There are two seasons in Aachen, the former vice-chancellor of the RWTH, Burkhard Rauhut, used to say: hot rain and cold rain. Still the special meaning of precipitation for academic fruitfulness of the town and its universities has, however, been awaiting its critical appreciation. What more useful can, however, be done in the rain, than inventing noiseless gears or production strategies for high-wage countries?
At least the sun of excellence, which currently shines over the RWTH, fills exactly this core competence of the university with brighter public radiance, for which it has always been highly estimated by the industry; which for example applies to solving specific practical problems in industry as well as managing highly complex technical and economical processes.
Here the method was developed, to process tools in dry condition and not by using cooling liquid, which saves enormous costs also for the environment; here the complete line for production of the front axle of the BMW 3 series was designed; here textile-reinforced concrete was invented; here the European Ariane launcher was made capable of flying at all with respect to costs; here entire production plants and their complete management are planned, but also the emission and accident-free automobile, artificial heart valves and retinal prostheses are developed. Last but not least strategies are now designed according to European standard, to use the economic crisis as a chance for supporting future technologies and securing wages levels.
This enormous range and the constant integration into economic and social processes are the strongest points of the “definitely most technical of all universities in Germany”, says its vice-chancellor Ernst Schmachtenberg. With that it justifies its claim to be a service provider for the society. Three excellence clusters and one graduate school as result of the excellence initiative 2006/07 speak for themselves. At least as important for its success is the cooperative basic structure, which finally guarantees the dynamics and constant capability of renewal of this huge network with 9 faculties, 260 institutes, 450 professors, 4500 employees and more than 30000 students.
To offend against its cooperative existential orientations did bad to the always quite self-confident Alma Mater blessed with success, which was founded in 1870 as Prussian polytechnic institute, when in the first round of the excellence initiative the former vice-chancellorship, virtually in a single-handed attempt, tried to get the title “elite university”. The false start worked wonders; at first it promoted the long-standing partnership with the upgraded research centre Jülich to a permanent alliance, called Jülich Aachen Research Alliance (JARA), namely in the four large-scale research areas: energy, brain research, functional materials and structures as well as simulation.
Above all, however, since the successful second attempt in the following year, the entire university has been caught by the energetic movement, which is surely needed, to manage the future project as such for itself but also for the entire region. RWTH Aachen Campus is the name of the project, which with the simplicity of this title almost coquettishly understates its epochal meaning. Not less than one of the largest research landscapes in Europe is set to come into existence on a surface of around 500000 square meters. With this campus project Aachen will in fact become a city of science, which justifiably stands out from the meanwhile inflationary self-proclaimed German municipalities calling themselves science city.
On an area as large as two city quarters connected with each other, at least 200 technology companies are expected to settle within the next ten years and at least 5500 new jobs are intended to be created in research and development as well as in a similar magnitude in service-providing fields. In the buildings alone 750 to 800 million Euros will be invested, in a comparable amount investments for the technical equipment are estimated. The basic concept is a in this entirety and scope completely new interlocking of university and industry for a mutual increase in relevance. The RWTH contributes its wealth of interdisciplinary competence in engineering and natural sciences, the companies their investments and orders. Both carry out cooperative, market-oriented research in the fields of such innovative technologies and processes, from which the companies, on the one hand, gain their competitive edge, on the other hand, ensure the university additional competence, as well as the town and region a locational advantage. In any case, this is the vision which, however, will break the ground with the first cut of the spate still in 2009.
This profound cooperation will take place in so-called clusters, which are intended to be built on at least 18 future-oriented research fields of sustained energy technology to medical technology, integrative production technology and photonics to innovative plastics and mobile communication. The criteria bar for the approval of a cluster has deliberately been set very high. At least ten companies shall come together, which will start with at least 150 employees per cluster and who are required to rent in total about 9000 square meters floor space. The clusters are also to be understood as space units, areas of 20000 square meters each, on which university and companies join in neighbouring buildings as well as in commonly used facilities; here the university is involved with at least two institutes each.
The first six clusters have meanwhile been approved and will be built on the Campus Melaten until 2011. From 2012 clusters, but also apartments and event locations will come into existence on the Campus West, the former grounds of the Aachen west railway station “Westbahnhof”.
There a hotel, shopping and service facilities have already been planned. According to the plan the whole project will be finished by 2016, and then also be animated with the cultural offer, which makes the science city Aachen interesting for “the worldwide best researchers”, who are expected to be attracted to come here in the long term.
Of course the founders are not naive; Aachen is not an island of the blissful in the global crisis. Günther Schuh, protector for economy and industry, motor of the whole project and the managing director of the Campus operating company: “This kind of safeguarding the future takes place according to the motto of “now more than ever!” We know that in the starting phase under the effect of the current financial crisis, we also have to make compromises. The interest of the companies has, however, in no way decreased. The concept will clearly be realized“. Siemens, Bosch, Microsoft, Deutsche Bahn, TNT, all no small fish, who have already given their firm commitment.
Smaller than the TU, but really powerful is the other Aachen university with technical-scientific and economic orientation as well as a faculty for design. Naturally, the University of Applied Sciences (FH Aachen), which was founded in 1971, had long been in the shadow of its big elder sister. With the Bologna-process, however, qualifications have approached each other: to do one’s bachelor or master here or there becomes a question of especially tailoring study courses to the professional occupation aimed for. With almost 9000 students and 220 professorships the FH Aachen belongs to the biggest universities of applied sciences in Germany and in opinion polls among personnel managers on the best graduates occupies, as the RWTH, first places particularly in machine and electrical engineering. The practical orientation, especially in alliance with small and medium-sized companies, is even more distinctive; the University of Applied Sciences has however, for years been holding a top position as one of the strongest universities of applied sciences in the area of research. Experts for social work and management in healthcare are, however, the scientists of the Aachen department of the Catholic University of Applied Sciences (KatHO), who educates around 800 students in bachelor and master study courses.
What else does the city offer? Aachen, city of water, springs, wells and water from above. It is only a river that the famous Aachen hydraulic engineers have not been able to lead to the city. In contrary to the reputation, the sun in reality shines often enough, which fills the countless street cafes as well as the excursion destinations of the splendid environment in the three-country point, with Belgium, with which the Eifel is shared, and the Netherlands, which here shows its most delightful countryside. The one who wants or has to go to Maastricht, Brussels, Paris, London or the North Sea, can quickly get there. It is this environment and this location, which constitutes one of the two essential qualities of life. The other is the – likewise international – flair, which characterizes the university town. Between university district, market place, town hall, old town and spa gardens a stream of alone 50000 people, involved in the universities as students or employees, move about, statistically a fifth of the population.
They mingle with countless tourists looking for the European spirit or at least the throne of Charlemagne in the 1200 year old cathedral, admire the town hall from the 14th century, or appreciate both merely as picturesque scenery for the Christmas market. In addition there are renowned museums, one municipal theatre and several private theatres, the annual highlights of the international Charlemagne Prize and the CHIO, as well as occasionally of the Alemannia. In one word: there are by far less pleasant places to make a career.