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University History

It all started with Schinkel and Beuth

Bauakademie by Schinkel, steel engraving by E. Mandel in the year 1853
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The roots of the Technische Universität Berlin and predecessor institutions date back to the time of Frederick the Great. These included important educational establishments of the Prussian State such as the Königliche Bergakademie zu Berlin (Royal Mining Academy) established in 1770, the Königliche Bauakademie zu Berlin (Royal Building Academy) founded in 1799, and the Königliche Gewerbeakademie zu Berlin (Royal Trade Academy), which opened its doors in 1827. The Königlich Technische Universität zu Berlin (Royal Technical Academy) arose in 1879 through a merger of the Royal Trade and Building Academies. The architect Karl Friedrich Schinkel, whose structures even today adorn Berlin’s cityscape, and Christian W. Beuth, the “Father of Engineering”, were instrumental in establishing these institutions.

Bestowing doctor´s honors in the atrium

The significance of the technological and natural sciences grew in proportion to increasing industrialization in the nineteenth century. The need for trained engineers increased markedly, as did calls for their recognition in both societal and science terms. The founding of the Königlich Technische Universität zu Berlin was thus an important and successful step in this direction. In 1899, Emperor Wilhelm II was the first statesman to grant technical universities in the German Reich the right to bestow doctoral degrees. The festive bestowal ceremony was held in the atrium of the Königlich Technische Universität zu Berlin. This was the first time that engineers could formally enjoy the same rights and privileges as classically educated academicians.

Incubator of future Nobel Prize winners

The old northern front of the main building, which was considerably damaged during the Second World War and replaced by a modern front in the 1960s
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The University played a pivotal role in Berlin’s ascent to one of Europe’s most important industrial cities. The TH zu Berlin became the “intellectual nucleus of a much envied model and focal point of technical progress”, as stated by the Association of German Engineers in 1906. Into the 1930s, numerous Nobel Prize winners studied and taught at the University, for instance the chemists Carl Bosch and Fritz Haber, and physicists Gustav Hertz, Eugene Paul Wigner, Wolfgang Paul, George de Hevesy, Dennis Gabor and Ernst Ruska.

The darkest chapter

Grundsteinlegung für das Nordgelände der TU Berlin am 21. Juli 1958
Laying the foundation stone for the northern campus of the TU Berlin on 21st July 1958
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Starting in 1933, National Socialist ideas also began to emerge at the TH Berlin. The discrimination and expulsion of Jewish and critical scholars – including Gustav Hertz and Georg Schlesinger, the pioneer in modern production sciences, who together with Albert Einstein co-founded the Technion Haifa – was the darkest chapter in our university’s history. Its buildings also lay in ruins by the end of the war. Several initiatives have been started to address and to come to terms with this difficult legacy. The latest involved a research project at TU Berlin’s renowned Center for the Study of Anti-Semitism. It traced which Jewish and politically undesirable scholars and students suffered discrimination and ultimately were excluded from university affairs or expelled. Research addressed how doctoral titles were actively blocked and academic titles rescinded. When the research findings were presented in 2013, the TU President apologized publicly in the name of the University for the expulsion of and discrimination against university members during the National Socialist period. Further projects involving in-depth assessments of the university’s history were realized in the context of the 70th anniversary of its founding in 2016.

Germany’s first “Technical University”

The new opening in 1946 was not seen as a “reopening”, but rather as a clean break with the National Socialist past. This was also reflected in its new name: as Germany’s first technical university the name “Technische Universität” was chosen. At the same time, the school’s educational mandate was also reframed, with a universal education now being the focus. From then on, the humanities were to be integral components of a technology- and research-oriented university. This is how the first technical university in Germany with a humanistic element was established. More than ever, this purposeful building of bridges between technological research and responsibility vis-à-vis society remains a priority for TU Berlin.

Center of the student protest movement

Right from the start, TU Berlin demonstrated openness to reforms and innovations. The student movement in the late 1960s prompted far-reaching changes in the German university system. Thanks to its location in what was then West Berlin, TU Berlin was often the point of departure for activities by Berlin students during this period. The 1960s and 1970s were characterized by a significant expansion of German universities, resulting in an increase in the number of students at TU Berlin.

New horizons since reunification in 1989

Berlin’s reputation as a center for science activities grew significantly after the fall of the Berlin Wall, as did the related costs. The beginning of the twenty-first century forced the university to make significant cuts in structural terms. This included a complete switchover to a Bachelor’s/Master’s degree system, a sharp decline in the budget provided by the State of Berlin and a far-reaching generational renewal: 90 percent of all chairs were newly appointed during the first decade of the new century. Growing competition for external funding and ‘the best minds’ increasingly characterized the German university environment. Examples of this include the ‘Excellence Initiative of the German Federal and State Governments’ and international recruitment schemes.

Sharpening our academic and competitive profiles

TU Berlin has used these cuts and changes to consistently enhance its profile: decision-making structures were extensively modernized and streamlined. The seven faculties have clearly defined areas of scientific focus. Research priorities were defined across faculty boundaries. Today, TU Berlin’s profile is characterized by new strategies to promote young scholars, equal opportunity and family-friendliness, development of research-oriented teaching, and continued development of the internationalization strategy, in addition to a future-oriented campus and IT development plan.

Pioneers in science

  • Franz Reuleaux (1829–1905) served as Rector of the TH Berlin between 1890 and 1891. His name became closely associated with machine kinematics.
  • Aadolf Slaby (1849–1913)
    In 1882 he became Professor for Theoretical Mechanical and Electrical Engineering at the TH Berlin in 1882 and was its Rector between 1894 and 1895. He conducted research in the field of wireless telegraphy. He was instrumental in starting the industrial development of radiotelegraphy.
  • Alois Riedler (1850–1936) was the father of modern technical drawing. He was awarded a chair as Professor for Mechanical Engineering at the TH Berlin in 1888, and became Rector in 1899. He was a pioneer in practically-oriented scientific approaches to engineering training and made a name for himself in automotive engineering.
  • Georg Schlesinger (1874–1949) studied at the TH Berlin; in 1904 he assumed the TH Berlin’s newly founded Chair for -Machine Tools and Manufacturing Processes. Schlesinger is considered the “father” of modern manufacturing techniques.
  • Hermann Föttinger (1877–1945) was appointed a chair at the TH Berlin in 1924. He was Germany’s first Professor for Fluid Mechanics and was responsible for developing the first fullyautomatic gearbox.
  • Hans Geiger (1882–1945) served as Director of the Institute of Physics of the TH Berlin. Together with his colleague Walter Müller he discovered that, using a Geiger-Müller tube, it was possible to detect radioactive particles and to measure their energy.
  • Hans Scharoun (1893–1972) studied at the TH Berlin School of Architecture and taught urban development at the TU Berlin. His design of Berlin’s Philharmonie Concert Hall proved to be an architectural masterpiece of international renown.
  • Walter Höllerer (1922–2003) was appointed Professor of Comparative Literature at TU Berlin. He was also a poet, publisher of literary journals and founder of the Literary Colloquium Berlin. He is credited with building bridges between the humanities and technological/natural sciences at the TU Berlin.
  • Ernst Ruska (1906–1988) received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1988 for developing the first electronic microscope. He was a student at the TH Berlin and he taught at TU Berlin starting in 1949.
  • Konrad Zuse (1910–1995) studied at the TH Berlin and later developed the world’s first processcontrolled calculating machine, thereby ushering in the computer age.
  • Gustav Hertz (1887–1975) came to the TH Berlin in 1927, one year after receiving the Nobel Prize in Physics. He was responsible for forming the new Institute of Physics at the TH Berlin.
  • Eugene Paul Wigner (1902–1995) studied and taught at the TH Berlin. He formulated the law of conservation of parity and was active in the field of nuclear physics. He received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1963 for his research into principles of symmetry and nuclear and elemental physics.
  • Carl Dahlhaus (1928–1989) taught at TU Berlin as Professor of Musicology from 1967 until his death. He remained at TU Berlin despite tempting offers from other prestigious universities. Under his aegis, the field of Musicology gained wide recognition as a valid academic subject. He enriched the field of Musicology through his contributions to historical theories, the esthetics of music, musical theory and musical analyses.

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