Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel


Famous scholars from Kiel:

Bernhard Harms


Bernhard Harms was one of the first German economists, who undertook research on international economic relations. In 1914 he established the current Institute for the World Economy in Kiel.


The Institute for the World Economy at Kiel University (IfW) is one of the most well-known economic institutes in Germany with an excellent reputation throughout the world. Its founder, the economist Bernhard Harms, is less well-known. Nevertheless he laid the foundations for the success of the Institute from 1911 to 1933 by working tirelessly to achieve his vision of establishing the academic discipline of "world economic science".

The biography of Bernhard Harms, who was born in 1876 in Detern in East Frisia, began in a down-to-earth manner: before his studies he completed an apprenticeship as a bookbinder in Celle. After that he studied and taught national economics in Tübingen from 1900 until 1906. In addition to his academic employment at the university, Harms went on several research trips throughout the world, which strengthened his interest in international economic relations. In 1908 he took up the offer of a full professorship at the Department of Economics in Kiel. Three years after commencing his employment in Kiel Harms set up a special department for maritime traffic and the global economy at the Department of Economics with the permission of the Prussian Culture Ministry at the time. A further three years later, in February 1914, the same ministry approved the opening of the "Königliches Institut für Seeverkehr und Weltwirtschaft" (Royal Institute for Maritime Traffic and Global Economics), which was renamed the "Institute for the World Economy" in 1933. At that time it was the first research establishment for international economic relations.

In his time at the Institute Harms worked on establishing a doctrine for the world economy. He soon made a name for himself and brought a large number of famous economists to Kiel, such as Adolph Löwe, Gerhard Colm or Hans Philipp Neisser. In the 1920s they developed the principles of research into the economic cycle, which are still important today.

The economist represented liberal views and promoted free trade between countries. This annoyed the national socialists at the beginning of the 1930s just as much as the fact that numerous Jewish academics worked at the Institute. In 1933 Harms was forced to leave his post and moved to Berlin, where he died in 1939. The founder of the current IfW was buried in the grounds of the Institute. His grave is in front of the old main building on Düsternbrooker Weg in Kiel.

However, much of the founder's spirit is still alive, says Bernhard Klein, who is responsible for public relations at the lfW today: "Harms has given the Institute a special character, which is still evident today. At that time an atmosphere reigned, which was similar to a monastery, in which academics from all over the world worked tirelessly to be creative. One felt bound to the idea of the Institute, it was an honour to work here. The Institute played a central role in the life of the employees. There were numerous discussions and a close social network, which crossed over into private life. Even today it is still something special to work for the IfW. We know that we are part of a great tradition and are taken seriously throughout the world. We want to live up to this reputation with particularly good work."


Jörg Siebels



The Institute for the World Economy (IfW)


The IfW with about 270 employees is one of the largest centres of world economic research and documentation. It considers its main task to be application-oriented economic research. This includes empirical economic-political analysis, working out possible future problem scenarios as well as plausible economic-political solutions and academic innovation.

The Institute together with the German Central Library for Economic Sciences has the largest economic library in the world, which houses more than 2.7 million volumes on approximately 49 kilometres of shelving.

At the initiation of the IfW an important body in Germany was created in 1964: the panel of experts to assess the development of the economy as a whole, also known as the "Economic Wise Men".

The Bernhard-Harms prize is still in existence today to honour the memory of the founder of the Institute, and has been awarded every two years since 1964 to academics, who have distinguished themselves through remarkable achievements in the field of world economic research. The prize awarded by the Institute's Club of Sponsors is worth Euro 25,000.


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