Restoration of Heidelberg University’s Student Prison

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The historical "Studentenkarzer" of Ruperto Carola is up for restoration, primarily to protect and preserve the unique drawings on walls and ceilings inside the former student prison of Heidelberg University. The project with total costs of approximately 2.1 million euros has received a grant of 500,000 euros from the German Federal Government’s special programme for heritage sites. The building will remain open to visitors during the necessary restoration work, scheduled to start in 2021.

The student prison in Heidelberg’s Old Town is on the top floor of a listed monument adjoining the rear of the Old University building. Until the early 20th century the university had its own court, complete with detention cells for locking students up for minor offences such as brawls or disturbing the peace at night. The students spent some of their time there covering the walls, ceilings and doors with colourful images, drawings and epigraphs, in order to immortalise themselves in a personal way; the oldest of these traces date back to the 18th century. They are among the special attractions of the building, which operates as a museum and draws approximately 80,000 visitors annually from all over the world.

Due to natural dilapidation, climatic conditions and also the use by visitors, extensive refurbishing and restoration measures have become necessary, in particular to preserve the paintings on the walls and ceilings. The planned operations include protecting the paint layer and plaster, patching and retouching. Windows, doors and gratings need to be partly restored and varnished. The refurbishing also extends to the roof and facade. In addition, improvements are planned for the visitor guidance system in order to guarantee better protection for the interiors.

Bernhard Eitel, Rector of Heidelberg University, thanked the Heidelberg federal parliamentarians Dr Franziska Brantner, Prof. h.c. Dr Karl Lamers and Dr Lothar Binding, who had jointly advocated for the refurbishing project to be funded within the framework of the special programme for heritage sites. The restoration work, to start in spring 2021, will be carried out by the Mannheim and Heidelberg branches of the Baden-Württemberg State Office for Assets and Real Estate and is expected to be completed before the end of 2022. The student prison will remain open for visitors during the restoration process. The six cells and the latrine are closed off with medium-high grates but visitors can still look inside to view them. The rooms have remained almost without alteration since 1886; the furnishings date from the early 19th century.

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