Humboldt University of Berlin

The Humboldt University of Berlin (German Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin) is Berlin's oldest university, founded in 1810 as the University of Berlin (Universität zu Berlin) by the liberal Prussian educational reformer and linguist Wilhelm von Humboldt, whose university model has strongly influenced other European and Western universities. From 1828 it was known as the Frederick William University (Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität), later (unofficially) also as the Universität unter den Linden after its location. In 1949, it changed its name to Humboldt-Universität in honour of both its founder Wilhelm and his brother, naturalist Alexander von Humboldt.


The first semester at the newly founded Berlin university occurred in 1810 with 256 students and 52 lecturers in faculties of law, medicine, theology and philosophy under rector Theodor Schmalz. The university has been home to many of Germany's greatest thinkers of the past two centuries, among them the subjective idealist philosopher Johann Gottlieb Fichte, the theologian Friedrich Schleiermacher, the absolute idealist philosopher G.W.F. Hegel, the Romantic legal theorist Savigny, the pessimist philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, the objective idealist philosopher Friedrich Schelling, cultural critic Walter Benjamin, and famous physicists Albert Einstein and Max Planck. Founders of Marxist theory Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels attended the university, as did poet Heinrich Heine, founder of structuralism Ferdinand de Saussure, German unifier Otto von Bismarck, Communist Party of Germany founder Karl Liebknecht, African American Pan Africanist W. E. B. Du Bois and European unifier Robert Schuman, as well as the influential surgeon Johann Friedrich Dieffenbach in the early half of the 1800s. The university is home to 29 Nobel Prize winners.

The structure of German research-intensive universities, such as Humboldt, served as a model for institutions like Johns Hopkins University. Further, it has been claimed that "the 'Humboldtian' university became a model for the rest of Europe with its central principal being the union of teaching and research in the work of the individual scholar or scientist."


In addition to the strong anchoring of traditional subjects, such as science, law, philosophy, history, theology and medicine, Berlin University developed to encompass numerous new scientific disciplines. Alexander von Humboldt, brother of the founder William, promoted the new learning. With the construction of modern research facilities in the second half of the 19th Century teaching of the natural sciences began. Famous researchers, such as the chemist August Wilhelm Hofmann, the physicist Hermann von Helmholtz, the mathematicians Ernst Eduard Kummer, Leopold Kronecker, Karl Weierstrass, the physicians Johannes Peter Müller, Albrecht von Graefe, Rudolf Virchow and Robert Koch, contributed to Berlin University's scientific fame.

During this period of enlargement, Berlin University gradually expanded to incorporate other previously separate colleges in Berlin. An example would be the Charité, the Pépinière and the Collegium Medico-chirurgicum. In 1717, King Friedrich I had built a quarantine house for Plague at the city gates, which in 1727 was rechristened by the "soldier king" Friedrich Wilhelm: "Es soll das Haus die Charité" (It is the house of Charity). By 1829 the site became Berlin University's medical campus and remained so until 1927 when the more modern University Hospital was constructed.

Berlin University started a natural history collection in 1810, which, by 1889 required a separate building and became the Museum für Naturkunde. The preexisting Tierarznei School, founded in 1790 and absorbed by the university, in 1934 formed the basis of the Veterinary Medicine Facility (Grundstock der Veterinärmedizinischen Fakultät). Also the Landwirtschaftliche Hochschule Berlin (Agricultural College of Berlin), founded in 1881 was affiliated with the Agricultural Faculties of the University.

Third Reich

After 1933, like all German universities, it was affected by the Nazi regime. It was from the university's library that some 20,000 books by "degenerates" and opponents of the regime were taken to be burned on May 10 of that year in the Opernplatz (now the Bebelplatz) for a demonstration protected by the SA that also featured a speech by Joseph Goebbels. A monument to this can now be found in the center of the square, consisting of a glass panel opening onto an underground white room with empty shelf space for 20,000 volumes and a plaque, bearing an epigraph from an 1820 work by Heinrich Heine: "Das war ein Vorspiel nur, dort wo man Bücher verbrennt, verbrennt man am Ende auch Menschen" ("That was only a prelude; where they burn books, they ultimately burn people").

The Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service (German "Gesetzes zur Wiederherstellung des Berufsbeamtentums") resulted in 250 Jewish professors and employees being fired during 1933/1934 and numerous doctorates being withdrawn. Students and scholars and political opponents of Nazis were ejected from the university and often deported. During this time nearly one third of all of the staff were fired by the Nazis.


The Soviet Military Administration in Germany (SMAD) ordered (Befehl-Nr. 4) the opening of the university in January 1946. The SMAD wanted a redesigned Berlin University based on the Soviet model, however they insisted on the phrasing "newly opened" and not "re-opened" for political reasons. The president of the German Central Administration for National Education (DZVV), Paul Wandel, in his address at the January 29, 1946, opening ceremony, said: "I spoke of the opening, and not of the re-opening of the university. The University of Berlin must effectively start again in almost every way. You have before you this image of the old university. What remains of that is nought but ruins." The teaching was limited to seven departments working in reopened, war-damaged buildings, with many of the teachers dead or missing. However, by the winter semester of 1946, the Economic and Educational Sciences Faculty had re-opened.

The Workers and Peasants Faculty (German: Arbeiter-und-Bauern-Fakultät) (ABF), an education program aimed at young men who, due to political or racial reasons, had been disadvantaged under the Nazis, was established at the university during this time. This program existed at Berlin University until 1962.

The university splits

The East-West conflict in post-war Germany led to a growing communist influence in the university. This was controversial, and incited strong protests within the student body and faculty. Soviet NKVD secret police arrested a number of students in March 1947 as a response. The Soviet Military Tribunal in Berlin-Lichtenberg ruled the students were involved in the formation of a "resistance movement at the University of Berlin", as well as espionage, and were sentenced to 25 years of forced labor. From 1945 to 1948, 18 other students and teachers were arrested or abducted, many gone for weeks, and some taken to the Soviet Union and executed.

In the spring of 1948, after several university students with admission irregularities were withdrawn, the opposition demanded a Free university. Students, with support from especially the Americans, the newspaper Der Tagesspiegel, and the governing Mayor Ernst Reuter founded the Free University of Berlin in Dahlem (part of the American sector). The decades-long division of the city into East and West Berlin finally cemented the division into two independent universities permanently.

East Germany

The communist party forced it to change the name of the university in 1949. Until the collapse of the East German regime in 1989, Humboldt University remained under tight ideological control of the Sozialistische Einheitspartei Deutschlands (Socialist Unity Party of Germany), or SED, which, by rigorously selecting students according to their conformity to the party line, made sure that no democratic opposition could grow on its university campuses. Its communist-selected students and scholars did not participate to any significant degree in the East German democratic civil rights movements of 1989, and elected the controversial SED member and former Stasi spy Heinrich Fink as the Rector of the university as late as 1990.


After the unification of East and West Germany, the university was radically restructured and all professors had to reapply for their positions. The faculty was largely replaced with West German professors, among them the historian Heinrich August Winkler. Today, Humboldt University is a state university with a large number of students (37,145 in 2003, among them more than 4,662 foreign students) after the model of West German universities, and like its counterpart Free University of Berlin.

Its main building is located in the centre of Berlin at the boulevard Unter den Linden. The building was erected on order by King Frederick II for his younger brother Prince Henry of Prussia. Most institutes are located in the centre, around the main building, except the natural science institutes, which are located at Adlershof in the south of Berlin. Further, the university continues its tradition of a book sale at the university gates facing Bebelplatz. The books sold are reprints of those burnt during the Third Reich and is symbolic of the institution atoning for its participation.


When the Royal Library proved insufficient, a new library was founded in 1831, first located in several temporary sites. In 1871-1874 a library building was constructed, following the design of architect Paul Emanuel Spieker. In 1910 the collection was relocated to the building of the Berlin State Library. During the Weimar Period the library contained 831,934 volumes (1930) and was thus one of the leading university libraries in Germany at that time. During the Nazi book burnings in 1933, no volumes from the university library were destroyed. Also, the loss through World War II was comparatively small. In 2003, natural science related books were outhoused to the newly founded library at the Adlershof campus, which is dedicated solely to the natural sciences. Since the premises of the State Library had to be cleared in 2005, a new library building is about to be erected close to the main building in the center of Berlin. The "Jacob und Wilhelm Grimm-Zentrum" will be finished in 2009. In the meantime, the collection once more is held at a temporary site. In total, the university library contains about 6.5 million volumes and 9000 held magazines and journals and is one of the biggest university libraries in Germany. As a comparison, the Elmer Holmes Bobst Library at New York University contains approximately 4.5 million volumes.

The books of the Institut für Sexualwissenschaft were destroyed during the Nazi book burnings and the institute destroyed. Under the terms of the Magnus Hirschfeld Foundation, the government had undertaken to continue the work of the institute at the university after its founder's death. However these terms were ignored. In 2001 however the university acquired the Archive for Sexology from the Robert Koch Institute, which was founded on a large private library donated by Prof. Haeberle. This has now been housed at the new Magnus Hirschfeld Center.

Notable alumni, professors and lecturers

  • Theodore Dyke Acland, surgeon and physician
  • Alexander Altmann (1906–1987), rabbi and scholar of Jewish philosophy and mysticism
  • Gerhard Anschütz (1908- ) leading jurisprudent and "father of the constitution" of the Bundesland Hesse
  • Michelle Bachelet (1951- ), Pediatrician and epidemiologist, President of the Republic of Chile
  • Azmi Bishara (1956- ), Arab-Israeli politician
  • Bruno Bauer (1809–1882), theologian, Bible critic and philosopher
  • Jurek Becker (1937–1997), writer (Jacob the Liar)
  • Eliezer Berkovits (1908-1992), rabbi, philosopher and theologian
  • Otto von Bismarck (1815–1898), first German chancellor
  • Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906–1945), theologian and resistance fighter
  • Max Born (1882–1970), physicist, Nobel Prize for physics in 1954
  • Gottlieb Burckhardt (1836-1907), psychiatrist, first physician to perform modern psychosurgery (1888)
  • Michael C. Burda, macroeconomist
  • George C. Butte (1877-1940), American jurist
  • Ernst Cassirer (1874–1945), philosopher
  • Adelbert von Chamisso (1781–1838), natural scientist and writer
  • Wilhelm Dilthey (1833–1911), philosopher
  • W. E. B. Du Bois (1868–1963), African-American activist and scholar
  • Paul Ehrlich (1854–1915), physician, Nobel Prize for medicine in 1908
  • Albert Einstein (1879–1955), physicist, Nobel Prize for physics in 1921
  • Friedrich Engels (1820–1895), journalist and philosopher
  • Ludwig Andreas Feuerbach (1804–1872), philosopher
  • Johann Gottlieb Fichte (1762–1814), philosopher, rector of the university (1810-1812)
  • Hermann Emil Fischer (1852–1919), founder of modern biochemistry, Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1902
  • Werner Forßmann (1904–1979), physician, Nobel Prize for medicine in 1956
  • James Franck (1882–1964), physicist, Nobel Prize for physics in 1925
  • Ernst Gehrcke (1878–1960), experimental physicist
  • Jacob Grimm (1785–1863), linguist and literary critic
  • Wilhelm Grimm (1786–1859), linguist and literary critic
  • Fritz Haber (1868–1934), chemist, Nobel Prize for chemistry in 1918
  • Otto Hahn (1879–1968), chemist, Nobel Prize for chemistry in 1944
  • Sir William Reginald Halliday (1886–1966), Principal of King's College London (1928–1952)
  • Robert Havemann (1910–1982), chemist, co-founder of European Union, and leading GDR dissident
  • Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770–1831), philosopher
  • Heinrich Heine (1797–1856), writer and poet
  • Werner Heisenberg (1901–1976), physicist, Nobel Prize for physics in 1932
  • Hermann von Helmholtz (1821–1894), physician and physicist
  • Gustav Hertz (1887–1975), physicist, Nobel Prize for physics in 1925
  • Heinrich Hertz (1857–1894), physicist
  • Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907–1972) rabbi, philosopher, and theologian
  • Jacobus Henricus van 't Hoff (1852–1911), chemist, Nobel Prize for chemistry in 1901
  • Max Huber (1874–1960), international lawyer and diplomat
  • Christoph Wilhelm Hufeland (1762–1836), founder of macrobiotics
  • Wilhelm von Humboldt (1767–1835), politician, linguist, and founder of the university
  • Alexander von Humboldt (1769–1859), natural scientist
  • Jane Ising (1902- ), economics
  • Hermann Kasack (1896–1966), writer
  • Gustav Kirchhoff (1824–1887), physicist
  • Robert Koch (1843–1910), physician, Nobel Prize for medicine in 1905
  • Albrecht Kossel (1853–1927), physician, Nobel Prize for medicine in 1910
  • Arnold Kutzinski (d. 1956), psychiatrist
  • Arnold von Lasaulx (1839–1886) mineralogist and petrographer
  • Max von Laue (1879–1960), physicist, Nobel Prize for physics in 1914
  • Wassily Leontief (1905–1999), economist, Nobel Prize for economics in 1973
  • Karl Liebknecht (1871–1919), socialist politician and revolutionary
  • Friedrich Loeffler (1852–1915), bacteriologist
  • Herbert Marcuse (1898–1979), philosopher
  • Karl Marx (1818–1883), philosopher
  • Ernst Mayr (1904–2005), biologist
  • Lise Meitner (1878–1968), physicist, Enrico Fermi Award in 1966
  • Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy (1809–1847), composer
  • Theodor Mommsen (1817–1903), historian, Nobel Prize for literature in 1902
  • Edmund Montgomery (1835-1911), philosopher, scientist, physician
  • Max Planck (1858–1947), physicist, Nobel Prize for physics in 1918
  • Leopold von Ranke (1795–1886), historian
  • Robert Remak (1815–1865), cell biologist
  • Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph von Schelling (1775–1854), philosopher
  • Friedrich Daniel Ernst Schleiermacher (1768–1834), philosopher
  • Bernhard Schlink (1944- ), writer, Der Vorleser (The Reader)
  • Carl Schmitt (1888-1985), German jurist, political theorist, and professor of law.
  • Menachem Mendel Schneerson (1902–1994), rabbi, philosopher, and theologian
  • Arthur Schopenhauer (1788–1860), philosopher
  • Erwin Schrödinger (1887–1961), physicist, Nobel Prize for physics in 1933
  • Georg Simmel (1858–1918), philosopher and sociologist
  • Joseph B. Soloveitchik (1903–1993), rabbi, philosopher, and theologian
  • Herman Smith-Johannsen (1875-1987), sportsman who introduced cross-country skiing to North America
  • Werner Sombart (1863–1941), philosopher, sociologist and economist
  • Hans Spemann (1869–1941), biologist, Nobel Prize for biology in 1935
  • Max Stirner (1806–1856), philosopher
  • Gustav Tornier (1859–1938), paleontologist and zoologist
  • Kurt Tucholsky (1890–1935), writer and journalist
  • Rudolf Virchow (1821–1902), physician and politician
  • Alfred Wegener (1880–1930), scientist, geologist, and meteorologist, early "Continental Drift" theorist
  • Karl Weierstraß (1815–1897), mathematician
  • Wilhelm Heinrich Westphal (1882–1978), physicist
  • Wilhelm Wien (1864–1928), physicist, Nobel Prize for physics in 1911
  • Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff (1848–1931), philologist
  • Richard Willstätter (1872–1942), chemist, Nobel Prize for chemistry in 1915

There are 40 Nobel Prize winners affiliated to the Humboldt University, namely:

  • 1901 Jacobus Henricus van 't Hoff (Chemistry)
  • 1901 Emil Adolf von Behring (Physiology or Medicine)
  • 1902 Hermann Emil Fischer (Chemistry)
  • 1902 Theodor Mommsen (Literature)
  • 1905 Adolf von Baeyer (Chemistry)
  • 1905 Robert Koch (Physiology or Medicine)
  • 1907 Albert Abraham Michelson (Physics)
  • 1907 Eduard Buchner (Chemistry)
  • 1908 Paul Ehrlich (Physiology or Medicine)
  • 1909 Karl Ferdinand Braun (Physics)
  • 1910 Otto Wallach (Chemistry)
  • 1910 Albrecht Kossel (Physiology or Medicine)
  • 1910 Paul Heyse (Literature)
  • 1911 Wilhelm Wien (Physics)
  • 1914 Max von Laue (Physics)
  • 1915 Richard Willstätter (Chemistry)
  • 1918 Fritz Haber (Chemistry)
  • 1918 Max Planck (Physics)
  • 1920 Walther Nernst (Chemistry)
  • 1921 Albert Einstein (Physics)
  • 1925 Gustav Ludwig Hertz (Physics)
  • 1925 James Franck (Physics)
  • 1925 Richard Adolf Zsigmondy (Chemistry)
  • 1928 Adolf Otto Reinhold Windaus (Chemistry)
  • 1929 Hans von Euler-Chelpin (Chemistry)
  • 1931 Otto Heinrich Warburg (Physiology or Medicine)
  • 1932 Werner Heisenberg (Physics)
  • 1933 Erwin Schrödinger (Physics)
  • 1935 Hans Spemann (Physiology or Medicine)
  • 1936 Peter Debye (Chemistry)
  • 1939 Adolf Butenandt (Chemistry)
  • 1944 Otto Hahn (Chemistry)
  • 1950 Kurt Alder (Chemistry)
  • 1950 Otto Diels (Chemistry)
  • 1953 Fritz Albert Lipmann (Physiology or Medicine)
  • 1953 Hans Adolf Krebs (Physiology or Medicine)
  • 1954 Max Born (Physics)
  • 1956 Walther Bothe (Physics)
  • 1991 Bert Sakmann (Physiology or Medicine)
  • 2007 Gerhard Ertl (Chemistry)


In 2010 QS World University Rankings ranked Humboldt University 123rd overall in the world, and 6th in Germany. Its subject rankings were: 22nd in Arts & Humanities, 198th in Engineering & IT, 72nd in Life Sciences & Biomedicine, 44th in Natural Sciences, and 51st in Social Sciences.


These are the 11 faculties into which the university is divided:

  • Faculty of Law
  • Faculty of Agriculture and Horticulture
  • Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences I (Biology, Chemistry, Physics)
  • Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences II (Geography, Computer Science, Mathematics, Psychology)
  • Charité - Berlin University Medicine
  • Faculty of Philosophy I (Philosophy, History, European Ethnology, Department of Library and Information Science)
  • Faculty of Philosophy II (Literature, Linguistics, Scandinavian Studies, Romance literatures, English and American Studies, Slavic Studies, Classical Philology)
  • Faculty of Philosophy III (Social Sciences, Cultural Studies/Arts, Asian/African Studies (includes Archeology), Gender Studies)
  • Faculty of Philosophy IV (Sport science, Rehabilitation Studies, Education, Quality Management in Education)
  • Faculty of Theology
  • Faculty of Economics and Business Administration

Furthermore, there are two independent institutes (Zentralinstitute) that are part of the university:

  • Centre for British Studies (in German: Großbritannienzentrum)
  • Museum für Naturkunde (Museum of Natural History)

Points of interest

  • Späth-Arboretum