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History of Humboldt-Universität

The university was founded in Berlin in 1810, and the founding concept by Wilhelm von Humboldt was the vision to be the "Mother of all modern universities". This concept envisaged a "Universitas litterarum", a vision to unit teaching and research and to provide students with an all-round humanist education. This concept spread throughout the world and served as the foundation of many universities of the same type over the next century and a half.

Willhelm von Humboldt

The concept of the academician and statesman Wilhelm von Humboldt was influenced, among others, by the reform ideas of the philosopher Johann Gottlieb Fichte, the first vice chancellor of the university, and by the theologian and philosopher Friedrich Schleiermacher. From the outset, the university in Berlin had the four classical faculties of Law, Medicine, Philosophy and Theology. Its first academic term began with 256 students and teaching staff of 52. Professors such as Georg Friedrich Wilhelm Hegel (Philosophy), Karl Friedrich von Savigny (Law), August Boeckh (Classical Philology), Christoph Wilhelm Hufeland (Medicine) and Albrecht Daniel Thaer (Agriculture), shaped the profile of the individual faculties in accordance with Humboldt's concept. Partly due to the influence of the natural scientist Alexander von Humboldt, the university was a pioneer in introducting many new disciplines. The chemist August Wilhelm von Hofmann, the physicist Hermann von Helmholtz, the mathematicians Ernst Kummer, Leopold Kronecker, Karl Theodor Weierstrass (the "triple star of Mathematics"), and the medical scientists Johannes Müller and Rudolf Virchow became known in their specialist areas far beyond the university in Berlin.

Friedrich Schleiermacher
Alexander von Humboldt
Karl Theodor Weierstrass
Johann Gottlieb Fichte

Later, a total of 29 Nobel Prize winners did some of their scientific work at the university in Berlin, including Albert Einstein, Emil Fischer, Max Planck and Fritz Haber. And many famous people such as Heinrich Heine, Adelbert von Chamisso, Ludwig Feuerbach, Otto von Bismarck, Karl Liebknecht, Franz Mehring, Alice Salomon, Karl Marx and Kurt Tucholsky were also enrolled at the "Alma mater" of Berlin. Heinrich Mann was the first honorary doctor of the university after the end of the Second World War.

Heinrich Mann
Albert Einstein
Max Planck
Fritz Haber

The Prussian king, Friedrich Wilhelm II, donated the first building to the university - the former Palace of Prince Heinrich of Prussia. It was built from 1748 to 1766 on the splendid boulevard Unter den Linden, and it saw major extension work from 1913 to 1920. When the Royal Library was no longer sufficient for teaching requirements, a university library was established in 1831. During the expansion of the university - since 1828 is had been called "Friedrich Wilhelms-Universität" - other institutions that already existed in the city were integrated.

Main Building (former Palace of Prince Heinrich))

One example is the still famous Charité. Friedrich I had built a quarantine house outside the city walls to counter the threat of the plague. This "plague house" was used to accommodate the poor, ill, and the frail. As early as 1726, in its function as a military and citizens' hospital, this building was turned into a training centre for military medicine and a school for doctors and surgeons. In 1727 the "soldier king" Friedrich Wilhelm decreed: "The building is to be called the Charité". The Faculty of Medicine took over the building in 1829. When establishing natural science institutions in the second half of the 19th century, highly modern research and teaching facilities arose. The school for treating animal medically was founded in 1790 and was integrated as the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine; the agricultural college founded in 1881 became the Faculty of Agriculture. In 1889 a building was opened at Invalidenstrasse 43 for the natural history collections that had belonged to the university since 1810. This building is now the Museum of Natural History. The close links between the clinical and pre-clinical facilities of the Faculty of Medicine created a generous spatial connection between scientific disciplines at the turn of the century.

Old Charite

The early decades of the 20th century were characterized by great academic achievements and international attractiveness. In 1901, Jacobus Henricus van't Hoff from the Netherlands received the university's first Nobel Prize for Chemistry for his research into the laws of chemical dynamics. The antiquity expert Theodor Mommsen published trendsetting work on Roman history, and in 1902 he received the Nobel Prize for Literature. 27 other Nobel Prizes reflect the outstanding scientific achievements of the academics who worked at the university in Berlin. The chemist Walter Nernst and the physicists Max von Laue, Gustav Hertz and James Franck are worth noting. Emil von Behring received the first Nobel Prize for Medicine for the development of an effective cure for diphtheria, and some years later Robert Koch, who discovered the tuberculosis and cholera bacteria, also obtained the Nobel Prize.

Jacobus Henricus van't Hoff
Theodor Mommsen

When the latest Nobel Prize for a (former) member of the university was awarded to the co-founder of quantum mechanics Max Born in 1954 for "Establishing a new way of thinking about natural phenomena" (Born), the university had been through a dark chapter of German history: the expulsion of Jewish academics and students and political opponents of National Socialism, and the extermination of some, did great damage to the university in the period from 1933 to 1945. And it was a shameful moment for the university when students and lecturers took part in the burning of books on 10th May 1933. After that and in the subsequent war years, many academicians left the university which had once been renowned as the home of humanitarian thoughts. Weakened by this great loss of scientific potential, teaching was resumed in January 1946 with seven faculties in partly war-damaged buildings. The political turmoil of the post-war period and the protest of students and lecturing staff against the increasing Communist influence on the university led to a division among the staff and students. As a result, the Freie Universität Berlin was founded in December 1948 in the American sector of the city.

Max Born

From 1949, the university bore the names of the brothers Alexander and Wilhelm von Humboldt. However, the university reforms of 1950 and 1967/68 caused the university to develop in a way that ran counter to its former academic traditions and changed the academic content, study procedures and research conditions in obedience to the ruling ideology. Nevertheless, it was still possible in some areas to restore international contacts and create world-wide cooperation. The longstanding and intensive research and exchange links with the universities in Eastern Europe and particularly in the former Soviet Union are worth special mentioning; many of these links are without parallel in Germany. In addition, formal academic cooperation with nearly all universities in the capital cities of Western Europe has existed since the 1970s. Close relations to universities in Japan and the United States, as well as Asian, African and Latin American countries have been in place for some time. Following German unification in 1990, Humboldt-Universität seized the opportunity to enhance international components in both teaching and research, and to increase the mobility of its students. This was done with an explicit continuation of previously existing international cooperation and exchange agreements.


Future development is focused upon three areas: the strengthening of contacts within the EC, especially under the auspices of the Sokrates/Erasmus Program; the cultivation of academic and student exchange opportunities with North American universities and colleges; and the stabilization of relations with partner institutions in Central and Eastern Europe. The university currently maintains formal contact to nearly 100 academic institutions on all continents, and holds more than 450 formal contracts within the Sokrates Program. Students from over 100 different foreign countries are presently enrolled at Humboldt-Universität. Foreign students comprise 11,9% of the entire student population.


Due to the unification Berlin maintains three universities. Thus, arising from the problems connected with the unification process, Humboldt-Universität went through an extraordinary process of reorganization and succeeded in gaining outstanding scientists and scholars from East and West, from Germany and abroad. With the aid of partly external structural and appointment commissions and with numerous expertises and recommendations from groups of experts, Humboldt-Universität developed its own new academic structures. The content was evaluated, changed and redefined. At the same time, the entire staff was subjected to personal and academic scrutiny. Financial restrictions and structural factors led to a drastic reduction in personnel.
As a result of the internal restructuring process, Humboldt-Universität today is made up of eleven faculties and two central institutes. The present Medical Faculty Charité of Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin has become the largest medical faculty in Europe as a result of the merger of the University Clinic Charité with the Virchow Clinic of Freie Universität Berlin.

Berliner Dom

The teaching and research profile of the university covers all the basic academic disciplines in the Arts, in Social Science, Cultural Science, Human Medicine, Agricultural Science, Mathematics and Natural Science. Today, 224 subject study courses or course combinations are offered at Humboldt-Universität. 19 disciplines lead to the "Diplom" degree, and there are also "Diplom" degree courses in Interpreting and Translation for twelve languages, including several Ea stern European languages. The degree of "Magister" can be obtained in 59 different subjects The range of study courses also includes the courses leading to the "Staatsprüfung" degree, i.e. Law, Medicine, Dentistry and Pharmacy (to be discontinued), and the university and church exams in Protestant Theology. A wide range of study courses for teaching qualifications is offered, including the teacher qualification for special schools with the associated specialization areas. New courses are new and unique: 'The Reformed Medical Curriculum", "Postgraduate Master in British Studies", "Transatlantic Masters", "Master of European Sciences", International Health", "Gender Studies" and "International Agricultural Sciences" , For this wide range of study courses, there were 37,655 students enrolled for the winter term 2001/2002. The offers for additional studies, further studies and supplementary studies will be extended further over the coming years. Humboldt-Universität has also begun again to offer correspondence study courses which were formerly so much in demand, Moreover, much is offered in the area of further scientific instruction, interdisciplinary and public lectures, and the Faculty of Medicine offers "Senior citizen courses".
In many areas, research at Humboldt-Universität is internationally acclaimed, for example in Mathematics, Medicine, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, History, Cultural and Art Studies, Scandinavian Studies, Economics and Law. In eight collaborative research areas Humboldt-Universität is the coordinating university. There are 18 graduate research groups coordinated by Humboldt-Universität and one Innovation College. Numerous projects have been implemented with the support of the European Union. The university participates in 11 special research projects of other universities, eight further graduate research groups and six research groups sponsored by the German research association (DFG). Ten foundation professorships have been established. Researchers representing a variety of projects have participated in national and international fairs, such as the CeBIT computer fair, the annual Hannover Fair and the agricultural exhibition "Internationale Grüne Woche". Almost 70 projects are currently sponsored by trusts and foundations (VW Foundation, German Science Sponsorship Association etc). The university's success in continuing or resuming traditional partnerships and the interest shown by renowned universities from all over the world show clearly that Humboldt-Universität plays an important and accepted role in the global scientific dialogue.


The cramped accommodation of the mathematical and scientific institutions in Berlin Mitte led to discussions within Humboldt-Universität as early as 1991 on the possibility of combining them in Berlin-Adlershof. In the winter term l998/99, the Department of Computer Science was the first Humboldt department to move to Adlershof, and there was hardly any campus atmosphere. The mathematicians left their locations in Berlin-Mitte in March 2000, the chemists in September 2001. They now teach and research in Adlershof. By 2003 the geographers, physicists and psychologists will have moved into their own buildings. The biologists will move to their new abode in Adlershof in 2007. The heart of the new campus is the Johann von Neumann-Haus. Under one roof it houses a computing centre, a library and a multimedia centre.

Johann von Neumann-Haus
Johann von Neumann-Haus

As a result of the difficult financial situation of the federal state of Berlin and the resulting extreme austerity requirements, Humboldt-Universität is moving directly from the "building up phase" of recent years to a phase of reduction. The university tries out new decision-making structures; organizational forms and study course structures.
Despite of its unsteady and turbulent history over several decades, the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin has remained true to its principles concerning the unity of research and teaching.

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