The Oldenburg adult education center, the Volkshochschule (VHS), celebrated its seventieth anniversary in 2016. But that didn’t stop it from celebrating its hundredth anniversary just four years later, in 2020.
The reason for this discrepancy is that the two anniversaries were counting from different founding dates. The original founding was on April 21, 1920, with the announced intention of providing educational opportunities for “the classes of the population who had been excluded from education up to this point.” The first offering, on the first day of the new institution, was a lecture called “Introduction to the Theory of Relativity” — an ambitious topic, since Albert Einstein had published his General Theory of Relativity only five years earlier, and few people of any social class knew anything about it.
During the twelve years of the Nazi dictatorship, from 1933 to 1945, the VHS was reduced to disseminating Nazi propaganda. After a hiatus at the end of the Second World War, the VHS was re-founded on February 4, 1946 — hence the seventieth anniversary in 2016.
It is no accident that both the founding and the re-founding of the adult education center took place in the chaotic aftermath of lost wars, when Germany was attempting a new start with a more democratic form of government. As expressed on the VHS Oldenburg website, “the prevailing conviction was that education for all people, regardless of social class or party affiliation, is the key to finding ways to rebuild.” To this day, the VHS strives to be “a place that broadens horizons, promotes individual skills and offers an opportunity for more dialogue, democracy and tolerance.”
Because the Adult Education Centers in Germany have courses on a great variety of different subjects, they often have trouble deciding what exactly to focus their advertising on. Often it just comes down to Vielfalt, meaning variety or diversity.
The text on this placard from the VHS Oldenburg reads: “Encounter with diversity! The adult education centers are teaching and learning locations for all people. Regardless of origin, gender, age or education. Welcome!”
As of January 2021, all in-person courses at the VHS Oldenburg have been suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic, though some are continuing online.
My photos in this post are from 2016. I wrote the text in 2021.