After World War II Helmut Coper started studying medicine at Universität unter den Linden, as the main university in Berlin was called at the time. Located in the eastern sector of the occupied city, the university increasingly came under ideological pressure from the Communist leadership. After three students who were critical of the political system were expelled, Coper and numerous other students and faculty worked to establish a free university in the western sectors. They wanted to be able to learn, teach, and conduct research without being subjected to political influence. With support from the American Allies and numerous Berlin politicians, Freie Universität was founded on December 4, 1948, during the Berlin Blockade.
Helmut Coper was the first elected chairperson of the general student council (AStA) of Freie Universität Berlin. In 1967, after earning his doctoral degree and habilitation in pharmacology, Coper was named director of the Institute of Neuropsychopharmacology, a position he held until his retirement in 1994. He was the first person in Germany to hold a chair in neuropsychopharmacology. Coper’s research focused on gerontology and addiction. The Polish Academy of Sciences honored Coper for his contributions to the reconciliation between Germany and Poland.