 01996)
  • Karl Peter Grotemeyer participates in goal wall shooting on the occasion of the University open days in January 1977.

    Photo: Hans-Dieter Johner
    Source: NW Archiv (Universitätsarchiv, FOS 01519)
  • On the occasion of his third re-election on 1 June 1977, Karl Peter Grotemeyer thanks in an unusual way the 500 members of the university who are celebrating him.

    Photo: Otto Sudmann
    Source: Universitätsarchiv Bielefeld, FOS 00714
  • A toast in the Main University Hall on the occasion of the re-election of Karl Peter Grotemeyer on 1 June 1977.

    Photo: Farr
    Source: NW Archiv (Universitätsarchiv Bielefeld, FOS 00710)
  • Officer’s Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany is awarded to Karl Peter Grotemeyer by the North Rhine-Westphalian Minister of Innovation, Science and Research Hans Schwier on 8 February 1983.

    Photo: Stöss
    Source: NW Archiv (Universitätsarchiv Bielefeld, FOS 01988)
  • Official Admission of Karl Peter Grotemeyer by the North Rhine-Westphalian Science Minister Anke Brunn on October 8, 1992 in the Audimax of the University of Bielefeld. In the background Grotemeyer’s successor in the office of the rector, Prof. Dr. Helmut Skowronek.

    Photo: Helga Wehmeyer
    Source: Universitätsarchiv Bielefeld, FOS 00686
  • Karl Peter Grotemeyer, Chairman of the Education Commission NRW, hands over the memorandum “Zukunft der Bildung – Schule der Zukunft” (“Future of Education – School of the Future”) to the Minister President of North Rhine-Westphalia Johannes Rau on 9 October 1995.

    Photo: unknown
    Source: Universitätsarchiv Bielefeld, FOS 01990

Grotemeyer was re-elected five times with an overwhelming majority by representatives of all status groups, and was both greatly admired and respected. The mathematician and university lecturer, who had been thrown in at the deep end in 1969/70, turned out to be a talented science manager serving Bielefeld University and the German academic community as a whole. Liberal, humane and open on the inside, persistent and determined on the outside, he earned recognition and respect through his commitment to fairness, communication and consensus.

Farewell and honours

When Karl Peter Grotemeyer bid farewell to the University on his impending retirement it was a year of great ceremony and honour. The University awarded him the status of honorary senator, and the City of Bielefeld rewarded him for his long-standing service as Rektor with honorary citizenship. No-one has since has received this distinction. Finally, in his honour, his friends published a commemorative publication titled “The Humane University” which portrays an extraordinary and unique man.

It is perhaps typical of Grotemeyer that he used his farewell speech to address the changes that were being implemented to the conditions of study by local and national government. He sought to motivate his audience and called for even stronger efforts to meet this increasing challenge: “There is never a need for resignation”.

A phase began for Karl Peter Grotemeyer, which can only be described very incorrectly as retirement. Various state governments sought his advice and experience and recruited him for high-ranking commissions and committees. In addition, he also devoted himself to things that had played a lesser role in his life in previous decades, such as solving mathematical problems. He remained greatly interested in the developments of “his” university and was prepared to listen whenever he visited the university.

Karl Peter Grotemeyer died unexpectedly on 30 July 2007, shortly before his 80th birthday.

Karl Peter Grotemeyer in November 1989.

Photo: Manfred Kettner
Source: Universitätsarchiv Bielefeld, FOS 01991