Local and international German WUS activities in 1960

Harald Ganns

May 1958: A young German student returns to Germany after a year of study abroad in England, impressed and influenced by the stimulating internationality he experienced there. He feels a bit foreign, almost like a foreigner in his own country, in the idyllic yet somewhat provincial university town of Freiburg. How fortunate that, while studying the “Schwarzes Brett,” he comes across a reference to a student association that promises to take care of foreign students: WUS, World University Service. The beginning of a long and intense relationship. 

Focus on “caring for foreigners” WUS of the 50s

 this was first and foremost a way of meeting foreign students. These had grown considerably in number during that decade, nearly 25,000 it is said to have been around 1960. In the early years, these new fellow students were still hardly perceived as an opportunity to enrich and internationalise dusty German universities, but rather as strangers in solitude who had to be taken care of, as objects for “care.” Even Father State had discovered this task for himself and thought about appointing “full-time supervisors”.

German WUS: club life, support for foreign students, fundraising and political twilight of the gods

 WUS swam on this wave at that time and was extraordinarily active in this field at more than 20 universities with local committees. In Freiburg, the local committee even succeeded for a time in offering a program every day of the week: Lectures and discussions, political seminars and jazz concerts, company visits and sightseeing trips, free time in the Black Forest and on Lake Constance,


sporting encounters and dance events. Generously, it was often overlooked that those who accepted this offer were in their overwhelming majority German students. The foreign fellow students had already begun to found their own associations, eyed rather suspiciously by the state, recognised by German students only after long hesitation as an opportunity for more intensive partnership. It was not until the early 1960s that WUS said goodbye to the traditional ideology of support – the seminar “Ausländerbe treuung – Irrweg oder Notwendigkeit” (Support for Foreigners – Misguided Path or Necessity) organised by German WUS in 1962 and documents in its series of publications bears witness to this.




Above the club life of the local committees, it had almost been forgotten that WUS in its origins after World War 1 and again after 1945 was primarily a student self-help organisation: students helping students. Raising funds to support needy students, especially those suffering from the consequences of wars and political events, had long been the unique selling point of international WUS. And WUS in Germany remembered it as well, though clearly only as a subordinate activity. For decades, the “Bazaar of Foreign Cultures” was the most impressive example of this, an enormous effort for all committees involved, the proceeds of which were not always in reasonable proportion to the effort. Also, the profits – if such were achieved – from chargeable events of individual local WUS committees flowed into the fundraising pot of international WUS in Geneva, for example that of the “Ball of Nations” in Freiburg, with almost 2000 visitors and five bands in the city hall, certainly one of the largest WUS events of its time. In principle, it was certainly a correct decision to participate in a large, overarching fundraising campaign in the early 1960s as part of the “International Solidarity Fund of the German Student Body” launched by the Association of German Student Bodies – VDS – and even to do so in an executive role. Unfortunately, it is the historical truth that the good intentions were crowned with very moderate success and the campaign was soon quietly buried. The bazaar of foreign peoples shrugged this off and survived.

 At the beginning of the 1960s a new era was heralded in German WUS: in the wake of the pre-sixties, under the impression of an increasing politicisation of the student body and arm in arm with the student political avant-garde in the VDS, WUS also became visibly more political. The older guard followed this with growing scepticism or even disapproval, many of the younger ones distinguished themselves in the front line. The author of these lines still tells with pride that he was able to help formulate the “political mandate” of the German Student Union at the VDS general meeting in Munich in March 1962, during debates that lasted until late at night. But that is another story.

Author profile
Harald Ganns

Harald Ganns was chairperson of the local WUS committee in Freiburg/Breisgau from 1959 to 1960, employee in the secretariat of WUS Germany in Bonn from 1960 to 1963 and its secretary general from 1962 to 1963. From 1963 to 1965 he represented the Association of German Student Unions (VDS) as overseas representative for West Africa, based in Dakar/Senegal. After joining the German Foreign Service in 1965, he worked at the embassies in Lomé/Togo and Madrid, among others. From 1980 to 1983 he was accredited as ambassador in Niamey in Niger, from 1983 to 1986 in Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea, from 1990 to 1993 in Namibia and from 1998 to 2000 in South Africa and Lesotho. From 2001 to 2007, he represented the Federal Foreign Office at the United Nations in Bonn. Since 2008, he has served as senior advisor at the United Nations in the UN Campus in Bonn.