Technische Universität Berlin
© Universitätsarchiv

History of Technische Universität Berlin

The beginnings

The roots of Technische Universität Berlin and its previous incarnations date back to the 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 in 1821. The Königlich Technische Hochschule zu Berlin (Royal Technical Academy) came into being in 1879 through a merger of the Royal Trade and Building Academies. The Royal Mining Academy was incorporated into the Königlich Technische Hochschule in 1916. The architect Karl Friedrich Schinkel, whose structures still adorn Berlin’s cityscape, is one of the most prominent representatives of the University’s predecessor institutions.

Bestowal of the first doctorate in the atrium

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

Breeding ground of future Nobel Prize winners

The Academy played a pivotal role in Berlin’s ascent as one of Europe’s most important industrial cities and 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. Numerous Nobel Prize winners studied and taught at the Academy into the 1930s, including the chemist Carl Bosch, and physicists Gustav Hertz, Eugene Paul Wigner, Wolfgang Paul, George de Hevesy, Dennis Gabor, and Ernst Ruska.

The darkest chapter

Starting in 1933, National Socialist ideas also began to gain a foothold at Technische Hochschule Berlin. The discrimination and expulsion of Jewish and critical scholars – including Gustav Hertz and Georg Schlesinger, the pioneer of modern production sciences, who together with Albert Einstein co-founded the Technion Haifa – was the darkest chapter in our institution’s history. Its buildings too lay in ruins by the end of the war. There have been several initiatives to address and come to terms with this difficult legacy. The most recent involved a research project at TU Berlin’s renowned Center for Research on Antisemitism. This project traced which Jewish and "politically undesirable" scholars and students suffered discrimination and ultimately exclusion and expulsion from the university. Research also 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. Several projects involving in-depth assessments of the University’s history were realized in the context of the 70th anniversary of its founding in 2016. An additional project collected data on Technische Hochschule Berlin during the period of National Socialism.

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Germany’s first “Technical University”

The new opening in 1946 was intentionally not viewed as a “reopening”, but rather as a clean break with the National Socialist past. This was also reflected in the new name: as Germany’s first technical university, the name “Technische Universität” was chosen. At the same time, the institution's educational mandate was also reframed, with a universal education now at the focus. From this point on, the humanities were to be an integral component of a technology- and research-oriented university. Thus, the first technical university in Germany with a humanistic element was established. More than ever, this purposeful bridge between technological research and social responsibility remains a priority for TU Berlin.

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Center of the student protest movement

Right from the start, Technische Universität 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, Technische Universität 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 scientific activity 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 structural cuts. This included a complete transition 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 professorships 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 landscape and thus its universities. Examples of this include the Excellence Initiative and Excellence Strategy of the German Federal and State Governments and international recruitment schemes.

Sharpening our academic and competitive profiles

Technische Universität Berlinn has used these cuts and changes to consistently enhance its profile: decision-making structures have been extensively modernized and streamlined. The seven faculties now have clearly defined areas of scientific focus. Research priorities have been defined across faculty boundaries. Today, TU Berlin’s profile is characterized by new strategies to advance junior 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. Since 2019, Technische Universität Berlin has been a member of the Berlin University Alliance together with Freie Universität Berlin, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, and Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin, joining the ranks of Universities of Excellence in Germany.

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