Humboldt University of Berlin


Humboldt University of Berlin (german: Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, abbreviated HU Berlin) is a in the central borough of in , . It was established by on the initiative of , and as the University of Berlin (''Universität zu Berlin'') in 1809, and opened in 1810, making it the oldest of Berlin's four universities. From 1810 until its closure in 1945, it was named Friedrich Wilhelm University (german: Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität). During the the university found itself in  and was ''de facto'' split in two when the opened in . The university received its current name in honour of and in 1949. The university is divided into nine faculties, including its shared with the Free University of Berlin, has a student enrollment of around 32,000 students, and offers degree programmes in some 189 disciplines from undergraduate to postdoctorate level. Its main campus is located on the boulevard in central Berlin. The university is known worldwide for pioneering the , which has strongly influenced other European and Western universities. It was regarded as the world's preeminent university for the during the 19th and early 20th century, as the university is linked to major breakthroughs in physics and other sciences by its professors, such as . Past and present faculty and notable alumni include 57 Nobel Prize laureates (the most of any German university by a substantial margin), as well as eminent philosophers, sociologists, artists, lawyers, politicians, mathematicians, scientists, and Heads of State; among them are , , , , , , , , , , , , , and the . As one of Germany's most prestigious institutions of higher education, Humboldt University of Berlin has been conferred the title of "University of Excellence" under the .


Main building

The main building of Humboldt University is the Prinz-Heinrich-Palais (English: ''Prince Henry's Palace'') on boulevard in the of . It was erected from 1748 to 1753 for , the brother of , according to plans by in . In 1809, the former Royal Prussian residence was converted into a university building. Damaged during the , it was rebuilt from 1949 to 1962. In 1967, eight statues from the destroyed were placed on the side wings of the university building. Currently there is discussion about returning the statues to the Potsdam City Palace, which was rebuilt as the in 2013.

Early history

The University of Berlin was established on 16 August 1809, on the initiative of the liberal Prussian educational politician by , during the period of the . The university was located in a palace constructed from 1748 to 1766 for the late , the younger brother of . After his widow and her ninety-member staff moved out, the first unofficial lectures were given in the building in the winter of 1809. Humboldt faced great resistance to his ideas as he set up the university. He submitted his resignation to the King in April 1810, and was not present when the school opened that fall. The first students were admitted on 6 October 1810, and the first semester started on 10 October 1810, with 256 students and 52 lecturers in faculties of law, medicine, theology and philosophy under rector Theodor Schmalz. The university celebrates 15 October 1810 as the date of its opening. From 1828 to 1945, the school was named the Friedrich Wilhelm University, in honor of its founder. , then one of the students, made a comment on the university in 1826: "There is no question here of drinking, duelling and pleasant communal outings; in no other university can you find such a passion for work, such an interest for things that are not petty student intrigues, such an inclination for the sciences, such calm and such silence. Compared to this temple of work, the other universities appear like public houses." The university has been home to many of Germany's greatest thinkers of the past two centuries, among them the subjective idealist philosopher , the theologian , the absolute idealist philosopher , the Romantic legal theorist , the pessimist philosopher , the objective idealist philosopher , cultural critic , and famous physicists and . The founders of Marxist theory and attended the university, as did poet , novelist , founder of , German unifier , founder , and European unifier , as well as the influential surgeon in the early half of the 1800s. The structure of German research-intensive universities served as a model for institutions like . Further, it has been claimed that "the 'Humboldtian' university became a model for the rest of Europe ..with its central principle 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, the university developed to encompass numerous new scientific disciplines. , 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 , the physicist , the mathematicians , , , the physicians , , and , contributed to Berlin University's scientific fame. During this period of enlargement, the university gradually expanded to incorporate other previously separate colleges in Berlin. An example would be the , the Pépinière and the Collegium Medico-chirurgicum. In 1710, King had built a house for at the city gates, which in 1727 was rechristened by the "soldier king" "Es soll das Haus die Charité heißen" (It will be called Charité rench for ''charity''. By 1829 the site became the Friedrich Wilhelm University's medical campus and remained so until 1927 when the more modern University Hospital was constructed. The university started a collection in 1810, which, by 1889 required a separate building and became the '. 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 (Agricultural University of Berlin), founded in 1881 was affiliated with the Agricultural Faculties of the university. In August 1870, in a speech delivered at the University of Berlin, proclaimed 'the University of Berlin, quartered opposite the King's palace, are, by the deed of our foundation, the intellectual bodyguard of the (geistige Leibregiment des Hauses Hohenzollern).'

Third Reich

After 1933, like all German universities, Friedrich Wilhelm University was affected by the . The rector during this period was . It was from the university's library that some 20,000 s by "" and were on May 10 of that year in the Opernplatz (now the ) for a demonstration protected by the that also featured a speech by . 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 : "Das war ein Vorspiel nur, dort wo man Bücher verbrennt, verbrennt man am Ende auch Menschen" ("This was but a prelude; where they burn books, they ultimately burn people"). The (German "Gesetz zur Wiederherstellung des Berufsbeamtentums") resulted in 250 professors and employees being fired from Friedrich Wilhelm University 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.

Cold War

During the , the university was located in . It reopened in 1946 as the University of Berlin, but faced repression from the , including the persecution of liberal and social democrat students. Almost immediately, the Soviet occupiers started persecuting non-communists and suppressing academic freedom at the university, requiring lectures to be submitted for approval by officials, and piped Soviet propaganda into the cafeteria. This led to strong protests within the student body and faculty. arrested a number of students in March 1947 as a response. The Soviet Military Tribunal in 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 and . Many of the students targeted by Soviet persecution were active in the liberal or social democratic resistance against the Soviet-imposed communist "dictatorship"; the German communist party had regarded the social democrats as their main enemies since the early days of the Weimar Republic. During the , the was established as a de facto western successor in in 1948, with support from the United States, and retaining traditions and faculty members of the old Friedrich Wilhelm University. The name of the Free University refers to West Berlin's perceived status as part of the Western "," in contrast to the "unfree" Communist world in general and the "unfree" communist-controlled university in in particular. Since the historical name, Friedrich Wilhelm University, had monarchic origins, the school was officially renamed in 1949. Although the Soviet occupational authorities preferred to name the school after a communist leader, university leaders were able to name it Humboldt University of Berlin, after the two Humboldt brothers, a name that was uncontroversial also in the west and capitalized on the fame of the Humboldt name, which is associated with the .

Modern Germany

After the , the university was radically restructured under the Structure and Appointment Commissions, which were presided by West German professors. For departments on social sciences and humanities, the faculty was subjected to a "liquidation" process, in which contracts of employees were terminated and positions were made open to new academics, mainly West Germans. Older professors were offered early retirement. The East German higher education system included a much larger number of permanent assistant professors, lecturers and other middle level academic positions. After reunification, these positions were abolished or converted to temporary posts for consistency with the West German system. As a result, only 10% of the mid-level academics in Humboldt University still had a position in 1998. Through the transformations, the university's research and exchange links with Eastern European institutions were maintained and stabilized. Today, Humboldt University is a state university with a large number of students (36,986 in 2014, among them more than 4,662 foreign students) after the model of West German universities, and like its counterpart the . The university consists of three different campuses, namely Campus Mitte, Campus Nord and Campus Adlershof. Its main building is located in the centre of Berlin at the boulevard and is the heart of Campus Mitte. The building was erected on order by King for his younger brother . All the institutes of humanities are located around the main building together with the Department of Law and the Department of Business and Economics. Campus Nord is located north of the main building close to and is the home of the life science departments including the university medical center . The natural sciences, together with computer science and mathematics, are located at Campus Adlershof in the south-east of Berlin. Furthermore, the university continues its tradition of a book sale at the university gates facing Bebelplatz.


These are the nine faculties into which the university is divided: * Faculty of * Faculty of and (, , , , ) * Faculty of ( and , , ) * – Berlin University of (jointly with ) * Faculty of I (, , European , Department of and ) * Faculty of II (, , , literatures, English and , , ) * Faculty of and (Social Sciences, /Arts, Asian/African Studies (includes ), , Studies, , in ) * Faculty of * Faculty of and Furthermore, there are two independent institutes (''Zentralinstitute'') that are part of the university: * (in German: ''Großbritannienzentrum'') * Humboldt-Innovation (research transfer and spin-off service) * ' (Natural History Museum) *


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 . During the the library contained 831,934 volumes (1930) and was thus one of the leading university libraries in Germany at that time. During the in 1933, no volumes from the university library were destroyed. The loss through was comparatively small. In 2003, natural science-related books were outhoused to the newly founded library at the 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 was erected close to the main building in the center of Berlin. The "Jacob und Wilhelm Grimm-Zentrum" (Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm Centre, Grimm Zentrum, or GZ as referred to by students) opened in 2009. In total, the university library contains about 6.5 million volumes and 9,000 held magazines and journals, and is one of the biggest university libraries in Germany. The books of the were destroyed during the Nazi book burnings, and the institute destroyed. Under the terms of the Magnus Hirschfeld Foundation, the government had agreed to continue the work of the institute at the university after its founder's death. However, these terms were ignored. In 2001, the university acquired the Archive for Sexology from the Robert Koch Institute, which was founded with a large private library donated by . This has now been housed at the new Magnus Hirschfeld Center.



Measured by the number of top managers in the German economy, Humboldt University ranked 53rd in 2019. In 2020 the British ranked Humboldt University 117th overall in the world and 4th best in Germany. Its global subject rankings were: 15th in Arts & Humanities, 13th in Philosophy and 7th in Classics & Ancient History. The British ' 2019 listed Humboldt-University as the 67th best university in the world, 20th best in the Arts & Humanities, and 4th best in Germany. In 2020, the American ' listed Humboldt-University as the 82nd best in the world, climbing eight positions. Being among the 100 best in the world in 17 areas of 29 ranked.

International partnerships

HU students can study abroad for a semester or a year at partner institutions such as the , , and the .

Notable alumni and faculty

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See also

* *


Further reading

* Ash, Mitchell G. , "Bachelor of What, Master of Whom? The Humboldt Myth and Historical Transformations of Higher Education in German‐Speaking Europe and the U.S." ''European Journal of Education'' 41.2 (2006): 245-26
* McClelland, Charles E. ''Berlin, the Mother of All Research Universities, 1860–1918'' (Lexington Books, 2016)
* McClelland, Charles E. ''State, Society and University in Germany 1700–1914'' (1980)

External links

Humboldt University of Berlin official website
{{DEFAULTSORT:Humboldt University Of Berlin Alexander von Humboldt