The Akademie der Künste was founded in 1696 by the Elector Frederick III (the later Prussian King Frederick I). As an artistic community with representative and advisory tasks, it was modelled on the academies in Rome and Paris. It was therefore the third of its kind, followed in the course of the 18th century by a series of further artist academies from St. Petersburg to London and Madrid. Although its members were exempted from the constraints of the handicraft guilds, they were obliged from the very beginning to take part in artist training. In this regard, the Berlin institution strongly drew on the Paris Academy, which was guided by the idea that art could be learnt in the same way as natural sciences. Together with the Akademie der Wissenschaft (Academy of Sciences) (founded in 1700), it was provided with rooms in the upper floor of the Unter den Linden Marstall (Stables). The Academy enjoyed a heyday around 1800, when it stood for cultural and social renewal in the spirit of the Enlightenment. The sculptor Johann Gottfried Schadow, who was Director of the Academy for 36 years, was representative of this period. It was during his office that the first separate institution within the Academy, the Bauakademie (Building Academy), was formed in 1799. The university, newly created in 1810, also assumed tasks from the Academy. The key event was the construction of the Neues Museum (New Museum) following the exhibition of the royal collections in the Academy. A further important expansion of the academy concept led to the founding of the Music Section in 1833.

Reform efforts and changes are part of the Academy’s history. One of the key reforms was the restructuring of its education aspects by founding its own universities – Music in 1869 and Visual Arts in 1875. These remained a legal part of the Academy until 1931 and now make up the Universität der Künste (University of Arts). The reform resulted in the fundamental overhauling of the Statute of 1790, setting out new provisions for the composition of the Senate headed by a President selected on an annual basis. The first president in 1875 was the architect Friedrich Hitzig.

In 1907 the Institution moved into its new home in the reconstructed Arnim Palace at Pariser Platz. During the Weimar Republic, the Academy became a venue for a debate on Modernism under the presidency of Max Liebermann. The founding of the Section for Poetry (now Literature) in 1926 strengthened its character as a location of critical debate on different artistic movements. The most serious broach of its autonomy and liberal tradition to date occurred on 15th February 1933 – only 33 days after the Nazis had come to power – with the enforced resignation (engineered by Reich Commissar Rust) of Käthe Kollwitz and Heinrich Mann, followed by that of Martin Wagner in solidarity. Between 1933 and 1938, 41 members were excluded for political or anti-Semitic reasons, left the Academy and emigrated. The institution was allowed to continue its existence in name only. In 1937 they had to leave their building at Pariser Platz to make way for the Generalinspektorate (Inspectorate-General) headed by Albert Speer, and moved into the Kronprinzenpalais (Crown Prince Palace). The Academy building at Pariser Platz was badly damaged in 1945 in the final days of the Second World War.

After the war the Academy was unable to continue its work. The Cold War, the ideological monopolisation of the arts, and the rigorous division of Berlin all worked against the creation of a joint academy. East and West argued over who was the true successor to the Prussian Akademie der Künste. In 1950 the “Deutsche Akademie der Künste (German Academy of Arts)” was constituted in East Berlin (the later “Akademie der Künste der DDR” (East German Academy of Arts)), based at Robert Koch Platz. Arnold Zweig, returning from immigration to Palestine, became its first President in place of Heinrich Mann, who died before assuming office. In West Berlin, the Academy was only reconstituted in 1954, with Hans Scharoun becoming its first post-war President. Thanks to the new building donated by the German-American industrialist Henry Reichhold, which was located on the edge of the Tiergarten and designed by the architect Werner Düttmann, it was able to continue its committed cultural programme on its own premises.  Both of the Academies added the Performing Arts Section to their repertoire; and in 1984 the Western Academy was further augmented by the Department (since 2005 Section) of Film and Media Art.

In 1993, four years after the collapse of the Berlin Wall and following a difficult process of unification, the Eastern and Western Academies were united into a single institution supported by the Federal States of Berlin and Brandenburg. The academy’s new constitution ,which set the conditions for joining together on equal terms, is the great achievement of the two then Presidents – Heiner Müller (East) and Walter Jens (West). The conclusion was crowned by the election in 1994 of Walter Jens as the first President of the united Akademie der Künste, thus enabling the joint celebration of its three-hundredth anniversary in 1996.

2005 marked the most recent key caesurae in the history of the Akademie der Künste: the German parliament voted in favour of the Akademie der Künste Law; this meant that the institution passed into the trusteeship of the Federal Government. The Academy returned to its historical environment at Pariser Platz, but this time in a new building planned by Günther Behnisch. In addition to this main building, the building in Hanseatenweg nevertheless remains a key location for exhibitions, events and conferences, as is the case with the various archive buildings with their important collections that contribute so much to the character of the institution.

(Hans Gerhard Hannesen: Die Akademie der Künste in Berlin. Facetten einer 300jährigen Geschichte. Akademie der Künste, Berlin 2005. Half linen; 172 p.; numerous colour and b/w illustrations; 19 x 13 cm. ISBN 3-88331-091-3. → order)