Prof. Dr. Sibylle Wollenschläger: “I like that, I'm in.”

Commitment to work, family and projects close to her heart

 © Nina Kammleiter

Prof. Dr. Sibylle Wollenschläger was a judge, professor of family law and vice president of FHWS. She is still involved in many ways to this day – and the mother of four and grandmother of eight does not compromise on her commitment to family life either.

A flash of car headlights from a distance, a wave through the window, and, after getting out, a smile. When Prof. Dr. Sibylle Wollenschläger is there, you notice her. The retired vice president of FHWS radiates energy as she enters the building in her burgundy dress and climbs the stairs with brisk steps in her ankle boots. She spent a lot of time in this place, holding various offices in addition to her teaching. She was women’s affairs officer, chair of the examination board, vice president and finally head of the Campus for Professional Development. Many of the passers-by greet her or strike up a short conversation. Arriving on the FHWS roof terrace at Münzstraße 12, she smiles. "I like a lot of places in and around Würzburg, but up here is one of my favourites," the 72-year-old explains, brushing her light blonde hair out of her face.

A lawyer with assertiveness

Born in Nuremberg, she has lived in Würzburg since her school days. Her family is made up of lawyers – so studying law was also her stated path from an early age. When she began her studies in 1967, it was still a rarity for a woman to study law. Wollenschläger speaks of eight percent women on her degree programme at the University of Würzburg. After her doctorate, she worked as a trainee lawyer at the Higher Regional Court of Würzburg. To some extent, she also felt the fact that the judiciary was male-dominated here. "There were certainly men, especially older ones, who thought a woman had no business there," Wollenschläger says, making it immediately clear how little that impressed her. "You just have to see that you prevail. If you're going to choose a profession like this, you do need a certain amount of self-confidence."

Quote by Prof. Dr. Sibylle Wollenschläger: "You just have to see that you prevail. If you're going to choose a profession like this, you do need a certain amount of self-confidence."

With this self-confidence, the lawyer went through various stages as a judge and prosecutor – and finally focused on family law. This often involved difficult decisions such as removing a child from their family due to violence or abuse. "The decision to remove a child from parental custody is a massive intrusion into the family," she says, her vivid blue eyes turning serious at the subject. But you can tell that the former judge was also able to handle such situations well and practiced her profession with passion despite difficult decisions.

As the mother of four sons, Wollenschläger worked part-time during this period. Since she was able to manage her time relatively freely as a judge, she never found the combination of family and career particularly problematic. In addition to her job and her children, activities outside her work also took up a large part of her time. Through her husband's work, she came into contact with the topic of immigration and is still involved in the German chapter of the AWR, the Association for the Study of the World Refugee Problem.

As president of the AWR's scientific advisory board, Prof. Dr. Ralf Roßkopf particularly appreciates the reliability and openness in the collaboration with Prof. Dr. Sibylle Wollenschläger. "Although she comes from a different background, she first supported and then embraced this cause of her husband’s. She has been an officeholder in the society for decades and has always stayed with it despite ups and downs," says Roßkopf, who has also worked with Wollenschläger as a professor at the FHWS Faculty of Applied Social Sciences. Wollenschläger was awarded the Federal Cross of Merit in 2012 for her commitment to researching the world refugee problem.

New challenges for the Würzburg resident

Despite her varied commitments, Wollenschläger longed for a career change in the late 1990s. "I thought if I didn't turn my life around now, then I'd fall off the bench dead someday," she says with a laugh. She had already held teaching positions in family and guardianship law at FHWS during her time as a judge. In 1997, she then decided to move fully into teaching at the Faculty of Applied Social Sciences as a professor. She particularly appreciated the interpersonal relationship with the students in her teaching. "Contact with students is also very different from contact with a criminal you've just charged, of course," she says.

The professor was vice president of FHWS from 2011 to 2014 and then head of the Campus for Professional Development until 2020, where she drove FHWS' programme for continuing education. She also represented FHWS at numerous events. Thus it came about that her participation in DAHW meetings, the German Leprosy and Tuberculosis Relief Association, as a representative of FHWS also awakened her personal interest in this subject. "When I was asked if I would like to join, I thought: I like that, I'm in" Today she is a member of the DAHW Supervisory Board, and it didn't take much persuasion. She is also a member of the advisory board for the Würzburg Dommusikverein (Cathedral Music Association). After the death of her husband, then chair of the association, she decided to join herself out of conviction.

Sibylle Wollenschläger, together with her colleagues from university management.
As vice president of FHWS from 2011 to 2014, Sibylle Wollenschläger, together with her colleagues from the FHWS board of management, represented FHWS to the outside world. (©FHWS/Katja Bolza-Schünemann)
Quote by Prof. Dr. Ralf Roßkopf: "She has her hidden passions that you can see a flash of here and there."

The former vice president of FHWS likes to travel and visit the projects close to her heart in person, both professionally and privately. She talks about a trip to Ethiopia to visit leprosy projects, several FHWS stays in India and a "side trip" to New Delhi, where she visited a tuberculosis project to find and treat infected truck drivers. "She has her hidden passions that you can see a flash of here and there," describes Roßkopf, who shared an office with Wollenschläger during their time together at FHWS. "She rides a Vespa, goes scuba diving in Egypt, and travels through foreign lands alone, which is not something you would necessarily expect from a law professor in her cohort.”

The family as a balance

The 72-year-old also likes to travel within Germany and visit her sons, who live in different cities with their families. "I think family is her big support," Roßkopf says. "She has a great passion for her grandchildren." Particularly in recent months, the grandmother to eight grandchildren has been kept busier while schools and day care centres have been closed. Two of her grandchildren spent a lot of time in Würzburg and were actively supported by Wollenschläger in homeschooling.

The fact that Wollenschläger seems to effortlessly balance her numerous offices and interests is probably also due to her attitude. "Personal satisfaction is certainly very important, and with that comes dedication," she explains. And she seems content as she stands on the FHWS roof terrace, despite the wind and light rain, looking out over her hometown. 

By Nina Kammleiter

By Nina Kammleiter