Dr. Lothar Behlau

Nationality: German
Cty, Country: Munich, Germany
Study Program, Degree: Process Engineering, Dipl. Ing.
Period of Study: 1982-85
Employer and Position: Fraunhofer Society, Head of Agenda 2022 Department

His matriculation number was 1 and in 1982 he was one of the first five students of process engineering at the TUHH. Lectures were sometimes held in the Prof’s office, there was no campus, the refectory was the nearby Tax Office’s canteen, and everyone in Harburg knew about them.

Dr. Behlau, how did you find out about the new university of technology?
Teaching at the TUHH began in 1982 with process engineering as a main course of study. In other words, you needed a preliminary diploma or suitable qualifications to enroll. And as the Internet did not yet exist the news was published via very “normal” media channels. I found out about it because a student at my student hostel had pinned a clipping from the Hamburger Abendblatt onto the kitchen notice board…

What was it like to be the first group of students at the TUHH?
Due to the limiting criteria there was only a very limited number of applicants, mainly graduates of the Hamburg Technical College who were sometimes required to attend additional lectures in order to prove qualifications equivalent to the Vordiplom or preliminary diploma. So after the initial selection we started with five students. After a few months we were down to four, but all of us graduated with a Diplom. We felt not like a group of students but more like an exotic little group (of technical college graduates) at a university of technology where 99.7 percent of the work done was research.

What was student life like at and outside of the TUHH?
There was, of course, no campus in the sense of an area teeming with students. There was the main building in Eissendorfer Strasse and an old laundry where the upstairs rooms were rented for a few postgraduate students. Our “refectory” was the canteen of a Tax Office a few hundred meters away. So we had to fend for ourselves where student life was concerned. There was no student representation on university bodies either.
On the other hand our exotic situation had its good points. We were looked after very personally by the reaching professors, who were highly motivated and held their lectures most seriously despite the limited student numbers. The teaching assistants also worked very hard on the practical training that they had to invent specially for us. This special role compensated us for studying at an otherwise student-free university. And after a while our little group was really well-known…

Can you remember the atmosphere in Harburg?
As I said, initially there was no student life at the TU. A year later, when regular courses began, there was still no student scene, neither at the TU nor in Harburg, because most students commuted from all over the place and only a few lived in Harburg.
Harburg was not a university town back then, of course. I was born near Hamburg (in Pinneberg) and had studied at the Technical College in Bergedorf and lived there before later moving to Harburg. In those days Harburg had more of a reputation as a working class area. I felt fine there but there was no student ambience (yet), of course. As a sideline I wrote articles about developments at the TU for the local supplement of the Hamburger Abendblatt (followed by a series of articles about the new process engineering, urban planning and mechanical engineering study programs).
There were some misgivings in Harburg about how the TU would benefit the borough. I interviewed bar owners and asked whether they would be happy about lots of students soon living there. They couldn’t imagine it in those days. I hope that has since changed…
Yet Harburg had everything a student needs: affordable apartments, bars, good transport connections with Hamburg, etc. I was happy to have been able to get to know this part of Hamburg.

What did you learn at the TUHH that you still use in your career?
From my present vantage point what we were taught in process engineering was excellent. Despite having so few students the professors set their sights on achieving a high standard at the TUHH. Today I work in research management and regularly need my in-depth engineering expertise from those days to assess research projects. Luckily, process engineering conveys a wide understanding of the natural and engineering sciences. The high level of teaching intensity we received left definite traces because the three or four of us had to be constantly attentive.

How, in your view, must universities of technology be positioned in the future?
Along with a sound build-up of competence in one discipline the ability to network with other disciplines should be practiced during the course of study. As a technical university
student you have a progressively smaller overview of the overall system and that is why you need to be taught how to keep up with other disciplines, including the social sciences. This methodological competence is to some extent just as important as the competence in your specialization.
Universities of technology ought to make their contribution and their responsibility to society clear. To what extent does a university of technology contribute directly with its teaching and, above all, its current research to solving the most pressing problems of humankind? This creation of meaning should be part of the internal debate at every university of technology. A sustainability report would be a first step.