The Humboldt Forum was named after Wilhelm and Alexander von Humboldt. The two brothers grew up in and around Berlin, and are perhaps the city’s most famous sons. They were also subjects of the king, whose city palace once stood at this spot, and each of them served him in different ways: Wilhelm as an ambassador and minister, Alexander as an advisor and reader.
Wilhelm von Humboldt was the founder of Berlin's first university, located not far from here. Originally called the University of Berlin, it is now also named after the Humboldts. Both brothers helped to make Berlin a place in which art and culture were accessible to everyone. They were involved in setting up the first museums on Museum Island across from the palace. They also contributed to the museums’ collections, parts of which are now exhibited in this building.
Many people are still fascinated by the brothers and their work, not only in Berlin but throughout the world and on every continent. The Humboldt name can be found on buildings and street signs, and on land maps, sea charts and maps of the moon. Their faces can be seen on stamps and banknotes.
The decision to name the Humboldt Forum after Wilhelm and Alexander was made for a number of reasons: The brothers – each in their own way and occasionally together – explored the interplay between nature, people and their cultures. They spoke to their audiences and readers about human histories, prevailing social and political conditions, and people’s responsibility for the future. Lastly, the idea of freedom and equality among people is a major theme that runs through all their works.
Alexander von Humboldt travelled through parts of South and North America and later through Russia, making it as far as the border to China. Wilhelm von Humboldt travelled to the outer reaches of Europe and lived in Paris, Rome, London and Vienna. Both men possessed the privileges of wealth, an excellent education, and connections with powerful people and scholars from many different countries. For their research on nature, cultures and languages, they worked with people all over the world. In a larger context, they contributed to efforts of the European scientific community to explain the world – both in its small details and on a broader scale.
The travels of European scientists and the knowledge they collected about the world was inextricably linked with the power Europe exercised over other parts of the world. The expansion of European influence was made possible not only by its superior military and economic capabilities but also by the intellectual resources provided by its natural scientists, cartographers, geologists, anthropologists and linguists. Alexander and Wilhelm von Humboldt were all these things. They took positions against colonial economic interests, enslavement and exploitation, and advocated for justice, cultural diversity and environmental responsibility. They were not exempt, however, from the entitlement Europeans felt not only to think about the world, but for it.
The Humboldt Forum’s name recalls two extraordinary brothers. As an institution, it is resolved not to heroize them but to treat them as part of a past that can help us deal with issues of the present and take responsibility for the future. This means referencing not only their ideas and achievements but giving a platform to the people they wrote about and whose plants, artefacts and languages they studied.
Insights into the exhibition are offered by the windows of the passage to the central staircase. The passage is accessible 24 hours.
Opening hours of the house
Mon, Wed, Thu, Sun: 10:00 - 20:00
Fri, Sat: 10:00 - 22:00