Department of Mechanical Engineering

The German teachers in Helsinki

Europe faced a consistent shortage of technology teachers throughout the 1800s. As there were not enough teachers to meet demand, teacher recruitment became a bottleneck for development, especially in places like Finland at the periphery of Europe. New teachers for technical colleges were sought from among graduating technology students, the industry and universities.

The Manufactory Board had from the 1840s onward dispatched a few dozen students of technology and industrial skills to the German-speaking areas of Europe. One student who received a travel stipend from the government was Edvin Leonard Bergroth, who matriculated in 1857 in Helsinki. He saw the field of technology as his life's work and wanted to pursue further studies in Hanover, at one of the leading colleges of the time.

Once the gates to Europe were opened in 1855 – the beginning of the reign of Alexander II – the director of the Technical School of Helsinki, Anders Olivier Saelan, began charting the German-speaking area in search of technology teachers with modern education.

To this end, Saelan travelled in the summer of 1859 to Hanover to look for teachers and to find out the latest in technology education. In Hanover, he met with head of the Polytechnic School, Karl Karmarsch, and was put in touch with a community of Scandinavian students. Edvin Bergroth, who would later serve as director of the Helsinki gasworks and receive the title of vuorineuvos, was among them. Bergroth introduced Saelan to his fellow students, marking a crucial moment in the future of Finnish engineering.

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The young engineers from Hanover

The first engineer hired was Endre Lekve, born in Hardanger, Norway in 1833. Before pursuing engineering studies in Hanover, he had graduated from non-commissioned officer school in Bergen.

Endre Lekve was the final piece of the puzzle needed to connect Finnish engineers with Germany. He returned to Hanover in 1860 to handle personal affairs, but was also tasked by his superiors with finding experts from other fields who might consider moving to Helsinki. For his trip back to Finland, Lekve was joined by fellow student and engineer Rudolf Kolster. Kolster was appointed assistant teacher in mechanical engineering and mechanical systems drawing.

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Another teacher to be invited to Helsinki was Johan Conrad Dierchs Reuter, who had completed a degree in surveying in 1852. In the late 1850s, Reuter completed an engineer's degree in the Hanover Polytechnic School and rounded out his studies in 1861 in Karlsruhe. His teaching duties in Helsinki began in the autumn term of the same year, covering descriptive and practical geometry.

In 1862 in Hanover, Manufactory Board chair Julius Mickwitz agreed with architect Ludwig Wilhelm Bähr that the latter would come to Helsinki. Bähr would be responsible for architectural education in Finland. However, he never settled into Helsinki or learned Swedish, as the other German teachers did. Bähr died in January 1869 of typhoid fever at the age of 38.

A new generation of teachers

The European shortage of technology teachers eased in the end of the 1870s, when the period of institutionalisation ended in schools and the first students of college-level institutions graduated in the continent's periphery. In Helsinki, too, vacant teachers' positions were being taken up by young experts who were educated in Finland. German teachers were still needed, however, especially in the field of mechanical engineering.

Max Seiling is one of the most well-known German teachers in the Polytechnic Institute, responsible for the subjects of mechanical technology and mechanical engineering during 1879–1897. A native of Bavaria, Seiling had completed his engineer's studies in Münich in the mid 1870s and served as an assistant at the Münich Polytechnicum. He came to Helsinki at the beginning of the Polytechnic Insitute's curriculum in 1879. In addition to engineering, Seiling was interested in spiritual matters and humanist sciences. He would later become known primarily for his theosophist writings. During the 1890s, Seiling's home was the setting for general spiritual sessions attended by the refined elements of society.

Engineer training in Helsinki depended on the work of German teachers until the beginning of the Great War. The issue came to a head when the Polytechnic Institute became the Technical University of Finland in 1908 and new rules allowed for the hiring of six professors for the Department of Mechanical Engineering. Karl Axel Mauritz Ahlfors was appointed to the professorship in turbine engineering, but despite three advertisements, no qualified professor could not be found in Finland to fill the other vacancy.

With the other professorship still vacant, the senate granted permission for inviting Dr.-Eng. Ernst Tuckermann of Hamburg to fill the position for five years. Tuckermann's position was extended at the end of the five-year period, but he had to leave the country in 1914 due to the outbreak of war in Europe and would be replaced by engineer Harald Kyrlund. Tuckermann was the last of the German teachers in Helsinki.

The shortage in mechanical technology teachers was so severe that not even assistants could be found despite the offered salary being elevated to 1 400 marks per year.

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Ernst Tuckermann
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A matter of money and language

Frustrated by the lack of qualified candidates, the college of teachers at the Technical University conducted a comparative study of European educational institutions to find a reason for the lack of teachers. The answer turned out to be money, and the senate was persuaded to raise professors' salaries by 20 %. Requirements for Finnish and Swedish language skills were also reduced in order to attract foreign applicants. The Technical University thus had to concede that German would remain an official language of instruction in addition to Finnish and Swedish.

German would maintain its position as the primary foreign language used in technology education in Helsinki until the 1950s.

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