The “Wissenschaftszentrum Berlin gemeinnützige Gesellschaft mit beschränkter Haftung” (“Berlin Social Science Center nonprofit LLC”) was set up in early 1969 on the initiative of members of the Bundestag from different parties. The social sciences were held to have great potential for advising society and politics; the time was ripe for an international beacon project in walled-in West Berlin. But there was also strong headwind: students accused the new institution of being too intimate with business and industry and of organizational opacity. The photograph shows a graffiti on the facade of the Otto Suhr Institute for Political Science at Freie Universität Berlin. It reads: "Squash the WZB."

Graffiti Zerquetscht das WZB

Work Begins

In August 1970, the “International Institute for Management and Administration” took up its work in a villa in the Berlin suburb of Grunewald. It was followed by the “International Institute for Comparative Social Research” and the “International Institute for Environment and Society.” In loose confederation, the three institutes scattered across West Berlin constituted the WZB, the Berlin Social Science Center. From the outset, the research undertaken not only had an international thrust: many of the researchers themselves came from abroad, notably from the United States.

Villa in Berlin Grunewald

Consolidation and Sea Changes

The institute grew apace, along with its structures. The WZB established positions for research administration and public relations. In 1980 the first president took up office. Relations with the universities became closer. After the 1982 change of government in Bonn, the WZB had to justify its existence anew. A structural commission proposed fundamental reforms to WZB research.

Schild Bauankündigung für WZB-Nebau

From Periphery to Centre

The WZB, which in May 1988 moved into common premises in the former Reichsversicherungsamt building in Berlin-Tiergarten with postmodern extensions, took on a new, more fine-grained and flexible structure. The former institutes were transmuted into research units, research professorships, and research groups; new topics such as technology and organization, inequality and social integration, and public health were added to the research agenda. In 1989, the peripheral site on Potsdamer Platz became, so to speak, a central location, predestined for observing and shaping German unification and for opening to Eastern Europe.

Luftaufnahme vom WZB-Gebäude
Klaus Lehnartz


The WZB continued to grow; already in 1995 when the wing on the National Gallery end of the site was first heightened. Setbacks were experienced, despite outstanding evaluation of the institute by the Science Council in 1997. Substantively, the horizon was constantly broadened. Globalization came onto the agenda, democracy research and economics were given greater attention, and the Internet was discovered as a cultural space.

Treppenhaus im WZB-Altbau
Cordia Schlegelmilch

Since 2000
The Future has Begun

The WZB is crossing borders – between disciplines and beyond them. Bridging projects link different research units with differing perspectives on common problems. Collaboration with students from the University of the Arts opens new doors on academic issues. The research group Science Policy Studies has moved to the EUREF Campus, where mobility research offers practical applications. In conjunction with the Berlin universities, the WZB founded the Weizenbaum Institute for the Networked Society. And construction has continued. An extension, opened in 2020, provides more space and possibilities for research and communication. A new winter garden will follow in 2022.

Innenhof des WZB mit Blick auf die Basilika
Bernhard Ludewig
Portrait Foto Prof. Dr. Meinolf Dierkes (Foto: David Ausserhofer)
Foto: David Ausserhofer

Key Figures in WZB History


Meinolf Dierkes was the first president of the WZB from 1980 to 1987. An economist by training, he had previously been director of the WZB Institute for Environment and Society for four years. Find out more about Dierkes and other key figures in WZB's institutional history on our blog [in German].


Michael Wilford vor dem WZB-Neubau
Architect Michael Wilford

Anything but grey: On the construction of the WZB