History of the universities

The history of German universities dates back to the middle of the 14th century and has its roots in the medieval development of European universities on the model of Paris and Bologna. German universities were founded in waves – from the Middle Ages to the middle of the 20th century.


Medieval universities

The first German universities were founded in the late 14th and early 15th centuries. The oldest university in Germany is the Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg, which opened its doors to students in 1386.

Only two years later, in 1388, the University of Cologne was founded by the citizens of the city. In 1798, it was closed under French occupation because of its medieval structures, which did not correspond to the French educational system. In May 1919, the University of Cologne was re-established as a university by the then mayor Konrad Adenauer.

The university in Erfurt, the capital of Thuringia, was the very first German university to receive its founding charter, in 1379. However, since the decisive factor is the date when the university began offering courses of study, and this was the case with the University of Erfurt in 1392, it is considered to be the third oldest university in Germany. After its closure in 1816, it was re-established in 1994.

Heidelberg, Cologne and Erfurt were followed in the 15th century by Würzburg, Leipzig, Rostock, Trier, Greifswald, Freiburg, Ingolstadt, Tübingen and Mainz, and in the 16th century by Wittenberg and Frankfurt an der Oder. Over the centuries, many of these universities were closed, later re-opened and sometimes changed their location. For example, the university founded in Ingolstadt first moved to Landshut in 1800 and from there to Munich in 1826, where it is now known as Ludwig Maximilian University. The universities of Wittenberg and Halle were merged in 1817, the universities of Frankfurt an der Oder and Breslau in 1811.

New universities in the age of territorial states

This first medieval wave of universities was followed by further universities in the age of territorial states from 1527 to 1638. This period saw the founding of the universities in Marburg, the first Protestant university in the world, Jena, Giessen, Osnabrück, Bamberg, Duisburg, Kiel and Kassel, among others. Some of these universities were also closed, re-established or merged with other universities over time.

New universities in the age of absolutism

Between 1694 and 1734, five more German universities were founded: the University of Halle, which was united with the University of Wittenberg in 1817, and the universities in Göttingen, Erlangen, Münster and Fulda.

New universities in the 19th century

Two new German universities were founded in the 19th century: the University of Berlin in 1810, today known as Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, and the Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Bonn in 1818. In addition, several technical colleges were founded between 1895 and 1890 in Karlsruhe, Munich, Aachen, Braunschweig, Stuttgart, Darmstadt, Berlin, Hanover and Dresden. Between 1895 and 1914, colleges of commerce and economics were established in Leipzig, Aachen, Cologne, Berlin, Mannheim, Munich, Nuremberg and Königsberg, colleges of agriculture and forestry in Aschaffenburg, Berlin, Bonn, Eberswalde, Hohenheim and Tharandt, and colleges of veterinary medicine in Berlin, Dresden, Hanover, Munich and Stuttgart.

New universities from 1900 until the reunification of Germany

From the 20th century onwards, further universities were founded in Germany and, from 1949, in the Federal Republic of Germany. The newly founded universities from 1900 onwards include, for example, the universities in Frankfurt am Main in 1914, Hamburg in 1919, the Free University of Berlin in 1948, Saarbrücken in 1948 and, from 1960 onwards, the universities in Bochum, Konstanz, Regensburg, Bielefeld, Dortmund, Bremen, Düsseldorf, Kaiserslautern, Oldenburg, Bayreuth, Ulm and Passau. In addition, the Medical Academy in Lübeck and the Medical School in Hanover were established.

New universities in the GDR since 1949

In the German Democratic Republic, specialised universities and technical colleges have been founded since 1949 in Dresden (1952), Ilmenau (1953/1963), Karl-Marx-Stadt (1953/1963), Leipzig (1954), Magdeburg (1953/1961), Leuna-Merseburg (1954) and Weimar (1954). Medical academies were also established in Dresden, Erfurt and Magdeburg.

New universities since reunification in 1990

Since reunification in 1990, more universities have been founded or re-established in Germany. These include the University of Koblenz-Landau, the University of Potsdam, Otto von Guericke University Magdeburg and the European University Flensburg. At the turn of the millennium, what is now known as the University of Vechta (1995) and HafenCity University Hamburg (2006) were founded.

The Brandenburg Technical University Cottbus-Senftenberg was created in 2013 through a merger of the Brandenburg Technical University Cottbus and the Lausitz University of Applied Sciences. New universities are still being founded today.

Research Map

The HRK Research Map allows you to search for German higher education institutions by the key research areas the institution is best known for.

Research Map