Following the Franco-Prussian War of 1870–71, the city of Strasbourg became part of the German Empire. The University of Strasbourg was refounded in 1872 and a new observatory began construction in 1875 in the Neustadt district. The main instrument was a 50 cm Repsold refractor, which saw first light in 1880 . At the time this was the largest instrument in the German Empire. In 1881, the ninth General Assembly of the Astronomische Gesellschaft met in Strasbourg to mark the official inauguration.
The observatory site was selected primarily for instruction purposes and political symbolism, rather than the observational qualities. It was a low-lying site that was prone to mists. During the period up until 1914, the staff was too small to work the instruments and so there was little academic research published prior to World War I. The main observations were of comets and variable stars. After 1909, the instruments were also used to observe binary stars and perform photometry of nebulae.
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