Schlagwort: HJIL

Gazing at Europe: The Epistemic Authority of the MPIL

For the general international lawyer, neither specialized in EU law nor in European human rights law (never mind German public law), the assignment to discuss what the Max Planck Institute for Comparative Public Law and International Law (MPIL) has done for EU law, European human rights law and German public law assumes impossible dimensions: one might (almost) as well have asked me what the influence of NASA on the development of the US military has been. Plus, it is tempting to refer to the wise, if possibly apocryphal, words of Zhou En Lai when asked about the effects of the French revolution: it might be too early to tell… And yet, on closer scrutiny (and a different level of abstraction), it becomes plausible to sketch some contours, whether deriving from training, practical involvement, or theorizing.

It is generally acknowledged that the center of gravity of the MPIL has always rested with general international law; indeed, the appointment, in 2002, of Armin von Bogdandy as one of the directors, with a background more pronounced in both EU law and international trade law, may have raised a few eyebrows at the time. That is not to say no forays had been made into EU law and especially European human rights law: previous directors Rudolf Bernhardt and Jochen Frowein can justifiably claim to have been among the pioneers in that field. But even so, the MPIL was always more about international law than about EU law or even human rights law, all the more so once those disciplines started the slow separation process from international law. If in the 1960s it still made sense to view EU law as part of international law, by the late 1980s this had become considerably less plausible, and much the same applies, with a little time lag perhaps, to European human rights law. Others on this blog have indicated that, e.g., the ‘black series’ (Schwarze Reihe) of MPIL monographs and collective volumes, hugely impressive as it is, contains relatively little on both EU law and European human rights law, and much the same applies to the annals of the Heidelberg Journal of International Law (Zeitschrift für ausländisches öffentliches Recht und Völkerrecht).

Some Reproduction, Some Socialization

As far as training goes, large numbers of German public lawyers, EU lawyers and international lawyers must have passed through the MPIL at one stage of their career or another, either for a shorter stay or for a period of several years as research fellow. Having sometimes addressed some of them en groupe, it is reasonable to conclude that the best of them (in terms of professional skills) are very, very good indeed. There was a time – and perhaps there still is – when the external relations section of the EU’s legal service was staffed with many MPIL alumni; and personal experience suggests that rarely a group of lawyers can have had such a critical mass within an institution. By the same token, many German Foreign Office lawyers must have passed through MPIL, and many of the current generation of established German international law professors have spent considerable periods of time as well: think only of Jochen von Bernstorff, Isabel Feichtner, Matthias Goldmann, Nele Matz‑Lück, or Andreas Zimmermann – and I am probably omitting many more from the list than I should in polite company.

It is too easy to suggest that having passed through MPIL, these individuals transmit MPIL values and methods and ways of thinking on to the next generation (in the case of the professors) or to their colleagues (in the case of the civil servants – the distinction is blurry to begin with). On the other hand, it would also be far too easy to suggest that no transmission of values, methods and ways of thinking takes place; a strong case can made for legal education (and this includes doctoral and post‑doctoral training) as a process of socialization, where pupils first sit at their master’s feet and then become masters having their pupils themselves. Reproduction will rarely be total, but some reproduction, some socialization, will be present, all the more so when the training is high‑level.

And this is not limited to Germans working in Germany alone. MPIL alumni spend time in international organizations; those who come from abroad may end up working for their home governments, and some successful German international law academics based outside Germany have a strong background in the MPIL: think of Jutta Brunnée in Toronto, Nico Krisch in Geneva, or Ingo Venzke and Stephan Schill in Amsterdam – and again I am likely missing more than a few. In other words, in much the same way as the Chicago School of Economics has been (or still is) a training ground for economists worldwide, and Harvard Law School can credibly be seen as a global finishing school for legal practice (something the same school tries to emulate for a certain class of academics through its Institute for Global Law and Policy), so too has the MPIL delivered generations of international lawyers; therewith, it exercises considerable epistemic authority.

Rudolf Bernhardt as a Judge at the ECHR[1]

Such epistemic authority has also been exercised (and is still exercised) through involvement in practice. At least three of the German judges on the International Court of Justice over the last 60 years or so have spent a considerable period of time at the MPIL: Hermann Mosler (even as a director), Carl‑August Fleischhauer, and the current German judge, Georg Nolte. Hans‑Peter Kaul, another MPIL alumnus, was one of the judges at the International Criminal Court (which he helped create as well). Rüdiger Wolfrum, for two decades or so director of the MPIL, has spent many years at the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea and helped arbitrate a handful of disputes before the Permanent Court of Arbitration, while two other erstwhile directors (Bernhardt and Frowein) were members of the (now defunct) European Commission on Human Rights. More recently, Angelika Nussberger has been a judge at the European Court of Human Rights, while current director Anne Peters has been a member of the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission, tasked with promoting and evaluating the rule of law in the Council’s member states. Tongue‑in‑cheek it may be added that the other current director, Armin von Bogdandy, has served as the President of the OECD’s Nuclear Energy Tribunal, although this Tribunal, like some others in the international sphere, has yet to receive any cases.

Thinking and Re-Thinking International Law – and Europe’s Public Order

But perhaps the most obvious form epistemic authority can take, with academic institutions, is the thinking and re‑thinking of what goes on in the world. German legal scholarship is traditionally very good at this, but within the German tradition, the MPIL still stands out. Anne Peters has done much (in particular before her tenure at the MPIL commenced) to re‑think the global order as a constitutional legal order, more or less continuing the tradition going back at least to Hermann Mosler. Mosler famously imagined international society as a legal society, rather than, as was common when he wrote, as a fairly random collection of billiard balls, bound together by not much more than self‑interest and balances of power or, at best, by a shared sense of anarchy. And it is hardly an exaggeration to claim that Peters during her tenure has done much to re‑position the individual in the international legal order and has almost single‑handedly created a novel sub‑discipline within international law, in the form of animal law.

For his part, Armin von Bogdandy is responsible not only for guiding a re‑conceptualization of the field of international organizations law concentrating on the exercise of public authority on the international level, but also, more appropriate to the current assignment, for systematizing ideas about Europe’s public order and for identifying principles of European constitutional law.

Perhaps the main work to be referred to here is the monumental Principles of European Constitutional Law (co-edited with Jürgen Bast), conceived when the Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe was on the agenda but outliving that particular event: the principles identified – and more broadly the field of European constitutional law – do not require a particular constitutional document to retain their validity. One point to note though is that, being principles of constitutional law, they pertain more to the relationship between the EU and both its citizens and its member states, than to other matters. These constitutional principles include equal liberty, the rule of law, democracy, and solidarity, as well as principles of Union unity, respect for diversity among the member states, and the wonderful (and wonderfully intriguing) principle of Gemeinschaftstreue. The list is persusasive, and derives from a number of sources, including the case‑law of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU).

Arguably though, not unlike a Rubik’s cube, a constitutional order has other sides as well. This has become considerably clearer after the book first saw the light, with the CJEU making much of a principle of autonomy in a case such as Achmea. And as autonomy is always a relational notion, the autonomy here is not so much autonomy vis‑à‑vis the member states, but rather the autonomy of EU law (its legal order) vis‑à‑vis competing legal orders.

Be that as it may, and despite the circumstance that such exercises always have a relatively high von‑Münchausen‑quality (a system pulling itself up by its own hair, so to speak), thinking of the EU in terms of constitutional principles was rather novel at the time, and has stood the test of time, at least thus far: the principles identified seem to have become generally accepted as such in the intervening two decades – and that marks quite an achievement.

Great Epistemic Power, Great Epistemic Responsibility

Armin von Bogdandy at the Max-Planck-Tag 2018[2]

So, it seems clear that MPIL exercises considerable epistemic authority: through training, through legal practice, through its research work. There is (ironically perhaps) always a price to pay: epistemic authority is rarely legitimated by considerations of democracy or the Rule of Law; instead, it takes place when democracy proves inert, or paralyzed, or disinterested. And of course some things cannot be democratically decided on to begin with: one cannot meaningfully legislate a ‘principle of solidarity’, e.g., or perhaps even ‘legislate’ principles to begin with. It may be possible to enact rules embodying solidarity, but principles are generally too evasive to be legislated. And this, in turn, suggests that much comes to depend on the individuals exercising epistemic authority: with great epistemic power comes great epistemic responsibility, to paraphrase an old maxim.

Even so, things could hardly be otherwise. An institution such as the MPIL is bound to exercise epistemic authority, whether it wants to or not. Bringing excellent scholars together, training them, sending them out in the world, participating in governance, and re‑thinking the law and legal orders: how could this, if done properly (or even improperly) not be authoritative? It may well be that the contribution of MPIL to international law has been more obvious than its contribution to EU law or European human rights law, but gazing at Europe nonetheless reveals something to reflect upon.

[1] Photo: ECHR.

[2] Photo: MPIL.

Suggested Citation:

Jan Klabbers, Gazing at Europe. The Epistemic Authority of the MPI,, DOI: 10.17176/20240318-143111-0

Lizenz: CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 DEED


“An epoch-making event”? The Foundation of the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Institute and the Anglo-American Research Community, 1912-1933

In 1926, a short note in the renowned American Journal of International Law announced the foundation of the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Institute for Foreign Public Law and International Law (KWI). The note announced Viktor Bruns as director of the KWI, who together with two colleagues from the Law Faculty at the University of Berlin, Rudolf Smend and Heinrich Triepel would lead the KWI. It outlined that the KWI would research public law and international law for “scientific and practical governmental purposes”, and that publications would follow and hopefully make “valuable contributions” to international law in the future.[1] This rather general note about the KWI was the only one in any Anglo-American law journal at the time. This article examines the KWI’s perception in the Anglo-American legal community in the interwar period but also looks at the broader trend of the foundation of national and regional law institutions in the period of the First World War.

The Invisible KWI

It was not until 1929, three years after the initial note, that the KWI began to reach a broader audience in the Anglo-American legal community, particularly in the United States, with the journals Zeitschrift für ausländisches öffentliches Recht und Völkerrecht (“Journal for Foreign Public Law and International Law”, today: Heidelberg Journal of International Law) from 1929 and the Fontes Juris Gentium from 1931. The first editions of the KWI’s publications won acclaim in the review sections of Anglo-American law journals. Eminent American jurists, such as Manley O. Hudson, Law Professor at Harvard University, and Philipp C. Jessup, Law Professor at Columbia University, reviewed these German publications in the most important law journals in the United States. Both lawyers were not only known in academic circles but also regularly advised the US government in legal matters. Manley O. Hudson wrote in the American Journal of International Law that the Fontes Juris Gentium were a “monumental undertaking” which gave “new significance to the reality of international law”.[2] Philipp C. Jessup welcomed the Fontes Juris Gentium in the Political Science Quarterly, stating the publication provided a “survey of international practice”, which would be greeted with a “warm and grateful applause”.[3] Another colleague, Charles  G. Fentwick of Bryn Mawr College hoped that not only students but also governments would make use of the Fontes Juris Gentium.[4] However, while the KWI’s publications were read with great interest in the United States, the Fontes Juris Gentium received rather mixed reviews in British law journals. In the British Year Book of 1932 British jurist, James L. Brierly, Chichele Professor of International Law and Diplomacy at the University of Oxford, felt it was “not easy to express an opinion” on the Fontes Juris Gentium because of the enormous scope of the project, which included translations, extracts, and digests of national and international judgements.[5]

Edwin Borchard before the Senate Judiciary Committee 1937[6]

The reviews also mentioned the KWI as the publications’ editor, although the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Society was not mentioned. Abraham Howard Feller of Harvard University, who had also worked at the KWI and was part of the editorial team of the Fontes Juris Gentium, expressed his hope that the KWI would play an “increasingly large part in international legal life”.[7] Edwin Borchard, a Law Professor at Yale University, wrote the most enthusiastic and extensive review about the KWI and its publications in the American Journal of International Law. Therein, Borchard praised the foundation of the KWI as “an epoch-making event”, and portrayed the KWI as an example for other future research institutes and imagined a cooperation amongst them.[8] His praise may not have been without self-interest, though. Borchard himself contributed to the first edition of the Journal with an article entitled “The Kellogg Treaties Sanction War”.[9] As one of the first American law professors, Borchard lectured at Berlin University in 1925 and he was a close friend of Viktor Bruns. Borchard also belonged to a group of American intellectuals who favoured American non-intervention in the First and Second World Wars.[10]

Traditions of Legal Institutions

The foundation of the KWI also has to be seen in the broader context of the foundation of other national and regional institutions of international law prior to and during the First World War. All institutions served the scientific community as well as governments in building understanding of the role of international law in international politics and ways in which states could use international law as an instrument to serve national interests while simultaneously fitting into an increasingly internationalised world. For instance, the American Institute of International Law, founded in 1912, aimed to understand the role of international law in the formation of an international society in the Americas. The hemispheric approach aimed to develop international law, which more specifically served the needs of the Americas.[11] In fact, the Institute particularly served US imperial policy in Latin and South America.[12]

The First World War led to a temporary suspension of the work of international law organisations, such as the Institut de Droit International (IDI) and the International Law Association, whose aim was to advance the codification of international law by collecting and analysing various national laws and practices, and to find a common ground for international norms.[13] But with the suspension of these organisations, the closely-knit networks of international lawyers saw the creation of new national organisations. In 1915, the Grotius Society was founded in Great Britain with the aim of studying the developments of international law during the war. In its wartime publication Problems of the War, academics and law practitioners discussed pressing themes, which emerged from the war, such as neutrality, blockade, reprisals, prisoners of war, and enemy merchantmen. Membership was confined to British citizens (although some exceptions could be made) and the majority of articles reflected allied perspectives.[14] The Society’s Vice-President, Henry Goudy, who held one of the most prestigious academic positions as Regius Professor of Civil Law at the University of Oxford, wrote that it was a “purely British Society”.[15] Goudy eagerly emphasised that the Society’s goal was to “treat all international questions in an absolutely independent spirit”, yet followed this claim by a long list of Germany’s violations of international law.[16]

Politics and International Law

The example of the Grotius Society signalled the broader question that concerned the international law community in both war and peace time: the relationship between politics and international law. In 1873, the founding members of the IDI intensely debated how they should position themselves as an academic society between politics and international law. The IDI’s statutes initially stated that active members were not allowed to execute political mandates.[17] Yet, this clause was soon dropped when the members of the IDI realised that international norms could only be developed with the involvement of national parliaments and governments.[18] It showed, crucially, that national and international legal norms were constituted at the same time.

Viktor Bruns, 1937[19]

The end of the First World War, too, demonstrated that politics and international law were closely intertwined.[20] The Versailles Treaty system created an international post-war order with the League of Nations and the Permanent Court of International Justice (PCIJ) at its heart.[21] The foundation of the KWI reflected the need of the German government to develop expertise and knowledge in the field of international law which would enable it to effectively defend Germany’s interests in the Versailles Treaty system. Thus, it is not surprising that the KWI primarily focused on reparations and occupation.[22] In fact, with Germany’s admission to the League of Nations in 1926, active participation in the new international order was desirable for Germany. And yet, German politicians and the German public were sceptical of the League’s ability to respond to German interests, as were many lawyers.[23] Despite that, the director of the KWI, Viktor Bruns, earned his reputation as a German representative at the PCIJ and as a judge in several mixed arbitration commissions during the interwar period.[24]

The KWI as an “epoch-making event”?

The KWI was part of a broader trend, which was happening at the same time in the Anglo-American research community, regarding the foundation of international law institutions to understand the international order by examining international law from national and regional perspectives. The institutions pursued similar aims, scope, and methods to examine and comment on an increasingly internationalised world, which strengthened, but also limited, the sovereignty of states.[25] The oscillation between the international and national sphere characterised the interwar period and, more often than not, the two complemented rather than opposed each other.[26] Lively discussions took place in the international law community on wartime developments of international law, the post-war order, the Versailles Treaty, the relationship of states and the League of Nations as well as the PCIJ.[27] The foundation of the KWI was not only an epoch-making event, it was also a response to the challenges of the interwar period, which redefined the relationship between states and the international sphere, and, moreover, the role of international law in politics.

[1] Institut für Ausländisches Öffentliches Recht und Völkerrecht, AJIL20 (1926), 357.

[2] Manley O. Hudson, Review: Fontes Juris Gentium by Viktor Bruns, Ernst Schmitz, A.H. Feller and B. Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg, AJIL 25 (1931), 795-796.

[3] Philip C. Jessup, Review: Fontes Juris Gentium. Series A. Sectio 1. Tomus 1 and 2. Sectio 2, Tomus 1, edited by Viktor Bruns, Political Science Quarterly 47 (1932), 296-299 (97, 99).

[4] Charles G. Fentwick, Review: Fontes Juris Gentium, ed. by Viktor Bruns, The University of Pennsylvania Law Review 81 (1932), 238-239.

[5] James L. Brierly, Review: Fontes Juris Gentium, ed. by Viktor Bruns, British Year Book of International Law 13 (1932), 199-201 (200); For a more sympathetic review, see: Wyndham A. Bewes, Review: Fontes Juris Gentium, ed. by Viktor Bruns, International Affairs 12 (1933), 397.

[6] Public Domain.

[7] Abraham H. Feller, Review: Zeitschrift für ausländisches öffentliches Recht und Völkerrecht, edited by Viktor Bruns and others, Harvard Law Review 43 (1930), 851.

[8] Edwin M. Borchard, Institut für Ausländisches Öffentliches Recht und Völkerrecht, AJIL 24 (1930), 587-591.

[9] Edwin M. Borchard, “The Kellogg Treaties Sanction War,” HJIL 1 (1929), 126-131.

[10] Hatsue Shinohara, US International Lawyers in the Interwar Years. A Forgotten Crusade, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2012, 17-24, 124-131.

[11] Constitution of the American Institute of International Law, in: James Brown Scott (ed.): American Institute of International Law: Its Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Nations, Washington, D.C.: The American Institute of International Law 1916, 107-116, Article II: 107-108.

[12]Juan Pablo Scarfi, The Hidden History of International Law in the Americas. Empire and Legal Networks, Oxford: Oxford University Press 2017, 33, 37-38.

[13] Gabriela A. Frei, The Institut de Droit International and the Making of Law for Peace, 1899-1917, in: Remi Fabre (ed.), Les défenseurs de la paix (1899-1917), Rennes: Presses Universitaires de Rennes 2018, 133.

[14] The Grotius Society. Founded 1915. Rules, Problems of the War 1 (1915), vii-ix.

[15] Henry Goudy, Introduction, Problems of the War 1 (1915), 1-7 (1).

[16] Goudy (fn. 15), 2.

[17] Statuts votés par la Conférence Juridique internationale de Gand, le 10 Septembre 1873, Annuaire de l’institut de droit international 1 (1877), 1-4.

[18] Revision des statuts – Règlements nouveaux, Annuaire de l’institut de droit international 9 (1887-88), 357.

[19] AMPG, Berlin.

[20] Marcus M. Payk, Frieden durch Recht? Der Aufstieg des modernen Völkerrechts und der Friedensschluss nach dem Ersten Weltkrieg, Oldenbourg: De Gruyter 2018, 495-653.

[21] Dan Gorman, Cooperation, Conflict, and International Order: Lessons from the Post-WW1 Settlement, in: Seth Center/Emma Bates, After Disruption: Historical Perspectives on the Future of International Order, Washington D.C.: Center for Strategic and International Studies 2020, 24-59 (25-27).

[22] Felix Lange, Between Systematization and Expertise for Foreign Policy: The Practice-Oriented Approach in Germany’s International Legal Scholarship (1920-1980), EJIL 28 (2017), 538-540 (543-544).

[23] Christoph M. Kimmich, Germany and the League of Nations, Chicago: University of Chicago Press 1976, 94-105; Martti Koskenniemi, The Gentle Civilizer of Nations. The Rise and Fall of International Law 1870-1960, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2001, 236-238.

[24] Viktor Bruns, La Cour Permanente de Justice Internationale. Son Organisation et sa Compétence, in: Hague Academy of International Law (ed.), Recueil des cours – Collected Courses of the Hague Academy of International Law, vol. 62, Leiden: Brill 1937, 549-670; Heinrich Triepel, Nachruf Viktor Bruns, HJIL 11 (1942/43): 324a-324d.

[25] Leonard V. Smith, Sovereignty at the Paris Peace Conference of 1919, Oxford: Oxford University Press 2018, 260-262.

[26] Glenda Sluga, Internationalism in the Age of Nationalism, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press 2013; Glenda Sluga/Patricia Clavin, Rethinking the History of Internationalism, in: Glenda Sluga/Patricia Clavin,  Internationalisms. A Twentieth-Century History, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2017, 3-13.

[27] Geoffrey Butler, Sovereignty and the League of Nations, British Year Book of International Law 1 (1920/21), 35-44; Arthur Baumgarten, Souveränität und Völkerrecht, HJIL 2 (1929), 305-334; Jesse S. Reeves, International Society and International Law, AJIL 15 (1921), 361-374.

Suggested Citation:

Gabriela Frei, “An epoch-making event”? The Foundation of the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Institute and the Anglo-American Research Community, 1912-1933,, DOI: 10.17176/20240403-174131-0.

Lizenz: CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 DEED


Von Pfeifenrauch und „klingelnden Weckern“. Das Institut in den siebziger und achtziger Jahren

Pipe Smoke and "Ringing Alarm Clocks". The Institute in the Seventies and Eighties


Von Berlin nach Heidelberg. Wie ich 1968 ans Institut kam

Den ersten Kontakt zum Institut hatte ich im Wintersemester 1968/69. Eigentlich hatte ich das erste Staatsexamen an der Freien Universität Berlin ablegen wollen. Dort hatte ich, mit Ausnahme zweier Semester in Heidelberg, die meiste Zeit studiert. Doch die damaligen Studentenunruhen hatten am Ende auch die Juristische Fakultät in Berlin erreicht, sodass ich nach Heidelberg zurückgekehrt war. Viele Lehrveranstaltungen hatte ich nicht mehr zu absolvieren, aber ein völkerrechtliches Seminar von Professor Mosler, dem damaligen Direktor des Instituts, reizte mich. Es wurde dann aber nicht von Mosler geleitet, der als ad hoc Richter im Nordsee-Festlandsockel-Fall an den IGH in Den Haag berufen worden war, sondern von Professor Doehring, und nicht in der Fakultät, sondern in Institut. Die Art, wie Professor Doehring das Seminar leitete, hat mich sehr beeindruckt, und so beschloss ich, auch seine Vorlesung zu besuchen; wohl die einzige, die ich jemals um acht Uhr morgens wahrgenommen habe.

Ich traf Professor Doehring wieder im mündlichen Ersten Staatsexamen im Juni 1970, in dem er zu Beginn den Kandidaten sagte, er wolle nicht seine (bekannte oder vermutete) Meinung hören, sondern würde auch eine andere akzeptieren, sofern sie schlüssig begründet sei. Später hörte ich, dass er auch eine der Klausuren gestellt hatte und ich dachte, dass das wohl auch bei der Benotung gegolten hatte.

Das Institutsgebäude in der Berliner Straße 1975[1]

Nach der mündlichen Prüfung (Endergebnis „gut“ und Platzziffer 3) kam Professor Doehring auf mich zu und fragte: „Was machen Sie jetzt?“ Ich antwortete: „Referendarzeit“. Professor Doehring: „Langweilig.“ Ich meinte dann, vielleicht arbeite ich daneben in einer Anwaltskanzlei, woraufhin er sagte: „Warum kommen Sie nicht ans Institut, das kennen Sie ja schon etwas?“ Da musste ich nicht lange überlegen und wurde zum 1. September 1970 von dem neuen (zusätzlichen) Direktor Professor Bernhardt als Wissenschaftliche Hilfskraft eingestellt.

Über Ostfriesland ins Japan-Referat. Referentenstellen und Länderreferate

Das Institut war in den 1970er und 1980er Jahren noch bedeutend kleiner als heute. Untergebracht war es damals noch im 1954 errichteten Gebäude in der Berliner Straße, erst 1997 wurde das heutige Institut errichtet und durch den 2019 eingeweihten Ergänzungsbau noch einmal bedeutend erweitert. Gibt es heute 24 wissenschaftliche Mitarbeiter und 31 Referenten, waren es seinerzeit nur 21 sogenannte Referentenstellen. Im Unterschied zu heute wurden sie jedoch ganz überwiegend als volle Stellen vergeben, mit Ausnahme der Stellen jener, die parallel den Referendardienst absolvierten. Mit Ablegen des 2. Staatsexamens, spätestens nach erfolgter Promotion, wurden die Stellen entfristet. Folglich gab es nur so viel wissenschaftliche Mitarbeiter wie Stellen.

Das wiederum hatte zur Folge, dass sich alle gut kannten und wussten, woran jeder arbeitete, auf Zuweisung durch die Institutsleitung oder an eigenen Projekten. Wenn man selber auf ein Problem stieß, ging man zu dem entsprechenden Referenten und bat um Rat, der – soweit möglich – immer gegeben wurde.

Zugewiesen wurden den Referenten zur Beobachtung jeweils ein Land und ein völkerrechtliches Sachthema, die in Abständen geändert wurden. Da aus meinem Lebenslauf bekannt war, dass ich die ersten zehn Jahre nach dem Krieg in Ostfriesland sozialisiert wurde, bekam ich als erstes die Niederlande, und da ich zwischen Abitur und Studium zum Reserveoffizier ausgebildet worden war, das Thema der UN-Streitkräfte. Später bekam ich Japan, und als in der Ausstellung neuerworbener Bücher, die man mit einem Zettel zur Ansicht bestellen konnte, eines auf Japanisch enthalten war, habe ich meinen Zettel angehängt. Danach hielt sich lange in der Bibliothek der Eindruck ich sei des Japanischen mächtig.

Das Durchschnittsalter der wissenschaftlichen Mitarbeiter war damals höher als heute. Einige wenige waren bereits habilitiert oder standen kurz davor und wechselten 1971 auf Lehrstühle (Helmut Steinberger, Christian Tomuschat). Andere waren bereits promoviert und arbeiteten an ihrer Habilitation oder bereiteten sich auf die Aufnahmeprüfung in den Auswärtigen Dienst vor.

… auch noch Chefredakteur

So gegen Ende der siebziger Jahre wurde ich gefragt, ob ich mir zutraute, die Redaktion des Instituts zu übernehmen. Ich zögerte etwas, denn ich war mitten in der Arbeit an meiner Habilitationsschrift und war mir im Klaren, dass das deren Abschluss verzögern würde. Letztlich nahm ich aber an, denn mir wurde zugesagt, nach erfolgter Habilitation eine C3-äquivalente Stelle zu bekommen, die ansonsten nur noch der Direktor der Bibliothek hatte.

Mit der Redaktion war ich schon einmal ganz am Anfang meiner Tätigkeit in Berührung gekommen, als es darum ging, das Register für einen umfangreichen rechtsvergleichenden Konferenzband zu erstellen; später nur dann, wenn ich eine Buchbesprechung verfasst hatte, die der langjährige Leiter der Redaktion, Dr. Strebel, zuweilen kräftig umformulierte, bis ich ihm sagte, ich hätte das Buch gelesen, und wenn er die Rezension anders haben wollte, solle er es lesen und besprechen; da hörte das auf.

Hauptaufgabe der Redaktion war die vom Institut herausgegebene „Zeitschrift für ausländisches öffentliches Recht und Völkerrecht (ZaöRV)“, in der von außen angebotene oder im Haus entstandene Artikel in vier Heften pro Jahr veröffentlicht wurden. Reichten die von außen kommenden und angenommenen Beiträge nicht aus, erging ein Aufruf an die Mitarbeiter, zu prüfen, welche Manuskripte sie aus ihrem Arbeitsgebiet beisteuern könnten.

Sämtliche Manuskripte landeten zunächst auf meinem Schreibtisch und ich musste sie gründlich lesen und zudem auch hin und wieder durch einen Blick in die (zitierte) Literatur überprüfen. Offensichtlich ungeeignete Angebote habe ich eigenständig und so höflich wie möglich abgelehnt, es sei denn, es war ein sehr prominenter Kollege; dann habe ich mich der Zustimmung der Direktoren versichert. Einmal habe ich ein überwiegend strafrechtlich-kriminologisches Manuskript von Professor Heike Jung von der Universität des Saarlandes abgelehnt und an „Frau Professor Jung“ geschrieben, mit dem Schwerpunkt würde man den ansonsten interessanten Artikel in der ZaöRV nicht suchen bzw. finden. Als ich nach einiger Zeit im Rahmen einer Bewerberrunde in Saarbrücken einen Vortrag hielt, kam ein großer, kahlköpfiger Mann auf mich zu und sagte: „Ich bin Frau Jung.“ Dass in Süddeutschland Heike auch ein männlicher Vorname war, wusste ich damals nicht. Als es mich dann später nach Saarbrücken verschlug, wurden wir gute Freunde.

Vorstellung des neuen Fontes-Bandes (Sectio 2, nationale Rechtsprechung). Albert Bleckmann, Kay Hailbronner, Werner Morvay und Torsten Stein, 1970er [2]

Beiträge, die ich annehmen wollte, legte ich dem jeweils geschäftsführenden Direktor vor, der fast ausnahmslos zustimmte. Bei Manuskripten aus dem Haus war das nicht immer so. Einige wenige Mitarbeiter wurden grundsätzlich kritisch gesehen und ihr Beitrag nach wenigen Randbemerkungen auf den ersten Seiten abgelehnt. Ich habe dann regelmäßig interveniert und gesagt, sicherlich könne man manches verbessern, aber so schlecht sei das nicht, man müsse es nur zu Ende lesen.

Ich hätte die Habilitation neben der Redaktionsleitung nicht in einer zumutbaren Zeit geschafft ohne die Hilfe der sehr erfahrenen und tüchtigen Damen in der Redaktion: Frau Makarov, Frau Neureither und später auch Frau Schmidt.

Einen „Defekt“ habe ich aus jener Zeit des gründlichen Lesens behalten: Ich finde nahezu jeden Schreib- oder Tippfehler in Büchern oder Tageszeitungen.

Arbeit an den Quellen Fontes Iuris Gentium

Nach Art. 38 Abs.1 d) des Statuts des Internationalen Gerichtshofes (IGH) dienen unter anderem richterliche Entscheidungen der verschiedenen Nationen als Hilfsmittel zur Feststellung von (völkerrechtlichen) Rechtsnormen. Eine kleinere Arbeitsgruppe (fünf bis sechs Mitarbeiter) unter Leitung von Professor Doehring hatte es sich zur Aufgabe gemacht, die Rechtsprechung deutscher oberer und oberster (in Ausnahmefällen auch mal erstinstanzlicher) Gerichte daraufhin zu untersuchen, ob und inwieweit sie als solches Hilfsmittel angesehen werden konnte. Die Sache war recht arbeitsintensiv: Zunächst wurden die amtlichen Entscheidungssammlungen, die oft verzögert erschienen, und die Fachzeitschriften daraufhin durchgesehen, ob sie einschlägige Entscheidungen enthielten, die dann kopiert wurden. Das hatte die Arbeitsgruppe unter sich aufgeteilt und traf sich dann, um zu beraten, ob und welche Aussagen (Leitsätze) daraus entnommen, sachlich geordnet und unter Angabe der Fundstelle in aufwendig gedruckten dicken Bänden sehr viel später veröffentlicht werden sollten. Die Debatten dauerten oft lange, denn eine Erkenntnis war, dass ein erheblicher Teil der Aussagen deutscher Gerichte zum Völkerrecht schlicht falsch war. Das legte die Schlussfolgerung nahe, dass die Einordnung des Völkerrechts als bloßes Wahlfach in der juristischen Ausbildung nicht ausreichend war (und ist). Da der Absatz dieser dicken Bände nicht dem Aufwand für ihre Erstellung entsprach, wurde das Projekt ab den 1980ern nicht weiterverfolgt.

Heidelberger “Kaffeehauskultur“: Das Café Frauenfeld

Die Café-Runde: Albert Bleckmann, Torsten Stein, Werner Morvay und Hartmut Schiedermair (Foto: MPIL)[3]

Jeden Werktag um 10 Uhr machte sich ein kleiner Trupp (Albert Bleckmann, Werner Morvay, Georg Ress, Hartmut Schiedermaier – mich hatten sie adoptiert) auf in das nahegelegene Café Frauenfeld in der Mönchhofstraße (heute ist da die Sparkasse). Dort haben wir bei einem Kaffee oder zwei unsere wissenschaftlichen Projekte reihum diskutiert und oft auch allgemeinpolitische Fragen. Ein besonderes Thema war immer die Dissertation von Werner Morvay. Er war hoch intelligent, sehr belesen und kenntnisreich, aber sich selbst gegenüber sehr kritisch und von wechselnder Gemütslage. So kam es wiederholt vor, dass er auf die Frage nach seiner Arbeit antwortete, er habe alles zerrissen, das genüge seinen Ansprüchen noch nicht. Sein Thema war die Dekolonisierung des Commonwealth.[4] Wir baten ihn dann, uns doch in Kopie zu geben, was er neu zu Papier gebracht hatte, damit wir uns ein Bild machen konnten. So hatten wir am Ende das komplette Manuskript, auch wenn er wieder mal etwas zerrissen hatte. Schließlich reichte er es unter unserer Aufsicht ein und wurde damit an der Heidelberger Fakultät promoviert; wenn ich es richtig erinnere: summa cum laude. Das zeigt, jenseits der bloßen Kollegialität, die besondere Kameradschaft, die nicht zwischen allen, aber doch einigen herrschte.

Die Referentenbesprechung und danach

Jeden Montag von 16 bis 18 Uhr fand die Referentenbesprechung statt, die 2022 in Montagsrunde / Monday Meeting unbenannt wurde. Die Teilnahme war ungeschriebene Pflicht. Sie diente den berichtenswerten Mitteilungen aus den Sach- und Länderreferaten der Referenten. Themen aus eigenen Projekten oder Gastvorträge waren die eher seltene Ausnahme. So waren alle über die Entwicklungen in den anderen Zuständigkeitsbereichen informiert. Die Dauer war auf jeweils 15 Minuten begrenzt, damit möglichst viele zu Wort kamen. Wer deutlich überzog, bekam unauffällig die Zeichnung eines „heftig klingelnden Weckers“ durchgereicht, was in den allermeisten Fällen zu kurzen Schlussworten führte. Nachdem Professor Frowein 1981 als Direktor in das Institut eingetreten war, erübrigte sich der „Wecker“. Wenn jemand überzog, klopfte er tonlos, aber unübersehbar auf seinen Siegelring.

Lange Zeit durfte während der Referentenbesprechung geraucht werden. Da waren die Pfeifenraucher an vorderster Front: Michael Bothe, Karl Doehring, Helmut Steinberger und auch ich selbst. Als das abgeschafft wurde, war die Luft anders, aber nicht unbedingt besser.

Nach der Referentenbesprechung gingen viele, aber nicht alle, in ein Handschuhsheimer Lokal, mal das „Alt Hendesse“, mal das „Lamm“, und diskutierten intensiv den einen oder anderen Beitrag des Nachmittags oder andere aktuelle völkerrechtliche Fragen bei Bier oder Wein und etwas zu Essen. Professor Mosler war nie dabei, Professor Doehring immer, Professor Bernhardt oft und Professor Frowein hin und wieder. Diese „Nachsitzungen“ haben wesentlich zum Zusammengehalt beigetragen. Leider kamen sie in den späten achtziger Jahren mehr und mehr außer Mode.

Was war anders damals? Ob seiner geringeren Größe und dem Engagement seiner Mitglieder war das Institut so etwas wie eine wissenschaftliche Familie.


[1] Foto: Max-Planck-Gesellschaft (Hrsg.), Berichte und Mitteilungen. Max-Planck-Institut für ausländisches öffentliches Recht und Völkerrecht Heidelberg 2 (1975), S. 9.

[2] Foto: MPIL.

[3] Foto: MPIL.

[4] 1974 in der „Schwarzen Reihe“ erschienen: Werner Morvay, Souveränitätsübergang und Rechtskontinuität im Britischen Commonwealth. Ein Beitrag zur Lehre von der Staatensukzession, Heidelberg: Springer 1974.

Suggested Citation:

Torsten Stein, Von Pfeifenrauch und „klingelnden Weckern“. Das Institut in den siebziger und achtziger Jahren,, DOI: 10.17176/20240404-211138-0

Lizenz: CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 DEED



From Berlin to Heidelberg. How I Joined the Institute in 1968

I first came into contact with the Max Planck Institute for Comparative Public Law and International Law in the winter semester of 1968/69. Originally, I had intended on taking my first state examination at Freie Universität Berlin. With the exception of two semesters in Heidelberg, I had studied there for most of my degree. However, the student riots at the time had also reached the Faculty of Law in Berlin, and so I had decided to return to Heidelberg. I did not have to attend a lot of courses anymore, but I was intrigued by an international law seminar by Professor Mosler, the director of the institute at the time. The seminar was, however, not led by Mosler, after all, as he had been appointed as an ad hoc judge in the North Sea Continental Shelf case at the ICJ in The Hague, but instead by Professor Doehring; and it was not held at the faculty, but at the Institute. I was very impressed by the way Professor Doehring conducted the seminar, and so I decided to join his lecture too; probably the only one I have ever attended at eight o’clock in the morning.

I met Professor Doehring again in my oral state examination in June 1970, which he opened by telling the candidates he did not want to hear his (known or assumed) own opinion, but would gladly accept a different one, if it was conclusively justified. I later heard that he had also set one of the exams and I figured that this had probably also been applied in the grading.

The institute building in the Berliner Straße 1975[1]

After the oral exam (final result “good” and rank number 3), Professor Doehring came up to me and asked: “What are you doing now?”;I replied: “my legal clerkship [Referendariat]”;Professor Doehring: “Boring”. I stated that I might be doing side work in a law firm, to which he replied: “Why don’t you come to the institute, since you already know it a bit?”. I didn’t have to think twice and was hired as a research assistant (wissenschaftliche Hilfskraft) by the new (additional) director, Professor Bernhardt, on 1 September 1970.

Via East Frisia to the Japan Department. Lecturer Positions and Country Departments

In the 1970s and 1980s, the institute was significantly smaller than it is today. At that time, it was still housed in the building in Berliner Straße from 1954; the current institute was not built until 1997 and was significantly expanded once again with the extension inaugurated in 2019.  While today there are 24 scientific employees and 31 research fellows, back then there were only 21 so-called research fellow positions. Unlike today, however, most of these were full-time positions, with the exception of those who were absolving their legal clerkship at the same time. Once they had passed the second state examination, or at the latest after completing their doctorate, the positions were made permanent. As a result, there were only as many scientific employees as there were posts.

This, in turn, meant that everyone knew each other well and knew what everyone was working on, either on assignment by the directors or on their own projects. Whenever anyone encountered a problem, they went to the relevant researcher and asked for advice, which – as far as possible – was always given.

The research fellows were each assigned a country and an international law topic to observe, which were changed periodically. As it was known from my CV that I was socialised in East Frisia (in North-West Germany) for the first ten years after the war, I was first given the Netherlands, and as I had been trained as a reserve officer between high school and university, the topic of the UN armed forces. Later I got Japan, and when the collection of newly acquired books, which you could order with a note, included one in Japanese, I attached mine to it. After that, the impression that I spoke Japanese persisted in the library for a long time.

The average age of the scientific employees was higher back then than it is today. A few had already completed their habilitation or were about to do so and moved on to department chairs in 1971 (Helmut Steinberger, Christian Tomuschat). Others had already obtained their doctorate and were working on their habilitation or preparing for the admission examination to the Foreign Service.

…  Editor-In-Chief to Boot

Towards the end of the seventies, I was asked whether I thought I was capable of taking over the editorial department of the Institute. I hesitated a little because I was in the middle of writing my habilitation thesis and realised that this would delay its completion. In the end, however, I accepted because I was promised a C3-equivalent position after completing my habilitation, which otherwise only the director of the library had.

I had already come into contact with the editorial department once, at the very beginning of my work, while compiling the index for a comprehensive comparative law conference volume; later on, only when I had written a book reviews, which the long‑standing head of the editorial team, Dr Strebel, often reformulated considerably, until I told him that I had read the book and if he wanted the review to be different, he should read and discuss it himself; that’s when that stopped.

The main task of the editorial team was the “Zeitschrift für ausländisches öffentliches Recht und Völkerrecht (ZaöRV;English Title: Heidelberg Journal of International Law, HJIL) published by the Institute, in which articles offered from outside or written in-house were published in four issues per year. If the articles submitted and accepted from outside were not sufficient, a call went out to the staff to check which manuscripts they could contribute from their field of work.

All manuscripts landed on my desk first and I had to read them thoroughly and occasionally double‑check them by looking at the (cited) literature. I rejected obviously unsuited offers independently and as politely as possible, unless they came from a very prominent colleague; then I made sureto get the directors’ assent. . I once turned down a manuscript, which was mainly focussed on criminal law and criminology, by Professor Heike Jung from Saarland University and wrote to “Frau Professor Jung” to say that the otherwise interesting article would not be looked for or found in the ZaöRV. Sometime later, when I was giving a presentation as part of an application process in Saarbrücken, a tall, bald man came up to me and said “I am Mrs Jung”. I didn’t realise at the time that Heike is a first name also common for men in Southern Germany. When I later moved to Saarbrücken, we became good friends.

Presentation of the new Fontes Edition (Sectio 2, national case law): Albert Bleckmann, Kay Hailbronner, Werner Morvay and Torsten Stein, 1970s [2]

Contribution I wanted to accept were submitted to the managing director, who mostly agreed. This was not always the case with manuscripts from within the Institute. A few employees were generally viewed critically and their contributions were rejected after a few marginal comments on the first few pages. I would then regularly intervene and say that while some things could certainly be improved, the article was not that bad, you just had to read it to the end.

I would not have been able to complete my habilitation in a reasonable amount of time without the help of the very experienced and capable women in the editorial team: Mrs Makarov, Mrs Neureither, and later also Mrs Schmidt.

I have retained one “defect” from those days of thorough reading: I spot almost every spelling mistake or typo in books and newspapers.

Working with the Sources. Fontes Iuris Gentium

According to Art. 38 para. 1 d) of the Statute of the ICJ, judicial decisions from different nations, among other things, serve as subsidiary means for the determination of international legal norms. A small working group (five to six staffers) headed by Professor Doehring had set out to analyse the case law of the German upper and federal courts (and in exceptional cases also of the lower courts) to determine whether and to what extent it could function as such an aid. The task was quite labour-intensive: First, the official collections of decisions, which were often published with a delay, and the specialist journals were examined to see whether they contained relevant decisions, which were then copied. The working group divided this up among themselves and subsequently met to discuss whether and which guiding principles (Leitsätze) should be extracted from them, organised materially and finally published, citing the relevant source, in lavishly printed, thick volumes, much later. The debates often dragged on for a long time, as one insight was that a considerable portion of the statements made by German courts on international law were simply wrong. This suggested that the categorisation of international law as a mere elective subject in legal education was (and is) insufficient. As the sales of these thick volumes did not match the effort required to produce them, the project was discontinued in the 1980s.

“Coffee House Culture” in Heidelberg. Café Frauenfeld

The café circle: Albert Bleckmann, Torsten Stein, Werner Morvay and Hartmut Schiedermair [3]

Every weekday at 10 a.m., a small group (Albert Bleckmann, Werner Morvay, Georg Ress, Hartmut Schiedermaier – I was adopted by them) set off for the nearby Café Frauenfeld in Mönchhofstraße (near the institute, in Heidelberg-Neuenheim, today a bank is located there). There, over a coffee or two, we discussed our respective scientific projects and often broader political issues as well. A special topic was always Werner Morvay’s dissertation. He was highly intelligent, very well-read, and knowledgeable but very critical of himself and moody. On multiple occasions, when asked about his work, he replied that he had torn everything up as it did not meet his standards yet. His topic was the decolonisation of the Commonwealth.[4] We then asked him to give us a copy of what he had recently put down on paper so that we could get an idea. Finally, we were in possession of the complete manuscript, despite him having torn things up again. In the end, he submitted it under our supervision and was awarded his doctorate from the Heidelberg faculty of law; if I remember correctly: summa cum laude. This shows, beyond mere collegiality, the special camaraderie that prevailed, not between all, but nevertheless between some.

The Referentenbesprechung and Beyond

Every Monday from 4 to 6 p.m., it was time for the Referentenbesprechung, which was renamed Monday Meeting (Montagsrunde) in 2022. Attendance was an unwritten requirement. It was used for newsworthy announcements from the speakers’ specialist and country departments. Topics from their own projects or guest lectures were the rare exception. This meant that everyone was informed about developments in the other departments. The duration of each presentation was limited to 15 minutes so that as many people as possible could have their turn. Those who clearly exceeded their time were inconspicuously handed a drawing of a “fiercely ringing alarm clock”, which in the vast majority of cases led to short closing remarks. After Professor Frowein joined the institute as a director in 1981, the “alarm clock” became superfluous. If someone took too long, he would tap his signet ring silently but unmistakably.

For a long time, smoking was allowed during the Referentenbesprechung. The pipe smokers were at the forefront: Michael Bothe, Karl Doehring, Helmut Steinberger and also myself. When this was abolished, the air was different, but not necessarily better.

After the meeting, many, but not all, attendees went to a restaurant in Handschuhsheim, sometimes the “Alt Hendesse“, sometimes the “Lamm“, and intensively discussed one or the other of the afternoon’s contributions or other current international law issues over beer or wine and something to eat. Professor Mosler was never there, Professor Doehring always, Professor Bernhardt often and Professor Frowein from time to time. These “after-sessions” contributed significantly to the sense of cohesion. Unfortunately, they increasingly fell out of fashion in the late 1980s.

What was different back then? Due to its smaller size and the commitment of its members, the Institute was much like a scientific family.

Translation from the German original: Sarah Gebel

[1] Photo: Max Planck Society (ed.), Berichte und Mitteilungen. Max-Planck-Institut für ausländisches öffentliches Recht und Völkerrecht Heidelberg 2 (1975), p. 9.

[2] Photo: MPIL.

[3] Photo: MPIL.

[4] Published in 1974 in the “Schwarze Reihe“: Werner Morvay, Souveränitätsübergang und Rechtskontinuität im Britischen Commonwealth. Ein Beitrag zur Lehre von der Staatensukzession, Heidelberg: Springer 1974.

Suggested Citation:

Torsten Stein, Pipe Smoke and “Ringing Alarm Clocks”. The Institute in the Seventies and Eighties,, DOI: 10.17176/20240404-211042-0

Lizenz: CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 DEED