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Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin

The modern classic of the reform university

The pioneering ideas of 1810 are as relevant today as they were two hundred years ago.

The "Friedrich-Wilhelms- Universität zu Berlin" around 1852.

Engraving by F. Hirschheim after C. Würbs

Wilhelm von Humboldt and a select group of contemporaries were the first to call for the independence of academia, to envision the integration of the natural, social sciences and humanities and to demand the unity of research and teaching: none of these concepts have lost their relevance. The university they founded developed into a forum for lively discussion among eminent scholars like the philosopher Hegel, the law professor Savigny and the medical scientist Hufeland.

Following the foundation of the German Empire in 1871, the alma mater became the largest and most renowned university in Germany, home to 29 Nobel Prize winners like Max Planck, Robert Koch or Fritz Haber. Prominent historical figures like Otto von Bismarck, Heinrich Heine and Karl Marx were students here. Owing to this newly gained attention, Humboldt’s ideas spread around the globe and inspired the creation of many akin universities.

During National Socialism (from 1933 until 1945), the university experienced the most reprehensible period in its history: among its staff and students were many enthusiastic supporters of the National Socialism regime. There are few examples of resistance to the regime or the countless crimes that were committed against humanity. This made a new beginning from the physical and moral ashes all the more difficult in 1945. Yet, as early as 1946, lectures were held again in the heavily damaged main building, albeit under the watchful eyes of the Soviet occupying power. In 1949, the university parted with its old name, Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität, and was renamed after the Humboldt brothers Wilhelm and Alexander.

Under the influence of the higher education reforms in the GDR, the content and structure of degree courses as well as the conditions under which research was conducted altered increasingly and reflected the Communist ideology. It was not until German reunification in 1990 that the university could break new ground on the one hand and tie into older traditions on the other.