At the Beuth University in Berlin is argued about the Prussian patron saint and his anti-Semitic statements. A discussion from which one can learn much about the debate culture of the present.
Granted, it's a difficult task. It is hard to ignore the 25 concrete letters that the Beuth University of Applied Sciences has planted in the meadow next to the entrance to their campus in Wedding, Berlin. Nor about the internal school disputes and aggravated scientists' regiments surrounding the discussion about the controversial patron saint of the University of Applied Sciences, the Prussian ministerial official Christian Peter Wilhelm Beuth (1781 – 1853).
But whoever manages to do that, can learn a great deal about the debate culture of the present. About their protagonists, about their dynamics, but above all about their problems.
The Beuth University is split. For several months, various interest groups have been arguing about a possible renaming of the school. Because Beuth was not only a pioneer of modern engineering, but also anti-Semitic. In a speech to the German table society, to whose members Beuth counted, made a speech in which he compared Jews with pigs. He wished Jewish boys to bleed out pruning and imputed Jews that they "drained and drink" the blood of Christian children.
The technology sociologist Achim Bühl, who teaches at the Beuth University, made in 2017 for the first time on the anti-Semitism of the namesake attention. The university then gave an external report to the historians Jörg Rudolph and Christian Schölzel in order. They came to a clear conclusion: "Beuth's attitude is to be characterized in the contemporary derivable spectrum of possible attitudes as conservative and rigid anti-Semitic."
The initiative to rename the university is based on this very clear source situation. But not everyone sees it that way. Reinhard Thümer, former president of the university, has doubts. In 2009, during his tenure, the then Technical College was renamed Beuth University. He writes an opinion in which he called the previous evidence for "by no means sufficient for a classification of Beuth as an anti-Semite".
Thümer is also a guest on the podium, which closes this Friday the two-day symposium of the college on "Christian Peter Wilhelm Beuth in his time". In addition to the former president, there are experts from other universities. The renaming initiative, represented by two students and one professor from the university, only got a place at short notice.
How deadlocked the situation at the Beuth University is revealed after a few minutes. His own research, Thümer suggests, suggests that the accusation of anti-Semitism against Beuth in a modern court would not provide grounds for conviction. Thümer doubts the scientific facts and the work of historians. He is neither a historian nor a sociologist, but a doctor of industrial engineering. "It is widespread today that facts are made into opinions," says later the literary scholar Stefan Nienhaus from the audience. Nienhaus wrote a book in 2003 about the history of the German table society and its anti-Semitism.
The dispute at the college, he is also a dispute over the constitution of reality. The debate over Beuth's anti-Semitism is symptomatic of how debates about controversial and urgent societal issues are being conducted. One side provides facts, the other side counters with alternative facts. The Beuth University is as divided as society.
The big and important question is the moderator after a good three quarters of an hour: Can you lead such a debate without splitting?