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

At the time of its foundation 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.

In 1829, the "Charité" was integrated into the University as the Faculty of Medicine. The "Charité" began as a plague hospital in 1710, which had been built outside the city walls, and was given its current name in 1727. Later, the School of Veterinary Medicine (opened in 1790) as well as the Museum of Natural History both became part of the Humboldt-Universität. In 1934, the Faculty of Agriculture was added, which is now part of the Faculty of Life Sciences.

The present-day university bore the name "Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität" from 1828 until 1945. Twenty-nine Nobel Laureates - among them Albert Einstein, Max Planck and Fritz Haber - were affiliated to the Berlin University in the course of their research and teaching. They contributed to its excellent academic reputation, which the University continues to enjoy today.

National Socialism left deep marks on the Berlin University. Numerous Jewish academics and students were dismissed or ex-matriculated from the University, and members of the University took part in the Book Burning on 10 May 1933. In the light of this history and the position of the University in the centre of the democratic surroundings of the German capital, the present-day Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin sees itself obligated to continually critically examine its position in politics and society.

Reconstruction after 1945

In January 1946, courses were resumed at the badly destroyed University, initially only in seven Faculties. Disputes quickly arose regarding the communist exertion of influence on the University, and led to a schism in the faculty and student body. This resulted in the foundation of the Freie Universität in the western part of the city in December 1948.

Since 1949, the university on "Unter den Linden" bears the name of the brothers Alexander and Wilhelm 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. The state controlled the development of the University. 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 (later four) universities. The 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. At that point, roughly half of the professors were East German and half West German. Currently, women make up thirty percent of the appointed staff.

Today, Humboldt-Universität consists of nine faculties, several interdisciplinary centres and institutions, as well as clusters and graduate schools. The University and the Charité Medical School are currently home to 38,000 students, over 16 percent 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.

The University has an exceptionally diverse range of subjects - especially in the Arts and Humanities - that currently comprises 190 study courses. This includes many "small" disciplines such as Biophysics or Ancient Greek as well as the "large" disciplines of Law and Medicine. The University also offers a wide range of teacher training study courses, including Rehabilitation Sciences with its specialisations.

The newly-developed and continuously expanding Natural Science Campus in Berlin-Adlershof offers the unique possibility to study Natural Sciences in close co-operation with other research institutions and in immediate application in modern high-tech companies. The Adlershof Campus is surrounded by a Science Park, in which small and medium-sized enterprises cooperate with non-university research institutions and the University, thus forming an integrated and prolific research environment.

Since 2012 Humboldt-Universität has been one of the eleven "Universities of Excellence" of the Federal Republic of Germany. Within the framework of the federal and state Excellence Initiative, the University proved to be successful in all of the three funding lines ("Future Concepts", "Cluster of Excellence", "Graduate School"). Interdisciplinarity enjoys a high priority in answering research questions at Humboldt, whether it is in the competition for excellence or in the university's conventional research. Topics of Neuroscience open up to perspectives of Philosophy; the interaction of humans and the environment seeks multidisciplinary answers from climate research; the development of new materials plays off the interface between Chemistry and Physics; a Centre for Migration Research explores the development of societies in Europe and in the world.

The University is also strong within the academic disciplines themselves. According to the Times Higher Education (THE) World University Rankings from September 2019, the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin scored on the 4th rank in Germany and the 74th rank worldwide. Its academic success is demonstrated through its four Clusters of Excellence, 18 Collaborative Research Centres (Sonderforschungsbereiche, SFB), the hosting of 10 Research Training Groups (Graduiertenkollegs) and the involvement in nine further, 43 Graduate Schools and Graduate Programmes, a research centre and 12 research groups funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG), as well as numerous other externally funded research projects. During the last years, Humboldt continued to extend external funding for research activities to approx. € 284 million in 2019 (including Charité).

An international university

Humboldt-Universität is one of Germany´s premier teaching and research-oriented universities and plays a pivotal role in global academic dialogues. Across the globe strategic partners join Humboldt´s international agenda by exploring critical questions in which only joint research promises results; its networks and alliances empower international teaching and research. Regional and European networks such as the Berlin University Alliance (with Freie Universität, Technische Universität and Charité Universitätsmedizin) and Circle U, an ERASMUS-sponsored partnership with Norwegian, Belgian, Danish, British and French partners add immensely to the potential and power of Humboldt´s own strengths.

Humboldt´s international appeal and its commitment to excellence are given form by the large amount of international visitors each year – the university´s scholars, students and staff meet the world on their home campus. The ERASMUS programme is particularly significant in this context by providing generous funding for mobility and training measures. Other funding organisations like the German Science Council, the DAAD as well as various ministries are influential in shaping the intensity of international project work. We also have been highly successful over many years in applications for funding from the EU.

The new European consortium “Circle U” and its funding as well as the supercharged development of digitalised internationalisation activities will intensify the development of teaching mobility, digital research cooperation and joint staff work. It will enable the university to go back to the fundamental tenets of internationalisation: the central role of internationalised learning about cultures and one´s own response to it, the engendering of multiperspectivity in students, scholars and staff, and the value of joint research on shared questions of global importance.

Many programmes at Humboldt have supported such learning in the past, but are even now gaining new impetus under pandemic restrictions. Learning how others understand the world is even more crucial in times of crisis. Humboldt has and will play an active part in international links.