1929 - 1945

The Kaiser Wilhelm Society

Dahlem about 1918, aerial photograph
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Dahlem about 1918, aerial photograph


The Kaiser Wilhelm Society (KWG), founded in 1911 in Berlin, was Germany’s first basic research organization. Its principal aim was promoting the natural sciences, which had become extremely significant in the years of rapid industrial expansion in Germany at the end of the 19th century. In cooperation with the universities and by complementing their work, the KWG was to conduct research at its own Institutes. The research scientists were released from any lecturing duties and provided with the best equipment. 

Adolf von Harnack, a theologian and the director of the Royal Library in Berlin, and Friedrich Althoff, the Prussian minister of culture, began to draw up the plan in 1909 and successfully presented it to Parliament and Kaiser Wilhelm II. The Kaiser agreed to lend his name to the new society. 

As soon as the KWG was founded, the royal estate in Berlin-Dahlem was identified as a suitable location for building its new research institutes. The land was owned by the state, which provided the site chosen for constructing the science buildings at no cost. Further funding was raised from industry and private donors. The Kaiser’s name ensured the newly founded society enjoyed a good reputation and becoming a Supporting Member of the KWG soon became a matter of prestige for the wealthy. Its patrons included many Jewish financiers in particular.

The first institutes were established a year after the foundation of the KWG in Berlin-Dahlem starting in 1912. In the October, the Kaiser opened the Institute for Physical Chemistry and Electrochemistry under the leadership of Fritz Haber and the Institute for Chemistry directed by Ernst Beckmann. Haber’s Institute expanded during the Second World War as he put it at the complete disposal of the war effort and developed poison-gas weapons for the German Army.

Despite the war a further building was opened in 1915 – the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Biology. By the mid-1920s, the campus had expanded to five Institutes while others were in the process of being founded.

However, the infrastructure in rural Dahlem had not kept pace with developments. The need for a central facility providing lecture theatres and a restaurant became an ever more pressing matter. In addition, an increasing number of visiting scientists were working in Dahlem for whom it was difficult to find accommodation. sk

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