The history of the World Comparative Law Network has been connected with the journal "World Comparative Law", WCL ("Verfassung und Recht in Übersee", VRÜ) from the very beginning. When it was founded, the WCL was an outright exception in the German legal journal landscape. There was hardly any interest in foreign legal systems especially in public law beyond Europe and North America. At that time, at least in Germany, there was only a very small circle of potential contributors for essays or reviews.
When the journal was founded in 1968, its creator, Herbert Krüger, still hoped to establish a larger research group for the journal's subject area at the Hamburg Research Center for International Law and Comparative Public Law (today's Institute for International Affairs).
The idea and conception of the journal trace back to Dieter Schröder, who had been working with me since 1969. In 1965, he set up the first department for "Constitutional Law and International Relations of the New Overseas States", which was later followed by two other departments. Initially, the plan was to employ a referee each for Africa, Asia and Latin America. This plan, however, proved to be elusive.
At this point Herbert Krüger came up with an unconventional idea: the ignoring of the field of research by official German scholarship should be compensated by volunteers, "Freischärler der Wissenschaft", as he called them. People from the most diverse (mainly legal) professions with interest in the subject matter ought to take it upon themselves to "observe" the constitutional development in a country and report on their observations at an annual conference. In the beginning, these were mainly Herbert Krüger's former doctoral students. Hardly anyone could leave the old doctoral supervisor’s study room without an assignment to “observe”: this could be a country that the person had an interest in for some reason, but it could also be a factual topic: for one, anyone who had completed a doctorate on the German Federal Railways was to follow the railways in the Third World, a doctoral student who had become a prison director in the meantime was to examine the penal system.
In 1975 this circle met for the first time in Lüdenscheid, and ever since then every year until today. Each time, the focus was on a lecture given by a scholar (the first was given by Herbert Krüger's successor to the chair, Ingo von Münch), followed by short presentations held by members or guests. From the outset, the working group was characterised by great liberality: there were neither statutes nor organs nor membership fees; everyone could contribute, no one had to. The meetings were financed by patrons, the first years by Armin Albano-Müller, then by Herbert Krüger himself, the organisational tasks were taken over by Gerhard Scheffler, presiding judge at the Hamburg District Court.
Naturally, not all those who joined the working group for various reasons – often only because they could not resist Herbert Krüger's persistent invitation – became experts for a constitutional system of the Third World. Many, however, acquired a high level of expertise. In addition, the circle quickly expanded to include participants who had already joined the group with expertise for a particular country: PhD students (no longer from Herbert Krüger, but from members of the circle who had become university professors themselves), speakers from research institutes, but also former diplomats who reported on the countries in which they worked. The charm of the lay research of the early years was hence increasingly replaced by the more professional exchange of research results.
The death of Herbert Krüger in 1989 threatened to bring about a brief end, but the working group was put on a new footing, which is still bearing fruit today. Financing was provided by the Professor-Herbert-Krüger-Stiftung zur Förderung der Überseeischen Verfassungsvergleichung, founded by Herbert Krüger's daughter Gabriele Krüger. The network was now also closely linked institutionally with the WCL journal. The annual conference also became the venue for the editorial and editorial meeting and the meeting of the Foundation's Board of Trustees. The chairs of the editors Philip Kunig (FU Berlin) and Brun-Otto Bryde (JLU Gießen), who together with Karl Hernekamp had assumed responsibility for the journal, took turns in providing the scientific program, while the technical organization was continued by Gerhard Scheffler as well as the participating chairs.
A lecture held by an established scholar, supplemented by short presentations, remained at the centre of the event. As these lectures were – in addition to the original working group members who were still active – increasingly provided by the doctoral students of the editors, the meeting became something like a supra-regional research training group. Initially, the focus was on doctoral students, staff and guest researchers from the Berlin and Giessen professorships. However, since the number of law professors who could be considered as doctoral supervisors for overseas comparative constitutional law was limited, these doctoral students did not exclusively come from Berlin and Giessen.
The development from a meeting of interested "Freischärler der Wissenschaft" to a conference of legal theory was decisively promoted by the expansion of the journal's editorial board and its transition to the next generation. Although research about the constitutional development of the global South in Germany is still underdeveloped and in need of financial support, it is now self-confident and strong, with professorships, research groups and numerous doctoral students dedicating the focus of their research to it. For this growing circle of lawyers that are researching and working on the law of the Global South, the annual meeting of the working group has become an important communication platform.