Humboldt University of Berlin (German: Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, abbreviated HU Berlin) is a university in the central borough of Mitte in Berlin, Germany. It was established by Frederick William III on the initiative of Wilhelm von Humboldt, Johann Gottlieb Fichte and Friedrich Ernst Daniel Schleiermacher 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 Cold War the university found itself in East Berlin and was de facto split in two when the Free University of Berlin opened in West Berlin. The university received its current name in honour of Alexander and Wilhelm von Humboldt in 1949.
The university is divided into nine faculties, including its medical school 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 Unter den Linden boulevard in central Berlin. The university is known worldwide for pioneering the Humboldtian model of higher education, which has strongly influenced other European and Western universities, and the university has been widely called "the mother of all modern universities."
As of 2017, the university has been associated with 55 Nobel Prize winners (including former students, faculty and researchers), and is considered one of the best universities in Europe as well as one of the most prestigious universities in the world for arts and humanities. It was widely regarded as the world's preeminent university for the natural sciences during the 19th and early 20th century, and is linked to major breakthroughs in physics and other sciences by its professors, such as Albert Einstein. Former faculty and notable alumni include eminent philosophers, sociologists, artists, lawyers, politicians, mathematicians, scientists, and Heads of State.
The University of Berlin was established on 16 August 1809, on the initiative of the liberal Prussian educational politician Wilhelm von Humboldt by King Friedrich Wilhelm III, during the period of the Prussian Reform Movement. The university was located in a palace constructed from 1748-1766 for the late Prince Henry, the younger brother of Frederick the Great. 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. Ludwig Feuerbach, then one of the students, made a comment on the university in 1826: "There is no question here of drinking, duelling and plesant 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 Johann Gottlieb Fichte, the theologian Friedrich Schleiermacher, the absolute idealist philosopher G.W.F. Hegel, the Romantic legal theorist Friedrich Carl von Savigny, the pessimist philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, the objective idealist philosopher Friedrich Schelling, cultural critic Walter Benjamin, and famous physicists Albert Einstein and Max Planck.
The founders of Marxist theory Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels attended the university, as did poet Heinrich Heine, novelist Alfred Döblin, founder of structuralism Ferdinand de Saussure, German unifier Otto von Bismarck, Communist Party of Germany founder Karl Liebknecht, African American Pan Africanist W. E. B. Du Bois and European unifier Robert Schuman, as well as the influential surgeon Johann Friedrich Dieffenbach in the early half of the 1800s.
The structure of German research-intensive universities served as a model for institutions like Johns Hopkins University. 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. Alexander von Humboldt, 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 August Wilhelm Hofmann, the physicist Hermann von Helmholtz, the mathematicians Ernst Eduard Kummer, Leopold Kronecker, Karl Weierstrass, the physicians Johannes Peter Müller, Albrecht von Graefe, Rudolf Virchow and Robert Koch, 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 Charité, the Pépinière and the Collegium Medico-chirurgicum. In 1717, King Friedrich I had built a quarantine house for Plague at the city gates, which in 1727 was rechristened by the "soldier king" Friedrich Wilhelm: "Es soll das Haus die Charité heißen" (It will be called Charité [French 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 natural history collection in 1810, which, by 1889 required a separate building and became the Museum für Naturkunde. 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 Landwirtschaftliche Hochschule Berlin (Agricultural University of Berlin), founded in 1881 was affiliated with the Agricultural Faculties of the University.
After 1933, like all German universities, Friedrich Wilhelm University was affected by the Nazi regime. The rector during this period was Eugen Fischer. It was from the university's library that some 20,000 books by "degenerates" and opponents of the regime were taken to be burned on May 10 of that year in the Opernplatz (now the Bebelplatz) for a demonstration protected by the SA that also featured a speech by Joseph Goebbels. 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 Heinrich Heine: "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 Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service (German "Gesetz zur Wiederherstellung des Berufsbeamtentums") resulted in 250 Jewish 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.
During the Cold War, the university was located in East Berlin. It reopened in 1946 as the University of Berlin, but due to communist repression, including the Soviet persecution of liberal and social democrat students, the Free University of Berlin was established as a de facto western successor in West Berlin 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 "free world," in contrast to the "unfree" Communist world in general and the "unfree" communist-controlled university in East Berlin in particular.
Almost immediately, the Soviet occupiers started persecuting non-communists and suppressing academic freedom at the university. This led to strong protests within the student body and faculty. Soviet NKVD secret police arrested a number of students in March 1947 as a response. The Soviet Military Tribunal in Berlin-Lichtenberg 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 Soviet Union and executed. 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.
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 Humboldtian model of higher education.
After the German reunification, the university was radically restructured and all employees were terminated and their positions readvertized. The reasons for the termination were both that the activities at the university under the communist regime had been highly politicized and that membership in the communist party had been the main criterion for employment under the communist regime, while non-communists were systematically discriminated against. The professors were almost entirely replaced with West German professors, several of them from the Free University of Berlin, with no links to communism. Many of the departments, which were considered particularly politicized and tainted by communism, e.g. law, history, philosophy and economics, were entirely dissolved, and new departments with no continuity from the communist-era departments were established. As a result of this purge, the university essentially became a new institution in the West German tradition with little continuity from the institution that existed in East Germany. The decommunization was carried out more vigorously at the Humboldt University than any other university in the former GDR, and the university has continued to take disciplinary action against employees discovered to have links to the East German communist regime in the 25 years that followed.
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 Free University of Berlin.
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 Unter den Linden and is the heart of Campus Mitte. The building was erected on order by King Frederick II for his younger brother Prince Henry of Prussia. 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 Berlin Hauptbahnhof and is the home of the life science departments including the university medical center Charité. The natural science 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 Law
- Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences (Geography, Computer Science, Mathematics, Chemistry, Physics)
- Faculty of Life Sciences (Agriculture and Horticulture, Biology, Psychology)
- Charité – Berlin University of Medicine (jointly with Free University of Berlin)
- Faculty of Philosophy I (Philosophy, History, European Ethnology, Department of Library and Information Science)
- Faculty of Philosophy II (Literature, Linguistics, Scandinavian Studies, Romance literatures, English and American Studies, Slavic Studies, Classical Philology)
- Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences (Social Sciences, Cultural Studies/Arts, Asian/African Studies (includes Archeology), Sport science, Rehabilitation Studies, Education, Quality Management in Education)
- Faculty of Theology
- Faculty of Economics and Business Administration
Furthermore, there are two independent institutes (Zentralinstitute) that are part of the university:
- Centre for British Studies (in German: Großbritannienzentrum)
- Humboldt-Innovation (research transfer and spin-off service)
- Museum für Naturkunde (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 Berlin State Library.
During the Weimar Period the library contained 831,934 volumes (1930) and was thus one of the leading university libraries in Germany at that time.
During the Nazi book burnings in 1933, no volumes from the university library were destroyed. Also, the loss through World War II was comparatively small. In 2003, natural science related books were outhoused to the newly founded library at the Adlershof 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 is about to be 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 it is can be referred to by students) opened in 2009.
In total, the university library contains about 6.5 million volumes and 9000 held magazines and journals and is one of the biggest university libraries in Germany.
The books of the Institut für Sexualwissenschaft were destroyed during the Nazi book burnings and the institute destroyed. Under the terms of the Magnus Hirschfeld Foundation, the government had undertaken to continue the work of the institute at the university after its founder's death. However these terms were ignored. In 2001 however the university acquired the Archive for Sexology from the Robert Koch Institute, which was founded on a large private library donated by Erwin J. Haeberle. This has now been housed at the new Magnus Hirschfeld Center.
In 2020 the British QS World University Rankings ranked Humboldt University 120st overall in the world. Its subject rankings were: 21st in Classics & Ancient History, 21st in Arts & Humanities and 12th in Philosophy.
The British Times Higher Education World University Ranking 2019 listed Humboldt-University as the 67th best university in the world and 4th best in Germany.
Notable alumni and faculty
- Theodore Dyke Acland (1851–1931), surgeon and physician
- Bozorg Alavi (1904–1997), novelist and writer
- Alexander Altmann (1906–1987), rabbi and scholar of Jewish philosophy and mysticism
- Gerhard Anschütz (1867–1948), leading jurisprudent and "father of the constitution" of the state of Hesse
- Jörg Baberowski (born 1961), professor of eastern European history
- Michelle Bachelet (born 1951), pediatrician and epidemiologist, president of the Republic of Chile
- Azmi Bishara (born 1956), Arab-Israeli politician
- Bruno Bauer (1809–1882), theologian, Bible critic and philosopher
- Jurek Becker (1937–1997), writer (Jacob the Liar)
- Eliezer Berkovits (1908–1992), rabbi, philosopher and theologian
- Algernon Sydney Biddle (1847-1891), American lawyer and law professor at the University of Pennsylvania Law School
- Otto von Bismarck (1815–1898), first German chancellor
- Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906–1945), theologian and resistance fighter
- Beatrix Borchard, (born 1950), musicologist
- Max Born (1882–1970), physicist, Nobel Prize for physics in 1954
- Aron Brand (1910–1977), pediatric cardiologist
- Rudolf Brandt (1909–1948), Nazi SS officer, executed for war crimes
- Gottlieb Burckhardt (1836–1907), psychiatrist, first physician to perform modern psychosurgery (1888)
- Michael C. Burda, macroeconomist
- George C. Butte (1877–1940), American jurist
- Stepan Shahumyan (1878–1918), communist politician and head of the Baku Commune
- Ezriel Carlebach (1909–1956), Israeli journalist and editorial writer
- Ernst Cassirer (1874–1945), philosopher
- Adelbert von Chamisso (1781–1838), natural scientist and writer
- Angela Davis (born 1944), political activist, educator, author, philosopher
- Gustav Adolf Deissmann (1866-1937), theologian, New Testament Greek philologist, author, Nobel nominee
- Suat Derviş (1904/1905–1972), Turkish novelist, journalist, and political activist
- Harilal Dhruv (1856–1896), Indian lawyer, poet, indologist
- Wilhelm Dilthey (1833–1911), philosopher
- Georg Dohrn, conductor
- W. E. B. Du Bois (1868–1963), African-American activist and scholar
- Paul Ehrlich (1854–1915), physician, Nobel Prize for medicine in 1908
- Albert Einstein (1879–1955), physicist, Nobel Prize for physics in 1921
- Gotthold Eisenstein (1823–1852), mathematician, specialized in number theory and analysis
- Friedrich Engels (1820–1895), journalist and philosopher
- Annemarie Esche, scholar of Burmese literature
- Ludwig Andreas Feuerbach (1804–1872), philosopher
- Johann Gottlieb Fichte (1762–1814), philosopher, rector of the university (1810–1812)
- Horst Fischer (1912–1966), SS concentration camp doctor executed for war crimes
- Emil Fischer (1852–1919), founder of modern biochemistry, Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1902
- Werner Forßmann (1904–1979), physician, Nobel Prize for medicine in 1956
- James Franck (1882–1964), physicist, Nobel Prize for physics in 1925
- Wilhelm Frick (1877-1946), Nazi official, executed for war crimes
- Karl Gebhardt (1897–1948), Nazi SS physician who conducted criminal medical experiments; executed for war crimes
- Ernst Gehrcke (1878–1960), experimental physicist
- Jacob Grimm (1785–1863), linguist and literary critic
- Wilhelm Grimm (1786–1859), linguist and literary critic
- Gregor Gysi (1948–), German politician and lawyer
- Fritz Haber (1868–1934), chemist, Nobel Prize for chemistry in 1918
- Otto Hahn (1879–1968), chemist, Nobel Prize for chemistry in 1944
- Sir William Reginald Halliday (1886–1966), principal of King's College London (1928–1952)
- Robert Havemann (1910–1982), chemist, co-founder of European Union, and leading GDR dissident
- Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770–1831), philosopher, rector of the university (1830–1831)
- Heinrich Heine (1797–1856), writer and poet
- Werner Heisenberg (1901–1976), physicist, Nobel Prize for physics in 1932
- Hermann von Helmholtz (1821–1894), physician and physicist
- Gustav Hertz (1887–1975), physicist, Nobel Prize for physics in 1925
- Paula Hertwig (1889–1983), biologist, politician
- Heinrich Hertz (1857–1894), physicist
- Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907–1972) rabbi, philosopher, and theologian
- Jacobus Henricus van 't Hoff (1852–1911), chemist, Nobel Prize for chemistry in 1901
- Johanna Hellman (1889 - 1982), surgeon
- Max Huber (1874–1960), international lawyer and diplomat
- Christoph Wilhelm Hufeland (1762–1836), founder of macrobiotics
- Wilhelm von Humboldt (1767–1835), politician, linguist, and founder of the university
- Alexander von Humboldt (1769–1859), natural scientist
- Zakir Hussain (1897–1969), third president of India
- Sadi Irmak (1904–1990), Prime minister of Turkey
- Elisabeth Jastrow (1890–1981), German-born American classical archaeologist
- Hermann Kasack (1896–1966), writer
- George F. Kennan (1904–2005), American diplomat, political scientist and historian
- Gustav Kirchhoff (1824–1887), physicist
- Paul Alfred Kleinert, German writer, editor and translator
- Robert Koch (1843–1910), physician, Nobel Prize for medicine in 1905
- Komitas (1869–1935), composer, ethnomusicologist, the founder of the Armenian classical music
- Albrecht Kossel (1853–1927), physician, Nobel Prize for medicine in 1910
- Arnold Kutzinski (died 1956), psychiatrist
- Edmund Landau (1877–1938), mathematician
- Arnold von Lasaulx (1839–1886) mineralogist and petrographer
- Max von Laue (1879–1960), physicist, Nobel Prize for physics in 1914
- Yeshayahu Leibowitz (1903–1994), Israeli public intellectual and polymath
- Wassily Leontief (1905–1999), economist, Nobel Prize for economics in 1973
- Karl Liebknecht (1871–1919), socialist politician and revolutionary
- Friedrich Loeffler (1852–1915), bacteriologist
- Ram Manohar Lohia (1910–1967), Indian activist and politician
- Karl Adolf Lorenz (1837–1923), composer
- Herbert Marcuse (1898–1979), philosopher
- Karl Marx (1818–1883), philosopher and sociologist
- Ernst Mayr (1904–2005), biologist
- Joachim Mrugowsky (1905–1948), Nazi doctor executed for war crimes
- Lise Meitner (1878–1968), physicist, Enrico Fermi Award in 1966
- Felix Mendelssohn (1809–1847), composer
- Theodor Mommsen (1817–1903), historian, Nobel Prize for literature in 1902
- Edmund Montgomery (1835–1911), philosopher, scientist, physician
- John von Neumann (1903–1957), mathematician and physicist
- Max Planck (1858–1947), physicist, Nobel Prize for physics in 1918
- Gordon Prange (1910–1980), American historian
- Leopold von Ranke (1795–1886), historian
- Otto Friedrich Ranke (1899–1959), physiologist
- Erich Regener (1881–1955), physicist
- Robert Remak (1815–1865), cell biologist
- Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling (1775–1854), philosopher
- Friedrich Daniel Ernst Schleiermacher (1768–1834), philosopher
- Moritz Schlick (1882-1936), philosopher
- Bernhard Schlink (born 1944), writer, Der Vorleser (The Reader)
- Carl Schmitt (1888–1985), German jurist, political theorist, and professor of law
- Menachem Mendel Schneerson (1902–1994), rabbi, philosopher, and theologian
- Arthur Schopenhauer (1788–1860), philosopher
- Erwin Schrödinger (1887–1961), physicist, Nobel Prize for physics in 1933
- Peter Schubert (1938–2003), diplomat and albanologist
- Georg Simmel (1858–1918), philosopher and sociologist
- Joseph B. Soloveitchik (1903–1993), rabbi, philosopher, and theologian
- Herman Smith-Johannsen (1875–1987), sportsman who introduced cross-country skiing to North America
- Werner Sombart (1863–1941), philosopher, sociologist and economist
- Hans Spemann (1869–1941), biologist, Nobel Prize for biology in 1935
- Hermann Stieve (1886–1952), anatomist who did research on bodies of Nazi execution victims
- Max Stirner (1806–1856), philosopher
- Yemima Tchernovitz-Avidar (1909–98), Israeli author
- Gustav Tornier (1859–1938), paleontologist and zoologist
- Kurt Tucholsky (1890–1935), writer and journalist
- Komitas Vardapet (1869–1935), Armenian priest, composer, choir leader, singer, music ethnologist, music pedagogue and musicologist
- Rudolf Virchow (1821–1902), physician and politician
- Luis Villar Borda (1929–2008), Colombian politician and diplomat
- Alfred Wegener (1880–1930), scientist, geologist, and meteorologist, early theorist of continental drift
- Karl Weierstraß (1815–1897), mathematician
- Max Westenhöfer (1871–1957), pathologist, proposed the Aquatic ape hypothesis, reformer of field of pathology in Chile
- Wilhelm Heinrich Westphal (1882–1978), physicist
- Wilhelm Wien (1864–1928), physicist, Nobel Prize for physics in 1911
- Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff (1848–1931), philologist
- Richard Willstätter (1872–1942), chemist, Nobel Prize for chemistry in 1915
- Annette Schmiedchen (born 1966), Indologist and Padma Shri award winner
- Max Weber (1864–1920), sociologist, philosopher, and political economist
There are 55 Nobel Prize winners affiliated with the Humboldt University:
- 1901 Jacobus Henricus van 't Hoff (Chemistry)
- 1901 Emil Adolf von Behring (Physiology or Medicine)
- 1902 Hermann Emil Fischer (Chemistry)
- 1902 Theodor Mommsen (Literature)
- 1905 Adolf von Baeyer (Chemistry)
- 1905 Robert Koch (Physiology or Medicine)
- 1907 Albert Abraham Michelson (Physics)
- 1907 Eduard Buchner (Chemistry)
- 1908 Paul Ehrlich (Physiology or Medicine)
- 1909 Karl Ferdinand Braun (Physics)
- 1910 Otto Wallach (Chemistry)
- 1910 Albrecht Kossel (Physiology or Medicine)
- 1910 Paul Heyse (Literature)
- 1911 Wilhelm Wien (Physics)
- 1914 Max von Laue (Physics)
- 1915 Richard Willstätter (Chemistry)
- 1918 Fritz Haber (Chemistry)
- 1918 Max Planck (Physics)
- 1920 Walther Nernst (Chemistry)
- 1921 Albert Einstein (Physics)
- 1925 Gustav Ludwig Hertz (Physics)
- 1925 James Franck (Physics)
- 1925 Richard Adolf Zsigmondy (Chemistry)
- 1928 Adolf Otto Reinhold Windaus (Chemistry)
- 1929 Hans von Euler-Chelpin (Chemistry)
- 1931 Otto Heinrich Warburg (Physiology or Medicine)
- 1932 Werner Heisenberg (Physics)
- 1933 Erwin Schrödinger (Physics)
- 1935 Hans Spemann (Physiology or Medicine)
- 1936 Peter Debye (Chemistry)
- 1939 Adolf Butenandt (Chemistry)
- 1944 Otto Hahn (Chemistry)
- 1945 Ernst Boris Chain (Physiology or Medicine)
- 1950 Kurt Alder (Chemistry)
- 1950 Otto Diels (Chemistry)
- 1953 Fritz Albert Lipmann (Physiology or Medicine)
- 1953 Hans Adolf Krebs (Physiology or Medicine)
- 1954 Max Born (Physics)
- 1956 Walther Bothe (Physics)
- 1991 Bert Sakmann (Physiology or Medicine)
- 2007 Gerhard Ertl (Chemistry)