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Berlin Dahlem: The “German Oxford”

On greenfield land

Berlin’s Southwest is an important life sciences location that has grown over decades – and has been a traditional science hub for more than a hundred years. In 1912, the Kaiser Wilhelm Institutes for Chemistry and Physical Chemistry – predecessors of today’s Max Planck Institutes – were founded here on “greenfield land”. Since its inception in 1948, the Free University Berlin has also been using the former buildings of the Kaiser Wilhelm Society. The vision: A “German Oxford”, a top-level German science hub with international reach.


Heisenberg, Haber, Hahn

In Dahlem, Nobel Prize winners conducted highly specialised research in pioneering fields such as genetics, physical chemistry, and nuclear physics and wrote science history. Soon, many talented and renowned researchers from all over the world quickly moved to Dahlem. Some of the most important but also the most fatal scientific discoveries ever made were made here. In 1939, Otto Hahn, Fritz Straßmann, und Lise Meitner discovered nuclear fission in Dahlem. Albert Einstein also left his mark here. Lest we forget the Uranprojekt under Werner Heisenberg, Germany’s nuclear weapons programme, resulting in the first-ever nuclear reactor. Today, the “German Oxford” and its Dahlem Campus is one of the four largest science locations in Germany. During the day, about 35,000 students turn the smallest part of Steglitz-Zehlendorf, Berlin’s southwestern district, into a bustle of activity. Additionally, the university is home to 4,400 PhD students, lecturers, and other staff. 


Planetary institute, clubhouse, start-up mansion

Remarkable things have happened behind the thick walls of the 1912 mansion on the corner of Altensteinstrasse 40 and Fabeckstrasse in the last hundred years. It was once the Royal Astronomical Calculation Institute, where planetary motion was studied, and a club house called “Melodie”, where American forces went to have a dance. Today, the Free University’s so-called start-up mansion is home to teams of business founders, focusing on innovative diagnostics in the field of autoimmune diseases, smart technologies for people with nerve damage, and AI-based support for neurodermatitis patients.


A ward for research-driven companies

The building complex on Fabeckstrasse 62 was built as a modern hospital in the 1970s, which served as the main health centre for the U.S. Army in Berlin. It had a capacity of roughly 220 beds. When the Americans left Berlin in 1994, the hospital was handed over to the State of Berlin, who left it to Charité, Berlin’s university hospital. In recent years, the BAM Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing used the former hospital building. Most recently, it was used as the backdrop for a film. Now, finally, this former U.S. military hospital in close vicinity to the Free University’s Dahlem Campus is being transformed into an innovation centre for young, research-driven companies.

Zukunftsort Berlin SOUTHWEST

300 ha area, 5,000 companies, 32,000 employees, 13 scientific institutes, 35,000 students