Humboldt University and the ‘Kommode’

Countless awe-struck ‘freshers’ have passed through the large gate in the imposing Baroque structure of Berlin’s Humboldt University en route to their first lecture. The university’s U-shaped main building is located on Unter den Linden itself and attracts attention due in no small part to the large number of students streaming in and out. The building is part of the former Forum Fridericianum and was originally the ‘Palais des Prinzen Heinrich’ (the brother of Frederick the Great or ‘Old Fritz’). The building was envisaged as a royal palace. However, Frederick had already lost interest in Berlin by this point and spent most of his time in Potsdam, where he was particularly enamoured with his pleasure palace, Sanssouci. After the prince’s death, the building was given to Friedrich-Wilhelm University, which was renamed Humboldt University after World War Two.

The Alte Bibliothek is located diagonally across from this, on the opposite side of the road. This building is commonly called the ‘Kommode’ (or ‘commode’) due to its curved shape. It housed the royal library, which ‘Old Fritz’ also made accessible to the public. Until then, only nobles, ministers, academics and high-ranking civil servants had had access to the works, which were stored in the royal palace until the library’s completion. Today, part of the building is still used as a library, with all its holdings owned by the Berlin State Library. As the State Library actually comprises two buildings – including the large complex near Potsdamer Platz – the ‘Kommode’ is dubbed the ‘Alte Bibliothek’ (‘Old Library’) for clarity. Humboldt University’s Law Faculty also calls the ‘Kommode’ home.

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