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.
17
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.
8
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.

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 3 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.

 4 Arthur Schopenhauer

Arthur Schopenhauer.
4
Famous As: Philosopher
Birthdate: February 22, 1788
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Gdańsk
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 Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel.
8
Famous As: Philosopher, Philosophy Historian
Birthdate: August 27, 1770
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Stuttgart, Duchy of Württemberg, 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.

 6 Hannah Arendt

Hannah Arendt.
13
Famous As: Philosopher
Birthdate: October 14, 1906
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: 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.

 7 Martin Heidegger

Martin Heidegger.
8
Famous As: German Philosopher
Birthdate: September 26, 1889
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Meßkirch, Baden,, German Empire
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.
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 8 Erik Erikson

Erik Erikson.
5
Famous As: American-German psychologist
Birthdate: June 15, 1902
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Frankfurt am Main, 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 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.

 10 Walter Benjamin

Walter Benjamin.
4
Famous As: Philosopher, Cultural Critic, Essayist
Birthdate: July 15, 1892
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Berlin, Germany
Died: September 27, 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.

 11 Theodor W. Adorno

Theodor W. Adorno.
4
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.

 12 Gottfried W. Leibniz

Gottfried W. Leibniz.
4
Famous As: Philosopher, Mathematician
Birthdate: July 1, 1646
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Leipzig, Electorate of Saxony, Holy Roman Empire
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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 13 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.

 14 Rosa Luxemburg

Rosa Luxemburg.
13
Famous As: Marxist Theorist
Birthdate: March 5, 1871
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Zamos'c'
Died: January 15, 1919
Polish Marxist and socialist revolutionary Rosa Luxemburg was a member of parties such as the SPD, the USPD, and the KPD. Luxemburg was an anti-war activist and taught economics and Marxism at SPD's Berlin training center. She was assassinated by the Freikorps troops during the German Revolution
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 15 Paul Tillich

Paul Tillich.
4
Birthdate: August 20, 1886
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Starzeddel, Brandenburg, Germany
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.

 16 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.

 17 Albertus Magnus

Albertus Magnus.
4
Famous As: Saint, Theologian,
Birthdate: 1205 AD
Birthplace: Cologne, 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.

 18 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.

 19 Friedrich Schiller

Friedrich Schiller.
4
Famous As: Poet, Playwright, Historian & Philosopher
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.

 20 Rudolf Virchow

Rudolf Virchow.
4
Famous As: Doctor, Anthropologist
Birthdate: October 13, 1821
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Schivelbein, Pomerania, Kingdom of Prussia
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.

 21 Karen Horney

Karen Horney
6
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 Max Stirner

Max Stirner.
4
Famous As: 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.

 23 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. 

 24 Georg Simmel

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

 25 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.

 26 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

 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

 28 Herbert Marcuse

Herbert Marcuse.
5
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.

 29 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.

 30 Edith Stein

Edith Stein.
4
Famous As: Philosopher
Birthdate: October 12, 1891
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Wrocław
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.

 31 Max Horkheimer

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

 32 Oswald Spengler

Oswald Spengler.
4
Famous As: 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.

 33 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

 34 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."

 35 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

 36 Karl Marx

Karl Marx.
107
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.

 37 Hans-Georg Gadamer

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

 38 Helmuth von Moltke the Elder

Helmuth von Moltke the Elder.
4
Famous As: General, Historian
Birthdate: October 26, 1800
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Mecklenburg-Schwerin
Died: April 24, 1891

Helmuth von Moltke the Elder was a Prussian field marshal who served as the chief of staff in the Royal Prussian Army for 30 years. Moltke, who commanded troops during Austro-Prussian War, Second Schleswig War, and the Franco-Prussian War, is credited with creating a new method of directing armies. He is also credited with pioneering the military usage of railways. 

 39 Alexander von Humboldt

Alexander von Humboldt.
17
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.

 40 Ulrike Meinhof

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

 41 Lou Andreas-Salomé

Lou Andreas-Salomé
4
Famous As: Psychoanalyst
Birthdate: February 12, 1861
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Saint Petersburg, Russia
Died: February 5, 1937

Russian-born German author Lou Andreas-Salomé apparently rejected renowned philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche’s marriage proposal and then married a professor instead. A skilled psychoanalyst, she was also close to Rainer Maria Rilke and Sigmund Freud. She was one of the first to offer a psychoanalytic perspective to female sexuality.

 42 Carl Schmitt

Carl Schmitt.
6
Famous As: Jurist, Geopolitician, Political Scientist
Birthdate: July 11, 1888
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Plettenberg, Prussia, German Empire
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.

 43 Lutz Graf Schwerin von Krosigk

Lutz Graf Schwerin von Krosigk
4
Famous As: Politician, Jurist, Diplomat, Economist
Birthdate: August 22, 1887
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Rathmannsdorf
Died: April 3, 1977

 44 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.

 45 Philip Melanchthon

Philip Melanchthon
3
Famous As: Theologian
Birthdate: February 16, 1497
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Bretten, Germany
Died: April 19, 1560

 46 Emanuel Lasker

Emanuel Lasker
4
Famous As: Chess player
Birthdate: December 24, 1868
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Barlinek, Poland
Died: January 11, 1941

 47 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.

 48 Rudolf Carnap

Rudolf Carnap
3
Famous As: Philosopher
Birthdate: May 18, 1891
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Ronsdorf, Wuppertal, Germany
Died: September 14, 1970

 49 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.

 50 Gottlob Frege

Gottlob Frege
4
Famous As: Philosopher
Birthdate: November 8, 1848
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Wismar, Germany
Died: July 26, 1925