Humboldt University’s 200th Anniversary

Students in Humboldt University's "Audimax" auditorium Enlarge image Students in Humboldt University's "Audimax" auditorium (© picture-alliance/ dpa) In the year it was founded, Berlin’s Humboldt University had 256 students and 52 lecturers. It has since produced 29 Nobel Prize winners and is regarded as the “mother” of all modern universities. In 2010, the university celebrated its 200th anniversary.

The university was largely shaped by its founder, Wilhelm von Humboldt, the brother of the important naturalist and explorer Alexander von Humboldt. What he envisaged was a university that would realize the unity of teaching and research and offer all students the opportunity to acquire a comprehensive humanistic education. This was a totally new idea in 1810, the year the university was founded, but it gained acceptance: the following decades saw the founding of other universities around the world that based their teaching on this concept. Baron Wilhelm von Humboldt, founder of Humboldt University Enlarge image Baron Wilhelm von Humboldt, founder of Humboldt University (© picture-alliance / dpa)

In Germany, the Humboldt University continued to spearhead this undertaking. Domiciled in the former palace of Prince Henry of Prussia on the Unter den Linden boulevard – premises that had been specifically provided for the university by King Frederick William III – the university was the seedbed of many new disciplines, not least thanks to the outstanding scholars and scientists that taught there: the Brothers Grimm, Albert Einstein and Max Planck were among those who lectured at the university, and its students included Otto von Bismarck, Heinrich Heine and Kurt Tucholsky.

During the National Socialist era, the Humboldt University lost its reputation as a home of humanitarian thought. Jewish students and scholars – in fact all those who refused to toe the party line – were forced to leave the university. This meant the loss of considerable academic potential, with the result that soon after the end of the Second World War the university was only able to resume operation in weakened form. The partition of Berlin also led to the university’s split: while the new “Freie Universität Berlin” (Free University of Berlin) was founded in Berlin’s American Sector in late 1948, the “original” university – now located in East Berlin – continued operating under its present name, “Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin” (Humboldt University of Berlin), which it was given in 1949. Despite German reunification, the two universities continue to operate as separate institutions, though they do offer a number of joint programmes and jointly run Europe’s largest medical faculty, the Berlin Charité.

Some 35,000 students from more than 100 different countries are enrolled today at the Humboldt University, living, learning and researching at eleven faculties spread across the entire city.

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