Famous German Intellectuals & Academics

Intellectuals are individuals who influence the way society thinks and approaches an issue. Intellectuals can hail from a varied range of professions, be it a scientist, writer, philosopher, doctor, lawyer or even a sportsperson. These individuals voice their opinion on a platform be it global or national and implore others to think and act. They are the light-bearers of the society like the academicians who impart knowledge to different sections of the society and mold their thoughts and personality. Academicians and intellectuals have always played a significant part in shaping the society. Germany like any other country has had its share of famous intellectuals and academics. Their philosophers like Immanuel Kant and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz have laid the foundations of western philosophy. The writers, poets and essayists in the country have published books which have made great impact on the minds of readers world-wide. One cannot miss the name of legendary scientist Albert Einstein while remembering famous German intellectuals, whose works on theory of relativity and electromagnetism changed the face of science and technology forever. We present to you a collection of biographies of some of the famous German intellectuals and academics. Read on to know more about their life stories, timelines and also some interesting facts & trivia related to them.

This ranking is based on an algorithm that combines various factors, including the votes of our users and search trends on the internet.

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 1 Friedrich Nietzsche

Friedrich Nietzsche
20
Famous As: Philosopher
Birthdate: October 15, 1844
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Röcken, Lützen, Germany
Died: August 25, 1900

German philosopher, cultural critic, composer, and poet Friedrich Nietzsche has had a profound influence on modern intellectual history. He held the Chair of Classical Philology at the University of Basel. His work spanned philosophical polemics, poetry, cultural criticism, and fiction. He suffered from numerous health problems from a young age and died at the age of 55.

 2 Martin Luther

Martin Luther
9
Famous As: Father of Protestantism and Church Reformer
Birthdate: November 10, 1483
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Eisleben, Germany
Died: February 18, 1546

German monk Martin Luther challenged the dogmas of Roman Catholicism and the authority of the pope, in his Ninety-five Theses, and was thus excommunicated. His German translation of the Bible enriched the German culture, and his marriage set an example for clerical marriage. His teachings are now known as Lutherans.

 3 Immanuel Kant

Immanuel Kant
10
Famous As: Philosopher
Birthdate: April 22, 1724
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Königsberg, Germany
Died: February 12, 1804

Immanuel Kant was a German philosopher whose works in fields like aesthetics and metaphysics have made him an important and influential personality in Western philosophy. His views continue to influence contemporary philosophy. Kant has had a major influence on prominent philosophers like Hegel, Schelling, Reinhold, and Fichte. Kant's work on mathematics is cited by Albert Einstein as an early influence.

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 4 Arthur Schopenhauer

Arthur Schopenhauer
4
Famous As: Philosopher
Birthdate: February 22, 1788
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Gdańsk, Poland
Died: September 21, 1860

Arthur Schopenhauer was a German philosopher. He was among the first Western philosophers to affirm important tenets of Indian philosophy, such as denial of the self and asceticism. Schopenhauer's work has had a tremendous posthumous impact on disciplines like science, literature, and philosophy. His work influenced personalities like Albert Einstein, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Sigmund Freud, George Bernard Shaw, and Leo Tolstoy. 

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 5 Max Weber

Max Weber
7
Famous As: Sociologist
Birthdate: April 21, 1864
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Erfurt, Germany
Died: June 14, 1920

Max Weber was a German historian, political economist, jurist, and sociologist. Widely regarded as one of the most influential and important theorists, Weber's ideas had a profound influence on social research and social theory. Although he did not see himself as a sociologist, Weber is often counted among the fathers of sociology alongside Émile Durkheim, Auguste Comte, and Karl Marx.

 6 Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel
9
Famous As: Philosopher
Birthdate: August 27, 1770
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Stuttgart, Germany
Died: November 14, 1831
German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel worked on ideas such as absolute idealism; the philosophy of spirit, or Geist; and the master–slave dialectic. His views influenced later thinkers and intellectuals, such as Karl Popper and Karl Marx, with the latter using Hegel’s views on the civil society.

 7 Hannah Arendt

Hannah Arendt
13
Famous As: Philosopher
Birthdate: October 14, 1906
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Linden - Mitte, Hanover, Germany
Died: December 4, 1975

Hannah Arendt was a political theorist. Widely regarded as one of the 20th century's most prominent political thinkers, Hannah Arendt's articles and books have had a significant influence on philosophy and political theory. Her life and work inspired the 2012 biographical drama film, Hannah Arendt. Her work has also inspired several biographies written by popular authors.

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 8 Erik Erikson

Erik Erikson
5
Famous As: Psychologist
Birthdate: June 15, 1902
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Frankfurt, Germany
Died: May 12, 1994

Erik Erikson was a German-American psychoanalyst and developmental psychologist best remembered for developing a theory on the psychological development of humans. He is credited with coining the term identity crisis, the failure to achieve ego identity. Also a prolific writer, Erikson won a US National Book Award and a Pulitzer Prize for his book Gandhi's Truth.

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 9 Martin Heidegger

Martin Heidegger
10
Famous As: Philosopher
Birthdate: September 26, 1889
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Messkirch, Germany
Died: May 26, 1976
German philosopher Martin Heidegger was one of the greatest philosophers of the 20th century and is remembered for his work on phenomenology, existentialism, and hermeneutics. He explained his ideas in his book Being and Time. He also introduced the concept of Dasein, or “being,” characteristic of human beings.

 10 Albert Schweitzer

Albert Schweitzer
7
Famous As: Theologian, Polymath
Birthdate: January 14, 1875
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Kaysersberg-Vignoble, France
Died: September 4, 1965

Albert Schweitzer was an Alsatian polymath who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1952 for his philosophical work, Reverence for Life. He is credited with founding the Albert Schweitzer Hospital, which was a direct result of his philosophical expression. Schweitzer is also credited with influencing the Organ reform movement, which began in the mid-20th-century.

 11 Jürgen Habermas

Jürgen Habermas
8
Famous As: Philosopher
Birthdate: June 18, 1929
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Düsseldorf, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany

German philosopher and sociologist Jürgen Habermas is counted among the most influential philosophers across the world and is identified with the tradition of critical theory and pragmatism. He influenced many disciplines through his work which addresses communicative rationality and the public sphere, and includes topics starting from social-political theory to aesthetics, language to philosophy of religion, and epistemology.

 12 Theodor W. Adorno

Theodor W. Adorno
5
Famous As: Philosopher
Birthdate: September 11, 1903
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Frankfurt, Germany
Died: August 6, 1969

One of the most prominent intellectuals of the 20th century, Theodor Adorno was a pioneer of the Frankfurt School of Critical Theory and despised the culture industry. Born to a singer mother, the German sociologist grew up amid music and could even play Beethoven on the piano by 12.

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 13 Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
4
Famous As: Poet, Playwright, Novelist
Birthdate: August 28, 1749
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Goethe House, Frankfurt, Germany
Died: March 22, 1832

Regarded as the greatest literary figure in Germany's modern era, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was a statesman and writer. Apart from writing poetry and prose, he also wrote treatises on color, anatomy, and botany. Thanks to his literary genius, Goethe was made part of the Duke's privy council in Weimar and he implemented several reforms at the University of Jena.

 14 Gottfried W. Leibniz

Gottfried W. Leibniz
4
Famous As: Polymath, Mathematician
Birthdate: July 1, 1646
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Leipzig, Germany
Died: November 14, 1716
Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz was a significant logician, mathematician, and philosopher of the Enlightenment era. He laid down his own concepts of differential and integral calculus. He was behind the invention of the mass-produced mechanical calculator and modified the binary number system. He also laid down a separate library cataloging system.
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 15 Wilhelm Wundt

Wilhelm Wundt
4
Famous As: Philosopher
Birthdate: August 16, 1832
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Mannheim, Germany
Died: August 31, 1920

Wilhelm Wundt was a German physiologist, professor, and philosopher. He is often counted among the founders of modern psychology and is widely considered the father of experimental psychology. He is also credited with founding the first laboratory for psychological research, which he founded at the University of Leipzig in 1879.

 16 Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Dietrich Bonhoeffer
5
Famous As: Theologian
Birthdate: February 4, 1906
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Wrocław, Poland
Died: April 9, 1945
Lutheran pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer is remembered for his anti-Nazi stance, for establishing the Confessing Church, and for authoring the book The Cost of Discipleship. He was sent to the Flossenbürg concentration camp after being imprisoned for a year. He was eventually hanged after being charged of plotting to assassinate Hitler.

 17 Walter Benjamin

Walter Benjamin
4
Famous As: Philosopher
Birthdate: July 15, 1892
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Berlin, Germany
Died: September 26, 1940

Walter Benjamin was a German Jewish essayist, philosopher, and cultural critic. An eclectic thinker, Benjamin made significant contributions to literary criticism, aesthetic theory, and historical materialism. Although Benjamin's work did not earn much recognition during his lifetime, it continues to be revered by academics several years after his death.

 18 Albertus Magnus

Albertus Magnus
4
Famous As: Saint
Birthdate: 1200 AD
Birthplace: Lauingen, Germany
Died: November 15, 1280

Albertus Magnus was a friar, bishop, and philosopher. Regarded by some as the greatest German theologian and philosopher of the Middle Ages, Albertus' writings have inspired the iconography of the archivolts and tympanum of the 13th-century portal of Strasbourg Cathedral. Remembered for his contribution to academics, several education institutions have been named after Albertus Magnus.

 19 Paul Tillich

Paul Tillich
4
Famous As: Christian existentialist philosopher
Birthdate: August 20, 1886
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Starosiedle, Poland
Died: October 22, 1965

German-American theologian and philosopher Paul Tillich is remembered for his work in the field of Christian existentialism and for concepts such as the method of correlation. His notable works, such as The Courage to Be and the three-volume Systematic Theology, has inspired intellectual thinkers and commoners alike.

 20 Alfred Wegener

Alfred Wegener
4
Famous As: Polar Researcher
Birthdate: November 1, 1880
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Berlin, Germany
Died: November 1, 1930

In the early 1900s, meteorologist Alfred Wegener did not find too many takers for his theory that all the continents of the world had initially been a single mass named Pangaea and that continental drift had caused them to split apart. Wegener died on his fourth expedition in Greenland.

 21 Karen Horney

Karen Horney
7
Famous As: Psychoanalyst
Birthdate: September 16, 1885
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Blankenese, Hamburg, Germany
Died: December 4, 1952

Remembered for her pioneering work on feminist psychology, Karen Horney studied medicine at a time when women weren’t allowed in universities. Going against Sigmund Freud’s concept of penis envy, she suggested the idea of womb envy. She believed psychological differences weren’t rooted in gender but rather depended on the socio-cultural influences.

 22 Kurt Lewin

Kurt Lewin
4
Famous As: Psychologist
Birthdate: September 9, 1890
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Mogilno, Poland
Died: February 12, 1947
Legendary social psychologist Kurt Lewin is remembered for his field theory of behavior. He was a pioneer in the research on group dynamics. While he had served in the army in World War I, an injury made him get back to university to complete his PhD.

 23 Erich Fromm

Erich Fromm
6
Famous As: Psychologist
Birthdate: March 23, 1900
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Frankfurt, Germany
Died: March 18, 1980

Erich Fromm was a German social psychologist, psychoanalyst, sociologist, and socialist. A German Jew, he fled the Nazi regime and settled in the United States. He was a co-founder of  The William Alanson White Institute and was associated with the Frankfurt School of critical theory. He is best remembered for authoring the book Escape from Freedom.

 24 Friedrich Schiller

Friedrich Schiller
4
Famous As: Poet, Playwright
Birthdate: November 10, 1759
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Marbach am Neckar, Germany
Died: May 9, 1805

Friedrich Schiller was a German poet, physician, philosopher, playwright, and historian. Schiller is best remembered for his friendship with Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and the two discussed issues concerning aesthetics. Schiller's discussions with Goethe paved the way for a period, which came to be known as Weimar Classicism. Friedrich Schiller is also widely regarded as Germany's most prominent classical playwright.

 25 Rudolf Virchow

Rudolf Virchow
4
Famous As: Anthropologist, Pathologist
Birthdate: October 13, 1821
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Swidwin, Poland
Died: September 5, 1902

Rudolf Virchow was a German physician, pathologist, anthropologist, biologist, prehistorian, editor, writer, and politician. Nicknamed the Pope of medicine by his colleagues, Virchow is credited with founding the field of social medicine. He is also widely regarded as the father of modern pathology.  Rudolf Virchow was the first person to name diseases, such as thrombosis, leukemia, ochronosis, embolism, and chordoma.

 26 Max Stirner

Max Stirner
4
Famous As: Post-Hegelian philosopher
Birthdate: October 25, 1806
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Bayreuth, Germany
Died: June 26, 1856
German philosopher Max Stirner had humble beginnings as a girls’ preparatory school teacher and translator. Remembered for his most ground-breaking work, The Ego and His Own, he explored the ego and Hegel’s concepts of social alienation. Unfortunately, he died of a poisonous insect bite at 49.

 27 Johann Gottfried Herder

Johann Gottfried Herder
3
Famous As: Philosopher
Birthdate: August 25, 1744
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Morąg, Poland
Died: December 18, 1803

German philosopher Johann Gottfried Herder is best remembered as a significant figure of the Sturm und Drang literary movement. Born into poverty and largely self-educated till 17, he later became a disciple of Immanuel Kant and was associated with Enlightenment and Weimar Classicism. He was eventually ennobled.

 28 Adam Weishaupt

Adam Weishaupt
4
Famous As: Philosopher
Birthdate: February 6, 1748
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Ingolstadt, Germany
Died: November 18, 1830
On a night in 1776, deep within a forest near Ingolstadt, German law professor Adam Weishaupt and four others formed a secret society known as the Illuminati, which was supposed to be a parallel to religion. Since then, many conspiracy theories have held the society responsible for unexplained global events. 

 29 Ernst Haeckel

Ernst Haeckel
4
Famous As: Zoologist
Birthdate: February 6, 1834
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Potsdam, Germany
Died: July 31, 1919

Ernst Haeckel had initially practiced medicine before he gained an interest in Charles Darwin’s theory and began exploring zoology and related fields. He not only coined terms such as ecology, but also named numerous species and created a genealogical tree. He drew numerous figures of animals and sea creatures, too.

 30 Herbert Marcuse

Herbert Marcuse
6
Famous As: Philosopher
Birthdate: July 19, 1898
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Berlin, Germany
Died: July 29, 1979

The proponent of the Frankfurt School of critical theory, Herbert Marcuse largely influenced the leftist student revolts of the 1960s. Equipped with a PhD in German literature, he wrote Hegel’s Ontology and the Theory of Historicity, with Martin Heidegger. His Eros and Civilization spoke at length about capitalism.

 31 Leopold von Ranke

Leopold von Ranke
3
Famous As: Historian
Birthdate: December 21, 1795
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Wiehe, Roßleben-Wiehe, Germany
Died: May 23, 1886

Leopold von Ranke was a German historian who had a major influence on Western historiography. A respected historian, Ranke is credited with founding modern source-based history. When he was ennobled in 1865, honors poured in from several historians and scholars across the world.

 32 Georg Simmel

Georg Simmel
4
Famous As: Sociologist
Birthdate: March 1, 1858
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Berlin, Germany
Died: September 26, 1918

 33 Martin Niemöller

Martin Niemöller
4
Famous As: Theologian
Birthdate: January 14, 1892
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Lippstadt, Germany
Died: March 6, 1984
Best remembered for the quote “First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out...,” Martin Niemöller was a German pastor who tried to counter discrimination against Christian converts with Jewish heritage. His Confessing Church was perhaps his apology for initially being a Nazi sympathizer.

 34 Edith Stein

Edith Stein
4
Famous As: Philosopher
Birthdate: October 12, 1891
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Wrocław, Poland
Died: August 9, 1942

Edith Stein was a German Jewish philosopher who studied at the University of Freiburg and completed her dissertation on empathy. Always interested in Catholicism, she read the autobiography of the mystic Teresa of Ávila and converted to Christianity, and became a Discalced Carmelite nun. She was killed in the Auschwitz concentration camp and is canonized as a martyr.

 35 Meister Eckhart

Meister Eckhart
4
Famous As: Theologian
Birthdate: 1260 AD
Birthplace: Gotha, Germany
Died: 1328 AD

German philosopher Meister Eckhart is remembered for his Latin and German transcripts that stress on the relationship between God and man. His treatises include Talks of Instruction and the Book of Divine Consolation. His innovative vocabulary also contributed to the German language. However, he was accused of heresy later.

 36 Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling

Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling
3
Famous As: Philosopher
Birthdate: January 27, 1775
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Leonberg, Germany
Died: August 20, 1854

 37 Anita Bose Pfaff

Anita Bose Pfaff
4
Famous As: Economist
Birthdate: November 29, 1942
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Vienna, Austria
Anita Bose Pfaff is an economist and the only daughter of Indian freedom fighter Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose and his Austrian wife/companion Emilie Schenkl. Anita was just 4 months old when Netaji left them to fight against the British with Japan’s help. Anita was singlehandedly raised by Emilie.

 38 Johann Gottlieb Fichte

Johann Gottlieb Fichte
3
Famous As: Philosopher, University teacher
Birthdate: May 19, 1762
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Rammenau
Died: January 29, 1814

 39 Hans-Georg Gadamer

Hans-Georg Gadamer
3
Famous As: Philosopher
Birthdate: February 11, 1900
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Marburg, Germany
Died: March 13, 2002

 40 Heinrich Schliemann

Heinrich Schliemann
4
Famous As: Archaeologist
Birthdate: January 6, 1822
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Neubukow, Germany
Died: December 26, 1890

German businessman Heinrich Schliemann didn’t let his poverty or lack of education hinder his growth and learned several languages moving from place to place for trade. A pioneer in the field of archaeology, he is now remembered as the man who discovered Troy in his bid to unearth “Priam's Treasure."

 41 Carl Schmitt

Carl Schmitt
6
Famous As: Jurist, Political theorist
Birthdate: July 11, 1888
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Plettenberg, Germany
Died: April 7, 1985
Known for works such as Constitutional Theory and Political Theology, Nazi political theorist and academic Carl Schmitt explored liberalism and the Weimar Republic. He was banned from teaching by the Allied powers after World War II but continued producing works such as Ex Captivitate Salus.

 42 Karl Marx

Karl Marx
112
Famous As: Philosopher
Birthdate: May 5, 1818
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Trier, Germany
Died: March 14, 1883

Karl Marx, the philosopher, economist, political theorist and socialist revolutionary, is best-known for the 1848 pamphlet, The Communist Manifesto and the three-volume Das Kapital. His theories, called Marxism, maintained that class conflict leads to the development of human societies and that internal tension were inherent in capitalism, which would ultimately be replaced by the socialist mode of production.

 43 Ulrike Meinhof

Ulrike Meinhof
5
Famous As: Journalist, Writer, Sociologist
Birthdate: October 7, 1934
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Oldenburg
Died: May 9, 1976

 44 Leo Strauss

Leo Strauss
4
Famous As: Philosopher
Birthdate: September 20, 1899
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Kirchhain, Germany
Died: October 18, 1973
Though he never received enough fame during his lifetime, political philosopher Leo Strauss made significant contributions to classical political theory. Apart from penning scholarly works such as On Tyranny and Natural Right and History, he had also served in World War I and taught political science. 

 45 Oswald Spengler

Oswald Spengler
4
Famous As: Historian, Philosopher
Birthdate: May 29, 1880
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Blankenburg, Germany
Died: May 8, 1936

German historian Oswald Spengler is best remembered for his iconic The Decline of the West, which had a huge influence on social theory. He believed that culture cannot be transferred and that it can only decline and decay like an organism. He lived his final years in isolation in Munich.

 46 Max Horkheimer

Max Horkheimer
3
Famous As: Philosopher
Birthdate: February 14, 1895
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Zuffenhausen, Stuttgart, Germany
Died: July 7, 1973

 47 Alexander von Humboldt

Alexander von Humboldt
18
Famous As: Geographer
Birthdate: September 14, 1769
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Berlin
Died: May 6, 1859

As a child, Alexander von Humboldt was sickly and a bad student. After failing to shine in economics and engineering, he grew up to revolutionize the domain of geography. He is remembered for his research on magnetic storms and his treatise on nature, Kosmos. He also spoke about climate change.

 48 Fritz Perls

Fritz Perls
3
Famous As: Psychologist, Psychiatrist
Birthdate: July 8, 1893
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Berlin
Died: March 14, 1970

Fritz Perls initially fought in World War I, following which he treated brain injuries of soldiers. He was later drawn to Freudian psychoanalysis. During World War II, he was the psychiatrist for the South African military. His Gestalt therapy, which he co-created with his wife, Laura, redefined psychology.

 49 Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa

Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa
3
Famous As: Physician
Birthdate: September 14, 1486
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Cologne, Germany
Died: February 18, 1535

Sixteenth-century German scholar Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa was known for his expertise in philosophy and the occult. He also taught at the universities of Pavia and Dôle. His De occulta philosophia suggested magic as a way to reach God. He was eventually branded a heretic and imprisoned.

 50 Jacob Grimm

Jacob Grimm
3
Famous As: Philologist
Birthdate: January 4, 1785
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Hanau, Germany
Died: September 20, 1863

Part of the legendary folklorist duo known as the Brothers Grimm, Jacob Grimm gave to the world Grimm’s Fairy Tales, along with his younger brother, Wilhelm Grimm. The son of a lawyer, he, too, had initially studied law. He also contributed immensely to Germanic linguistics, with his Grimm's law.