In making student participation an integral part of its independent academic administration, it became Germany's first "reform university." From serving one half of a divided city to serving Germany's capital: the university's development has gone hand-in-hand with that of the East-West conflict. From the material insecurity of the post-war years and the period of reconstruction, right through to the student unrest in the late 1960s, it has always been a place where the fundamental political questions about the future of society and higher education are addressed.
Die Freie Universität was founded in 1948, mainly on the initiative of students who were committed to freedom and democracy after their bitter experiences under National Socialist dictatorship and who objected to Berlin University, on Unter den Linden, being brought into line with Marxist-Leninist dogma. Thanks to the support of West Germany and the United States of America, Freie Universität was able to flourish as a university of international standing. Members of the intellectual and scientific community came to Dahlem as guests and friends, as they still do, from many parts of the world.
After German reunification, the university was faced with a completely new situation. The Higher Education Structural Plan of the Land of Berlin in the 1990s involved spending cuts of one thousand million DM. Freie Universität has sought to combine the inevitable downsizing with increased emphasis on performance in teaching and research and the development of forward-looking, internationally-competitive centers of academic excellence and co-operative ventures.
A look at the various phases of the history of Freie Universität shows the strong links with the political histroy of the divided and reunited city of Berlin.