Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin

Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin | About the university | History | University collections and the Humboldt-Forum

The Collections of Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin

The university has valuable collections from 200 years of research and teaching

Die Zoologische Lehrsammlung vereint Objekte aus verschiedenen Epochen The Zoological Teaching Collection contains objects from different epochs. Photo: Heike Zappe

Casts of pediment figures from the Temple of Zeus in Olympia, voice recordings of Emperor Wilhelm II, a giant sequoia, documentation of the excavation of UNESCO World Heritage Site Musawwarat es-Sufra in Sudan, the preparation of a beef tapeworm that had grown to a length of eight meters – one encounters an entire cabinet of curiosities on a stroll through the collections of Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin (HU).

The collections, which today are still used for teaching purposes and continue to serve as a basis for research, unite university history and current science. Already with founding of the university in 1810, numerous holdings from the Berlin Kunstkammer as well as from private citizens were moved to the main university building on Unter den Linden. Over the course of history many special collections were added and testify to the differentiation of scientific disciplines at Berlin University. Collections, however, were also handed over in the course of departmental changes and institutional re-orientations. Especially during the Second World War there were immense and, in part, irretrievable losses.

Die Universitätsbibliothek bewahrt die Privatbibliothek der Brüder Grimm und weitere wertige historische Sammlungen

The University Library contains the private
library of the Grimm brothers and other
valuable historical collections
Photo: Heike Zappe

Today there are about 45 collections at the HU. The collections portal provides an overview of the holdings, their development, and the appropriate contact persons. Many collections have continued to grow and serve at the same time as important vestiges of past scientific activities. As such they bear witness to changing scientific methods, brilliant achievements, disputed hypotheses and reprehensible practices, for example, during the Nazi era. Other collections have a primarily representative character, for instance, the art collection of the HU, which includes identity-building monuments to illustrious scientists. The exhibitions at the Tieranatomisches Theater (Veterinary Anatomy Theater), a central exhibition site of the HU, present varying objects from the collections of the HU.

Essential collection holdings from the history of Berlin University are located in the Museum für Naturkunde Berlin, which was established with the founding of the university and became an independent museum only in 2008. The museum contains, for example, the best-preserved fossil of the bird-like dinosaur Archaeopteryx lithografica and the largest assembled brachiosaurus skeleton in the world. The Berlin Museum of Medical History at the Charité includes the famous pathological-anatomical collection, which was established by Rudolf Virchow and was destroyed in large part during the Second World War. Today the collection again encompasses around 10,000 wet and dry preparations.

In the spring of 2020 the HU will open its exhibition and event rooms in the Humboldt Forum at the Berlin Palace. The collections of the university will assume a prominent role there: Objects and groups of objects will be displayed in regularly changing exhibitions and event formats. The basic curatorial principle is will be an interplay between the presentation of objects from the collections and current research by the faculties and institutes of the HU as well as by the inter-university Excellence Clusters. In this way new connections will be created between past research practices and current scientific issues, and the objects will be placed in new contexts – a dimension that is fundamental to the scientific collections given their continued incorporation in research and teaching.