Humboldt University of Berlin

Global Influence
Public research university in Berlin, Germany

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About Humboldt University of Berlin

By James Barham, PhD

This university has a fascinating pedigree. It was originally founded by Kaiser Friedrich Wilhelm III, in consultation with three great German Enlightenment thinkers: the philologist and linguist Wilhelm von Humboldt, the philosopher J.G. Fichte, and the theologian Friedrich Schleiermacher. Originally known simply as the University of Berlin, for most of its existence up until the aftermath of World War II, it was officially known as the Friedrich Wilhelm University.

The site of the university lay in the central, Mitte neighborhood of the city, and in the aftermath of the war it unfortunately found itself just inside the Soviet sector—and thus, after 1961, just east of the Berlin Wall. Kaisers (that is, caesars, or emperors) being in bad odor with the new communist regime, in 1949 the university was renamed after Wilhelm von Humboldt, already mentioned above, and his brother Alexander, a famed naturalist and explorer.

In 1948, a brand-new university was founded in the western sector of the city. It was named the Free University of Berlin. Since the reunification of the two parts of Germany (and Berlin) in 1990, the Humboldt University and the Free University have entered into fairly close cooperation with each other—even to the extent of sharing the same medical school—while still retaining their own distinctive identities.

Regarded by many as the preeminent university for the natural sciences during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the University of Berlin (let us call it that to avoid anachronism) boasted such scientific superstars as:

  • Theodor Schwann and Rudolf Virchow, co-discoverers (with Matthias Schleiden) of the cellular nature of life
  • Heinrich Hertz, discoverer of electromagnetic waves
  • Wilhelm Wundt, a pioneer of experimental psychology
  • Hermann von Helmholtz, co-founder of modern thermodynamics, as well as an important contributor to the physiology of visual and auditory perception
  • J.H. van’t Hoff, pioneer of chemical kinetics and physical chemistry, as well as discoverer of the tetrahedral structure of the carbon atom

Moreover, among mathematicians of the very first rank during this period, we may name Bernhard Riemann, Leopold Kronecker, and Georg Cantor.

However, the University of Berlin was by no means merely a technical institute. Its liberal arts faculties were highly distinguished, as well. Indeed, the list of intellectual stars connected to this school is nothing short of astonishing.

Among famous philosophers who studied or taught here during the nineteenth century, we may mention:

  • G.W.F Hegel
  • F.W.J. Schelling
  • Ludwig Feuerbach
  • Søren Kierkegaard
  • Arthur Schopenhauer
  • Friedrich Engels
  • Karl Marx
  • Wilhelm Dilthey
  • Georg Simmel
  • Edmund Husserl
  • Max Scheler
  • Carl Stumpf
  • Max Weber

Finally, we may mention:

  • Distinguished jurist and historian, F.C. von Savigny
  • Composer, Felix Mendelssohn
  • Novella-writer, Theodor Storm
  • Novelist, Wilhelm Raabe
  • Beloved poet, Heinrich Heine
  • Preeminent German statesman, Otto von Bismarck
  • Great classical historian, Theodor Mommsen

all of whom studied here.

Moving to the twentieth century, University of Berlin-connected physicists include:

  • Max Planck
  • Albert Einstein
  • Albert Michelson
  • Max Born
  • Lise Meitner
  • Otto Hahn
  • James Franck
  • Max von Laue

In addition to this stellar roster of physicists, we may also mention:

  • Chemists, Walther Nernst & Fritz Haber
  • Geologist, Alfred Wegener
  • Microbiologist, Robert Koch
  • Physiologist, Hans Krebs
  • Rocketry pioneer, Wernher von Braun
  • Ornithologist and evolutionary theorist, Ernst Mayr

Twentieth-century philosophers and theologians who studied or taught at Berlin include:

  • W.E.B. Du Bois
  • Ernst Cassirer
  • Hannah Arendt
  • Hans Jonas
  • Dietrich Bonhoeffer
  • Abraham Heschel

Other important figures include:

  • Novelists, Robert Musil & Alfred Döblin
  • Literary critic and theorist, Walter Benjamin
  • Satirical journalist, poet, novelist, and cultural critic, Kurt Tucholsky
  • Economist, Wassily Leontieff
  • American statesman, George Kennan

All in all, Humboldt University (to revert back to its present name) can boast of connections to around 30 Nobel laureates.

According to Wikipedia, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin is a German public research university in the central borough of Mitte in Berlin. 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 in 1809, and opened in 1810, making it the oldest of Berlin's four universities. From 1828 until its closure in 1945, it was named Friedrich Wilhelm University . 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.

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What Is Humboldt University of Berlin Known For?

Humboldt University of Berlin is known for it's academic work in the following disciplines:

Humboldt University of Berlin's Top Areas of Influence With Degrees Offered

Who Are Humboldt University of Berlin's Most Influential Alumni?

Humboldt University of Berlin's most influential alumni faculty include professors and professionals in the fields of Earth Sciences, Medical, and Sociology. Here are some of Humboldt University of Berlin's most famous alumni:

Karl Marx
Karl Marx
A German philosopher .
Max Weber
Max Weber
A German sociologist, philosopher, and political economist .
Max Planck
Max Planck
A German theoretical physicist.
Arthur Schopenhauer
Arthur Schopenhauer
A German philosopher .
Wilhelm Wundt
Wilhelm Wundt
A German physician, physiologist, philosopher and professor .
Edmund Husserl
Edmund Husserl
A German philosopher, known as the father of phenomenology.
Bernhard Riemann
Bernhard Riemann
A German mathematician.
Georg Cantor
Georg Cantor
A German mathematician, inventor of set theory .
Rudolf Carnap
Rudolf Carnap
A German philosopher.
Otto Hahn
Otto Hahn
A German chemist.
Felix Klein
Felix Klein
A German mathematician, author of the Erlangen Program .
Herbert Marcuse
Herbert Marcuse
A German philosopher, sociologist, and political theorist .

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