Prof. Dr. Birgitta Wolff
Economist, politician, President of Goethe University Frankfurt
Postdoctoral Fellowship 1995–1996
The economist Birgitta Wolff has been President of Goethe University Frankfurt since 2015 – the first woman to hold this office. This demonstrated once again her willingness to accept new challenges – after ten years as professor and dean at Otto von Guericke University Magdeburg’s Faculty of Economics and Management, she entered politics in 2010. Initially, the CDU politician became Cultural Affairs Minister of the State of Saxony-Anhalt and then Minister of Sciences and Economic Affairs the following year. “You don’t hear many good things about politics. But if you want to get things moving, you shouldn’t just complain, but do something about it,” says Wolff.
The year in Harvard was a real revelation, both in academic and intellectual terms.
She was born in Münster in 1965, and this penchant for pragmatism characterised the academic at an early age. For example, she first placed her career on a practical foundation by training as a bank clerk, before studying economics – first in Witten/Herdecke and later in Munich. In 1995 Wolff received a one-year postdoctoral scholarship (John F. Kennedy Memorial Fellowship) at Harvard University with the support of the DAAD. “The year in Harvard was a real revelation, both in academic and intellectual terms,” she recalls. “I was impressed by how unimportant the borders between disciplines are and how many-sided the people at Harvard were.” Combined with the necessary specialist skills, this was what really characterised an elite. “This strengthened my conviction that broad-based education is possible and productive.”
Three years after coming back from Boston, she returned to the USA – again with the help of the DAAD – as a visiting professor at Georgetown University, Washington DC, where she received offers of professorships from Magdeburg, Vienna and Münster. The university in Saxony-Anhalt won, so in 2000 Wolff became the first woman to head the Faculty of Economics and Management there, becoming its dean in 2008. “At all stages of my academic career, I found it helpful to be able to turn to an institution like the DAAD – not only as a scholarship-holder but also as a teacher,” says Wolff. “I was able to draw my students’ attention to funding options and thus motivate them to spend time abroad.” For example, on a trip to Mozambique and South Africa she had, she said, witnessed how close the exchange is among the DAAD alumni there. “At German universities, too, we see that stays abroad often result in very stable and lasting relationships – including friendships or even marriages.”