Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg
ZAH Internal Pages > ZAH guidelines and manual for newcomers

ZAH guidelines and manual for newcomers

(Last update August 28, 2018)

Welcome to the ZAH! We hope you will enjoy working at our institute. This guide is to help you get started. 

  • Before you even arrive at the ZAH it is very important to get/keep in contact with the secretary in charge of your employment contract (if you don't know: ask your employer/supervisor). The reason: the contract must be formally signed by you before any salary payments can start to flow! The University strictly does not backdate contracts. If you are too late, you might miss one month worth of salary.
  • Also don't forget to start checking out well ahead of time if you need a visa and/or work permit. If you have no clue: ask the secretary in charge or visit THIS website of Heidelberg University on visa and other entrance formalities.
  • Housing in Heidelberg and the surroundings is not easy. If you are early enough, you may be able to get an apartment in the University Guest House for the first few weeks/months (ask the secretary in charge, well in advance!). Housing rents in Heidelberg are high. But if you search a bit outside of Heidelberg (e.g. Dossenheim, Ziegelhausen, Leimen or Neckargemünd) rents drop considerably. You can also ask your supervisor if he/she knows anyone leaving soon; maybe you can take over his/her apartment. To find an apartment yourself you might also consider THIS website provided by the "Studentenwerk" of Heidelberg University.
  • In Germany it is mandatory for every person to have health insurance. Therefore, all applicants for a residence permit are required to demonstrate adequate health insurance coverage before receiving such a permit for Germany. Please visit THIS website for more information about this issue.
  • The Welcome Centre of Heidelberg University is the central information and service institution for international scholars after PhD at Heidelberg University. They provide the necessary information, advice and customized support around all topics relevant for preparing a stay in Heidelberg and everyday life.
  • The Graduate Academy is the central coordinating body for all support services related to general advising, professional and academic development and financial assistance for PhD candidates at Heidelberg University.
  • Additonal information can be found on the international affairs webpage of the University.

Concise overview of ZAH structure

The Zentrum für Astronomie der Universität Heidelberg (ZAH) consists of three institutes linked together under a common name. These are the Astronomisches Recheninstitut (ARI), the Institut für Theoretische Astrophysik (ITA) and the Landessternwarte (LSW). The ZAH has a managing director (one of the full professors of the ZAH; rotates every few years) and a scientific manager (Dr. Guido Thimm). The scientific manager manages the everyday affairs and is your primary contact point for ZAH-related questions. Each of the three institutes also has a managing director, who manages institute matters. 

The ZAH is run by a directorial board currently consisting of the nine full professors of the ZAH. These professors are:

ARI: Prof. Eva Grebel, Prof. Joachim Wambsganß and Prof. Björn Malte-Schäfer

ITA: Prof. Ralf Klessen, Prof. Matthias Bartelmann, Prof. Cornelis Dullemond, Prof. Fritz Röpke (Forschungsstelle am HITS)

LSW: Prof. Norbert Christlieb, Prof. Andreas Quirrenbach

Associated to (but not part of) the ZAH is the Heidelberg Institut für Theoretische Studien (HITS). The two astrophysics group leaders there are professors at the ZAH (Prof. Röpke, N.N.).

The ZAH is a separate institution within the university. However, all professors at the ZAH are faculty members of the Faculty of Physics and Astronomy. 

For all top-level science issues you can contact these professors. But please note that the ZAH has also several adjunct professors and other senior science staff. A full list of research groups and their descriptions can be found at:

For all administrative matters (except for computer facilities, see section on computers) please contact the local secretary in charge of your institute or department. You can ask your supervisor who that is. Sometimes there are different secretaries in charge of different tasks (e.g. daily stuff versus contract stuff). 

Currently the main secretarial/administrative support is:


  • Frau Schwalbe: Finance, Contracts, Employments
  • Frau Ballman: Daily institute issues
  • Frau Buchhaupt: SFB Administration
  • Frau Klinger-Araifa: SFB Administration
  • Frau Grauer: Daily institute issues
  • Frau Mayer: Personel-lists and other administration
  • Frau Pisch: Daily institute issues


  • Frau Zacheus: Finance, Contracts, Employments
  • Frau Matyssek: Daily institute issues, Heidelberg Astro Colloquium
  • Frau Klinger-Araifa: ERC Grant "Starlight" management 


  • Frau Anslinger: Finance, Contracts, Employment
  • Frau Farr: Daily institute issues
  • Frau Wright: Secretary group Christlieb

Admission to doctoral studies and university enrollment

If you want to start doctoral studies at ZAH you have to apply for admission to the Faculty of Physics and Astronomy at Heidelberg University. All forms, documents or links described below can be found on the faculty's website.

You should apply directly to the HGSFP, which handle the admission and administration for the faculty. Further instructions can be found on the HGSFP website.

Application forms can be downloaded and should be submitted directly to the HGSFP or IMPRS-HD.

In addition an excerpt from the faculty regulations for doctoral studies and the teaching requirements for graduate students should be printed, signed and submitted together with your application.

You also have to print out the form 'Requirements for Astronomy Candidates', sign it and return this form together with your application.

Admission is then granted by the Department of Physics and Astronomy.

On admission, you should also register at the University of Heidelberg. Please use the appropriate form also available on the website mentioned above.

Computers, eMail etc

System administrators

At the ZAH the primary computer system administrators are Peter Schwekendiek and Sven Weimann. You can contact them through an email to:


Please always use this email address, do not email just to one of the admins alone. For the LSW the local administrator is: Monika Darr.

Accounts for ITA and ARI

To get an account for either ARI or ITA, please fill out the form at  with the appropriate selection (ITA-LAN or ARI-LAN) and send the results to  admin(at)

Please note that in order to create your account, your employment/stay at the ZAH must be listed in our "Infothek" personnel database. Please check with your supervisor or the secretary that this is actually the case before applying for an account.


When you have a University contract, you will (should) automatically get a "Uni-ID", i.e. a university-wide (in fact: state-wide) identification number (e.g. "uh320") that is your key to all university computational and data services. Usually you get this when you sign your contract. If you did not get it, please contact the ZAH System administrators (see below). If you are an external long term guest, please ask one of the secretaries (with a Cc to your local host) to request an "unentgeltliche Tätigkeit" (unpayed activity) agreement with the university, so that you can get a Uni-ID. Please make sure to have a good password on this Uni-ID, since it unlocks everything.

NOTE: Your Uni-ID expires immediately when you leave the ZAH (sorry, uni-rules). Make sure to anticipate this.


The Uni-ID gives you access to an email account at the Uni-Rechenzentrum (URZ). You can find it at

To learn how to connect your mail client directly to the mail servers, please check this page.  Please first ask your peers if they can help. If not, ask  admin(at)

At the  LSW, a local email system is used (in addition to the uni one). Ask the system admins for details. At ARI and ITA we only use the uni mail for new members.

Please also have a look at

Note that you can forward your email to another account if your contract at our institute is about to expire, so that for at least some months after you leave your email will still find its way to you. See the above mailfaq for details (though unfortunately this page is only in german).



The ZAH webpage is managed by Guido Thimm. The underlying content management system and webservers are managed by the system admins. The institute web pages are managed locally. You can set up your own webpage for your professional profile. Please ask the system admins. 

The ZAH webpage features a "news" section. If you have a new discovery, press release, or have other news that you think would be nice to feature on the website of the ZAH, please contact Guido Thimm.

VPN, eduroam, wireless

The University has services that are only accessible from inside the university network. That can be annoying if you are at home with your laptop. The solution is the VPN service of the URZ:

This VPN solution also allows you access to all electronic journals that the University is subscribed to! 

The University is part of eduroam:

which is superb for when you are on travel for business: most universities worldwide now have joined eduroam, so that you do not have annoying issues with getting online while on your business trip. 

On the entire university campus you can access the University wireless network, but you need VPN for that (at least if you wish to use the safe UNI-HEIDELBERG network). 


Computing facilities

Many groups have their own computer servers. For access to those, please ask your supervisor. 

The University participates in the bwForCluster and bwUniCluster computer clusters. You need a Uni-ID for access, but even then: you first have to request access. Consult admin@zah and/or the following webpages:

Note that the access request will have to be approved by the ZAH-Director. Once you requested access, the ZAH-Director will automatically get an eMail from the system for confirmation. This should be reasonably quick. If not, please ask the service people of these clusters.

Note also that SFB 881 members now have access to a dedicated SFB 881 cluster. Please contact Dr. Thorsten Lisker about this.

More details about ZAH computing ressources can be found at (Note: only accessible from within the ZAH).

Seminars, Colloquia, Talks

The ZAH and the astronomy community in Heidelberg as a whole has a rich flora of seminars, colloquia and talks. We have a central database for all these events:

HePhySTO, the Heidelberg Physics Seminar and Talk Organizer

This is your go-to source of information on all astronomy (and many physics) colloquia. You can in fact even register for automatic announcements by email, and you can insert automatic calendar events into your electronic calendar. 

Note that the central event is the Heidelberg Joint Astronomy Colloquium (HJAC), which takes place every Tuesday (during the lecture semester) at 16:15 at the große Hörsaal in the Philosophenweg 12 building. You can find the information at the HePhySTO database. 

Trips to conferences, meetings, observing runs, etc.

At ZAH, the procedure to handle businesstrips to conferences, workshops, meetings, observatories etc. is decribed below. We ask you to follow these instructions strictly in order to avoid problems lateron, e.g. with you travel reimbursement. In addition to this information, you can also find information (in German) on the official travel website of the university.

Getting permission for a business trip

Generally, business trips need to be approved by the managing director of your institute or his deputies. This holds even if you were given your own budget by third party funds.

Furthermore, the following steps and aspects have to be taken into account:

  1. The travel request form has to be submitted to your local administration well in advance of the trip, at least 2 weeks before you intend to start your trip. On the form you should mention the source of funding (if you know). Furthermore, you should add a cost estimate of the trip (flight+additional transport, accomodation, conference fees, etc.). This estimate should be documented (e.g. copy of relevant web sites) and appended to the form. If you are part of a group, your supervisor should note on the form that he/she agrees with the trip and specify the funding source.
  2. Please pass on the form to your local secretary. They will check your travel request and pass it to the appropriate person for approval. Please note that in addition to financial aspects, the travel authorization is also important for insurance reasons. Without proper authorization, your trip is - from an insurance perspective - regarded as a private trip. 

How to get money in advance

In case of expensive business trips you can apply for advance money, i.e. 80 percent of the costs estimated as being stated on your travel request form. The written application (not restricted to any format) for advance money has to be submitted to your local administration together with the approved travel request. It should also contain information about your bank account. You have to include estimates of the costs (e.g. realistic hotel and/or flight offers from the web, a reservation is even better). After your travel you have to then fill out the reimbursement form as soon as possible, including all the bills. Since the advance money has some restrictions, you are advised to discuss this in person with the secretary of your department. More information (in German) can be found here.

Holidays before/after an official trip

It is possible to combine a businesstrip and private holidays, but only to a limited degree. Your holiday should not exceed the length of time you spend on your professional duties (e.g. if your business trip lasts three days you should not apply for more than three days of holiday). Any additional costs (including more expensive flight ticket) arising due to the private extension must be payed privately (advice: make sure to get two offers from your travel agency: one for business-only, and one for an extended trip, so that the difference is clear). Furthermore note that the holiday part should not exceed 5 working days (if it does, then your flight or train tickets cannot be reimbursed - though of course your accommodation during the business part of the trip can).

Who is approving your travel request at ZAH

ZAH, the following people are responsible for approving travel requests:

at ARI: Joachim Wambsganss, Eva Grebel, Björn Schäfer

at ITA: Cornelis Dullemond, Matthias Bartelmann, Ralf Klessen

at LSW: Andreas Quirrenbach, Norbert Christlieb

Applying for travel reimbursement

During your travel, make sure to keep tickets, hotel bills, conference fees receipts etc (boarding cards are usually not necessary, but it can't hurt to keep them too). You do not need to keep receipts for food or such. Instead you get a per-diem (fixed amount of money per day) to cover such costs. 

Please tack all tickets that are not A4 (Paper) size onto an A4 paper, for easier handling.

Next, download the reimbursement form from:

A .doc version is also available (use .doc extension instead of .pdf).

If you can't read German, there is a mock English translation available (only to be used to understand the form; use the German form for the real one):

Fill it out electronically using e.g. acrobat or another PDF viewer/editor (or the .doc version with Word). Sign it and bundle it together with the tickets and bills. It would be helpful if you can write somewhere on the forms which fund will fund your travel (e.g. your DFG grant, or your supervisor's overheads or whatever) if you know this. If you do not know, not a big problem.

Now give this package to the secretary of your department.

It may take some time before you get your money back. If it takes too long, you can ask the secretary if there is information where the process currently is. 


Every employee on a contract (not those on stipends) has a holiday card. You have a certain number of holidays you can freely choose. However, they have to be approved by your employer. Simply ask the secretary. There are also a number of official fixed holidays (Christmas, Easter etc). You can find these official holidays on e.g.

Students at ZAH

Students at ZAH are actually students at the Faculty of Physics and Astronomy. Anything related to their study should be discussed with the relevant authorities at the faculty. For Bachelor and Master students this would be the student secretariat at the INF227 building (Mrs. Nerger or Mrs Hiemenz), the administrator of the physics and astronomy study (Dr. Ostrowski), the chair(wo)man of the examination office or the dean of studies. For PhD students this would be the Dean's office or the HGSFP office. Please keep in mind that the students are themselves responsible for abiding by the procedures and rules of the faculty related to their studies. The ZAH and its staff is only providing the research environment of the thesis work and the thesis advisor gives scientific advice. 

Teaching duties

Academic personnel has a certain teaching load depending on employment status and contractual regulations. In particular, there is a high demand in tutors for exercise groups which supplement various lectures and courses offered by the Faculty of Physics and Astronomy. PhD-students and some staff members usually fulfill their teaching load as tutors in exercise groups which accompany regular lectures in astronomy or physics.

HERE you find a general overview about lectures and courses with such a demand for tutors and a registration platform it you want/need to support our lecturing activities.

How to reach your colleagues at ZAH by e-mail

In order to ease communication within ZAH and to avoid flooding everyone's incoming mail boxes with messages, we have created several eMail-list. The most important one are summarized below.

An overview about all lists currenty available can be found HERE (note: only accessible from a computer inside the ZAH).

Most important eMail-lists at ZAH:

All Scientists at ZAH: Scientists with permanent staff positions: Postdocs on fixed-term contracts: All ZAH students, incl. PhD-students: ZAH administration: All people working at ZAH: All people working at ARI: All people working at ITA: All people working at LSW:

These e-mail-lists are dynamically created from the personnel data base within the ZAH web page. Members of the ZAH can reach these aliases from their eMail account. Email-groups accociated with somebody are displayed whenever you click the persons' name on this list.

Libraries at ZAH

The Heidelberg University Library provides access to various literature services and of course a variety of books on physics and astronomy. Such books are organized in a separate entity called "Bereichsbibliothek Physik und Astronomie (BPA)" (a sort of sub-library). Part of the BPA are the libraries of ARI, ITA and the LSW. Head of the BPA is Dr. Jochen Apel.

If you want to search for books available e.g. in the field of physics, astronomy or computer sciences you might consider the university online library system HEIDI. Books available at the ZAH libraries are part of this database as well. Many books are also available online.

Astrophysical environment in Heidelberg

Heidelberg has 6 astronomy-related institutes scattered across town, three of them are part of the ZAH (ARI and ITA in Heidelberg Neuenheim, and the LSW on the top of the Königstuhl mountain). The other three are the HITS (on the north slope of the Königstuhl mountain), the MPIK (on the west slope of the Königstuhl mountain) and the MPIA (on top of the Königstuhl mountain next to the LSW). 

For more detailed information, please check out our "Astronomy and Physics in Heidelberg" page.

There is a Science Bus service (Bus 30) that shuttles between the Universitätsplatz in town and the institutes on the Königstuhl. There is also Bus 39 from Bismarckplatz to the Königstuhl. Please consult the RNV website for the schedule.

Support for family, equal opportunity and various other support

The University has various services to help you cope with special circumstances. These include family support issues such as childcare / daycare, advice on issues related to equal opportunity, mediation, and even a concierge service to help you combine work and family responsibilities. You can find all the information about these services on the website of the equal opportunity office.

Income, health insurance and pension

For most ZAH-scientists their contract is drawn up in accordance with the german collective  labour agreement for people working in public services (TV-L). Using this income calculator your individual income can be calculated.
Your income depends on various parameters (marital status, experience level, number of children, etc.). Some typical examples are:

- Ph-student, unmarried, no children

- Postdoc, married, one child

Depending on your income you also have the choice between a private or public health insurance. However, if your gross income is below 4.800,- EUR per month you can only opt for the public health insurance. This is obligatory in germany.

We had a couple of cases when non-german citizens brought their private health insurance from their home countries. But even in this case you have to have a public German health insurance. If you have further questions regarding this issues you can contact the ZAH scientific manager for further assistance.

For an overview on the German health insurance system see e.g. HERE.

While you work in germany a pension fund will be set up for you and parts of your income will automatically transferred to this fund. This pension insurane scheme is called "Deutsche Rentenversicherung".

If you will at a later stage take up another job outside germany or back in your home country it is possible to have access to this german fund via your local pension agencys. When you are going to retire you apply for pension in your country of residence. Your local agency will then contact the german pension fund and the amount of pension you have obtained during your employment in germany will be paid together will pensions from other employments in Europe or abroad.

Ombudsperson for ZAH-Students and Postdocs

The ombudsperson of ZAH will act as confidential and impartial advisor and mediator to whom employees and students (and their supervisors) can turn in case of any problems they may encounter in their professional relationship with their supervisor. The role of the ZAH ombudsperson is currently held by our ZAH science manager, Dr. Guido Thimm.

Questions or problems can be initially submitted to him by email or post. The ombudsperson will then contact the applicant in order to clarify the problem and to find a solution. He will together with the applicant determine which offices or authorities may contribute to finding a solution.

In some cases, a simple advising session may be sufficient to resolve the problem. In other cases, the ombudsperson could e.g., with the permission of the applicant, arrange a mediation session with the other parties involved. The ombudsperson has the authority to make recommendations regarding further action. The implementation of the recommendations, however, is up to the parties involved. (Last update June 28, 2018)


Initial Contact by email:

Initial contact by phone:
06221 54 1805

Initial Contact by post:
Dr. Guido Thimm
Zentrum für Astronomie der Universität Heidelberg (ZAH)
Astronomisches Rechen-Institut
Mönchhofstr. 12-14
69120 Heidelberg

We would also like to draw your attention to the Heidelberg Graduate Academy's Ombuds-Person Site.

One more thing...

We are aware that when you are new in Heidelberg, perhaps from a different country and different culture, you may have many questions that may not be answered by this 'manual' of the ZAH. Please feel free to contact your local secretaries with these questions and/or ask for help. Our ZAH science manager (Dr. Guido Thimm) is also very happy to answer any questions you may have. 

Editor: Webmaster
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