The University of Basel’s German language department (Deutsches Seminar) is situated in a beautiful 14th century house in Basel’s old city. The early history of the “Engelhof” (Angel’s court) building is lost in time. Its first mention in print is found in an official document from 1357, established shortly after an earthquake damaged the city but left the Engelhof standing. In 1477, the property is acquired by Junker Mathias Eberler, a rich city councillor and patron of the arts, who expanded and decorated the house lavishly.
In 1499, the Treaty of Basel, ending the Swabian War and paving the way for the independence of the Swiss Confederacy from the Holy Roman Empire, was signed at the Engelhof, as it was then the residency of the Duke of Milan’s envoy. During the Reformation, Basel became a safe haven for Protestant exiles, including Henri de Condé, who stayed at the Engelhof; one of the rooms still bear his name. The house remained a place of gathering for thinkers and political exiles throughout the Enlightenment.
In the 20th century, the Engelhof kept welcoming the weary in the form of a hospice for workers, then a Christian hostel providing affordable lodgings and alcohol-free food to the starving students of the University nearby.
In 1984, the house was acquired by the University to house its German, Slavic and Nordic languages institutes. The transformation, completed in 1991, was led by Basel architect Siliva Gmür in collaborating with Vischer AG Architekten.
The lovely library of the German language department (the other two institutes have since moved across the street) occupies the upper two floors of the Engelhof, combining elegant modern furniture with preserved original wood beams. This little-known gem in the University of Basel library network offers quiet casual workspaces, as well as dedicated desks to long-term researchers. The dormer windows facing each of the desks offers a lovely view over the roofs of the city. The view can also be enjoyed from a small terrasse facing north across the Rhine.
Library detail pages are primarily a place for me to collect information I gather on the libraries I visit, and are frequently updated. None of this should be considered authoritative, I am not an architect, nor a historian. If you notice something incorrect, please let me know!