A look in the past

The history of the tropical greenhouse in Witzenhausen is intricately linked to the history of the former monastery site on Steinstraße and its use for agricultural training.

At the end of the 19th century, the German Colonial School for Agriculture, Trade and Industry (Deutsche Kolonialschule für Landwirtschaft, Handel und Gewerbe) was founded in Witzenhausen. From 1944, practical training in tropical agriculture could be obtained. Tropical plant production played a central role in the curriculum, and by 1902, only four years after the school’s founding, the first greenhouse for tropical crops was constructed. The foundations of the plant collection were donated from the Botanical Gardens in Göttingen and Bonn along with the garden administrations of Wilhelmshöhe, Kassel, the Palm Garden in Frankfurt and Herrenhausen, Hannover. Another portion originated from former colonial schools which sent plants, plant parts, or seeds from their own samples or collected abroad.

In 1937, the technology and space of the house were no longer sufficient for the teaching and demonstration functions, so a new and larger house was built on the same site. An area of approximately 640 m², separated into a tropical house, temperate house, and two warm houses, was available for the plant collection of the colonial school. In 1944, during the second world war, the German colonial school shut down. The glass windows of the greenhouse were destroyed by grenades of the American forces in 1945, and most of the tropical plants froze in the winter of 1945/46.

In 1957, the successor to the former colonial school, the Academy for Tropical and Subtropical Agriculture (Lehranstalt für Tropische und Subtropische Landwirtschaft) was founded under sponsorship from the German Institute for Tropical and Subtropical Agriculture GmbH (Deutschen Institutes für Tropische und Subtropische Landwirtschaft). In the space of the former colonial school, it offered a year-long postgraduate course for future tropical farmers. Fortunately curriculum and general orientation changed since then. In framing the research studies, the tropical plant collection and greenhouse played a vital role.

In October 1964, the decision was made under the direction of the federation for the academy to develop a six-semester engineering degree program. Practical instruction would still play a role, so the plant collection was preserved, further restored, and expanded. The construction of a new building was enacted, as a renovation of the 1937 facility appeared uneconomical. The location of the houses from 1902 and 1937 was also not suitable for a larger structure, so a relocation to the opposing property on Fährgasse was needed. The construction costs of approximately 500,000 DM were funded by the Deutsches Institut für Tropische und Subtropische Landwirtschaft and the Ministerien für Landwirtschaft und Entwicklungshilfe. From 1966, the engineering school rented the new greenhouse from DISTL for practical and theoretical instruction.

The plant collection remained as before, consisting of tropical and subtropical crop plants and diverse ornamental species that adorned the indoor and outdoor plantings of the engineering school although general principles of the school had been changed.

In 1971, the Engineering School for International Agriculture (Ingenieurschule für Ausländische Landwirtschaft) became a part of the newly founded comprehensive school for the University of Kassel.

The Trop­ical Green­houses in Witzen­hausen


Building of the first greenhouses and gardens on the former monastery street


Building of a larger greenhouse on the same site (640 m²)


Partial destruction of the glass windows by American troops


Construction of the current greenhouses on Fährgasse (1200 m²)


Extensions on the southeast side – seminar room and social room (300m²)


Construction of a research area (150 m²) with climate chambers 


Uses of the Green­houses

1902 - 1943

German Colonial School

1945 - 1957

Private sponsors (Preservation by former employees of the colonial school)

1957 - 1966

Academy for Tropical and Subtropical Agriculture

1966 - 1971

German Engineering School for International Agriculture

from 1971

Comprehensive school of the University of Kassel (Universität Gesamthochschule Kassel) - from 1994 the University of Kassel