The shortages of material at Freie Universität during the winter of the airlift in 1948-49 were, like everywhere else in West Berlin, catastrophic. Completely new infrastructure was needed. Those institutes of the former Friedrich Wilhelm University that were situated in Dahlem and the buildings of the former Kaiser Wilhelm Society, which were made available by the Max Planck Society, did not have enough room. Nonetheless, with initiative and a great deal of skill at improvisation, the teachers and students were able to get academic life going. Donations of furniture and books were brought to Dahlem from all over the city, sometimes even on handcarts.
The founding proclamation of Freie Universität promised that every student there would be able to develop her or his own personality freely and unencumbered by propaganda, and that every teacher would be able to teach and do research without having to follow a party-political doctrine. Student brotherhoods of the traditional sort were not, however, permitted at Freie Universität because of their anti-Semitic past. For the first time, students had an official role, with seats and votes, in the independent academic administration of a German university. This "Berlin Model" made Freie Universität the first "reform university" in Germany.