Originally located in the former Palace (1748 - 1766) for Prince Henry, Berlin’s Humboldt University (not to be confused with the university of the same name in California) was established on August 16, 1809, and opened in 1810, during the Prussian Reform Movement. King Friedrich William III officially commissioned the university under the inspiration of Wilhelm Von Humboldt’s notion of uniting research and teaching. This became the model for many other universities around the world (e.g. John Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland). Under its original name (i.e. the University of Berlin), Humboldt became the oldest of Berlin’s four universities. From 1828 through 1945, the university was known as Friedrich Wilhelm University. By 1829, the previous quarantine house built in 1717 for plague victims, became the university’s medical campus. By 1889, it’s natural history collections (begun in 1810) became so large, it evolved into a natural history museum.
During the time of the Third Reich, the university’s quadrangle became the site of the May 10, 1933 Book Burnings (20,000 volumes by “degenerates” and those critics of the Regime). Today, there is a monument to this evil in the center of the square in the form of a white underground room, covered by a glass panel, with space for twenty thousand books. Around the same time of the book burnings, two hundred fifty Jewish professors and employees were fired, along with the ejection and deportation of many students and political opponents.
Throughout the Cold War, the University was located within East Berlin, controlled by the Communists. Immediately, the Soviet occupiers began persecuting non-communists, while suppressing academic freedoms. This created strong protests in East Berlin. As a result, in March of 1947, the Secret Police arrested several students and staff, sending them to 25 years of hard labor. As a countermeasure, West Berlin established the “ Free University of Berlin.”
Since the historical name of the university (i.e. Friedrich Wilhelmina University) referred to Germany’s old monarchy, in 1949, the East Germans changed its name to “Humboldt University of Berlin”. Following reunification of Germany, the university was totally restructured, with all existing employees being terminated because of their membership in the Commuist Party having been politicized. Almost all of their positions were replaced from the ranks of the Free University of Berlin. As a result, this effectively created a new university.
Throughout the history of Humboldt University, many of Germany’s greatest thinkers passed through its corridors; e.g. philosopher Johann Gottlieb Feckler, physicists Albert Einstein and Max Plank, the founders of Marxist Thoery, Karl Marks and Friedrich Engles, and Otto Von Bismarck. Today, the school is a state university with 36,000 students ( of which, almost ten percent are foreign students).