1 History of Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin

Plans to found a university in Berlin were first discussed at the end of the 18th century. After 1800, the idea gained substantial impetus from great scholars of the period, such as the German philosophers Johann Gottlieb Fichte and Friedrich Schleiermacher, whose ideas of reform influenced Wilhelm von Humboldt’s university concepts: He imagined a 'universitas litterarum', which would unite teaching and research and strive for a comprehensive humanistic education of students.

Foundation in 1810

When it was founded in October 1810, the University of Berlin consisted of the four traditional faculties: Law, Medicine, Philosophy and Theology. Initially, the Royal Library was made available to the University. The University Library was established in 1831.

The Charité, a hospital that evolved in 1727 from the plague hospital, which was built in 1710 outside the city walls, became the University’s Faculty of Medicine in 1829. In 1790, the School of Veterinary Medicine opened and the Museum of Natural History was added later. Berlin’s Agricultural College became the University’s Department of Agriculture in 1934 and is now part of the Faculty of Life Sciences.

From 1828 to 1945, the "alma mater berolinensis" bore the name Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität. In the course of their teaching and research careers, twenty-nine Nobel Laureates have been associated with the Berlin University, contributing to the excellent academic reputation, which the university continues to enjoy today. Among them are Albert Einstein, Max Planck and Fritz Haber.

The Nazi period did irreparable damage to scholarship in Germany and left its mark on the Berlin University as well. One just has to think of the exodus of numerous Jewish academics and students, as well as the book burning on May 10th, 1933, in which members of the University were also involved. Providing this dark chapter in its history, the university today has pledged to maintain a critical distance from political and social pressure.

Reconstruction after 1945

After the end of the Second World War, courses were resumed in January 1946 – at first in only seven faculties of the heavily damaged university. Conflicts over communist attempts to influence the university led to a schism within staff and the student body, and consequently to the founding of the Freie Universität in the Western sectors of Berlin in December 1948.

Since 1949, the university on Unter den Linden has carried the name of the brothers Wilhelm and Alexander von Humboldt. Developments in higher education in the former GDR created structures at Humboldt-Universität which diverged sharply from earlier scholarly traditions and thoroughly changed the contents and organisation of university education as well as the conditions under which research was conducted. Nevertheless, the university was able to attain international recognition in a number of academic fields.

Humboldt-Universität today

Through the reunification of Germany on 3 October 1990, Berlin became a city with three universities. Humboldt-Universität developed new academic structures: The content of the courses was reassessed, amended and redefined. About 500 scholars and academic staff were newly appointed or reappointed. Women make up thirteen per cent of the senior staff.

Humboldt-Universität and the Charité Medical School are currently home to more than 40,000 students, over 16 per cent of whom come from abroad. Thus, in the decade after political changes in Germany and internal restructuring, Humboldt became one of the most attractive universities to attend in Germany.

Humboldt-Universität today contains 9 faculties and several interdisciplinary institutions, clusters and graduate schools. Humboldt-Universität was among the first to introduce the new B.A and M.A. degree programmes in Germany. These new and innovative courses of study include reformatory programmes – especially in the Arts and Humanities – and currently comprise a total of 190 study courses. Some of them are 'minority' subjects, such as Biophysics or Ancient Greek. Others are courses in 'major' subjects such as Law and Medicine. The School of Education offers a great variety of course programmes, including Rehabilitation Studies and its many areas of specialisation.

In addition, the Natural Science Campus in Adlershof, which is continuously expanding, opened in 2003 and offers unique possibilities for science students by co-operating with other research institutions and high-tech companies in order to apply the acquired knowledge.

Nearly every semester, new courses of study are added, introducing new degree qualifications and structures. The Gender Studies programme at Humboldt is unique in Germany. Furthermore, the Faculty for Life Sciences has reorganised its entire course structure, now offering Master's and Bachelor's degree courses, some of which are taught in English. Similar developments can be observed in other faculties.

These continuing improvements make Humboldt an increasingly attractive place for international students. Some of the most interesting programmes are a completely revised course in Statistics, the Transatlantic Master course, the Master of Economics and Management Science (MEMS) course, a postgraduate course in British Studies, the Master course in Polymer Science and the Master course in German and European Law and Legal Practice (M.LL.P.). Altogether, the university offers 27 international M.A. degree courses.

Humboldt now comprises eleven faculties, three Integrative Research Institutes (Centre for Integrative Life Sciences, Integrated Research Institute for the Sciences and IRI THESys), the Centre for British Studies and the Humboldt Graduate School.

On 15 June 2012, Humboldt-Universität was one of the eleven German universities to be awarded the Excellence status. Within the framework of the Excellence Initiative on the Federal and State levels, the university proved to be successful in all of the three funding lines ("Future Concepts", "Cluster of Excellence", "Graduate School"). 

The committees of the Deutsche Forschungsgesellschaft (DFG), Germany’s largest research funding organisation, and the Science Council approved Humboldt’s institutional strategy “Bildung durch Wissenschaft” as well as the two clusters of excellence, “Topoi” and “Bild Wissen Gestaltung” (the latter in collaboration with the FU Berlin) and the HU’s participation in the cluster “UniCat” of the TU Berlin. Equally successful were three graduate schools: the graduate school of “Analytical Sciences Adlershof (SALSA)”, the “Berlin School of Integrative Oncology (BSIO)” and the “Berlin Mathematical School” (in collaboration with the FU and the TU). Furthermore, Humboldt-Universität cooperates with the FU graduate schools “Berlin Graduate School Muslim Cultures and Societies” and “Friedrich-Schlegel-Graduiertenschule für literaturwissenschaftliche Studien”, which also receive sponsorship through the Excellence Inititative. 

In the ranking by the Centre of University Development (CHE), Humboldt-Universität scores top ranks in the subjects History, Law and Economics (2015/16) compared to other German Universities (relevant professional experience, doctorates, research, academic publications per year). Its remarkably successful work is demonstrated through its 10 Collaborative Research Centres, its contribution to other Research Centres (also in medicine), its activities in overall 15 graduate schools, its 8 national Research Teams funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG) and numerous other externally funded research projects. Since the political changes in Germany, Humboldt continued to extend external funding for research activities to approx. € 244 million in 2014 (including Charité).

An international university

Renowned universities from all over the world take a strong interest in working closely together with Humboldt-Universität. Cooperation agreements on institutional or faculty level with more than 190 partner institutions from all over the world, including Princeton University and the National University of Singapore, bear witness to its significant role in the international scientific dialogue.

Humboldt's international appeal and its commitment to excellence also becomes obvious with the growing number of exchange students. In fact, about 1,000 Humboldt students participate in various university exchange programmes every year. The ERASMUS programme is of particular significance in this context; as each year, over 600-700 students go abroad in order to study for one or two semesters at one of the 350 universities in 32 countries which are partners in the programme.

Currently, about 1,500 international exchange students per year come to attend courses at Humboldt, 850 of whom are ERASMUS students. In addition, exchange programmes with universities in the United States and Canada, in Central and Eastern European countries, especially in the Russian Federation, are of major importance. Students from Australia, Brazil, China, Japan and Korea are also part of the international student contingent.

The International Parliamentary Internship Scheme (IPS), set up by the Federal Parliament (Bundestag) in cooperation with three Berlin universities, provides the opportunity for some 120 award holders from 30 countries to undertake an internship in the Federal Parliament while pursuing part-time studies at university. The number of scholarship holders as well as the number of countries they come from has risen continuously over the years.

Scholarship programmes such as the International Parliamentary Internship Scheme of the are exemplary concepts that demonstrate how standard university schemes as well as unique education projects can successfully be put into practice with non-university partners in Berlin.