Georg-Simmel Center for Urban Studies

History of the GSZ

The Georg-Simmel-Center for Metropolitan Studies was established in 2005 at Humboldt
University with the primary goal of uniting urban sociology, urban anthropology, and urban
geography in a critical examination of contemporary transformations of large cities.The
centre was named after Georg Simmel, a prominent figure in the early stages of modern
urban studies, who faced marginalisation and discrimination due to his Jewish background.
Simmel's work represents a time when Berlin was not only a laboratory for modern urbanity
but also an intellectual hub for exploration and theorization of the city, as demonstrated by
scholars such as Walter Benjamin and Franz Hessel. Their work illustrates that urban
studies during that period was a public endeavour, involving transdisciplinary collaborations
with the arts, journalism, and politics. The Georg Simmel Center aimed to continue this
tradition. It has a distinctive disciplinary location, more closely aligned with the social
sciences and humanities than the political sciences and planning disciplines, and it is
committed to transdisciplinary work, actively engaging in debates and transformations in
Berlin and the surrounding region.

From 2007 to 2018, the centre was institutionally based at the Faculty of Mathematics and
Natural Science and led by colleagues from the Geography Department, including S-Prof.
Harald Mieg (2007-2014) and Prof. Ilse Helbrecht (2014-2019). In 2019, the
Georg-Simmel-Center for Metropolitan Studies was re-established as an interdisciplinary
centre (Type 3) at Humboldt University. From 2019 to 2023, the GSZ was led by Professor
Dr. Talja Blokland, an urban sociologist, and was institutionally based in the KSBF Faculty.
Since then, the centre has undertaken over 30 research projects, employing 17 postdoc and
5 PhD researchers, and regularly attracting a much larger group of urban researchers to its
activities. In 2021, the GSZ received positive evaluations, garnering praise from both blind
reviewers and the Academic Senate of Humboldt University. This re-launch was
accompanied by the development of a new research agenda aimed at defining a new
common ground among the disciplines of anthropology, geography, and sociology. The
research program was designed to address key contemporary debates in international urban