Alexander von Humboldt

Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859) was a nature researcher and explorer, universal genius and cosmopolitan, scientist and patron. His lengthy Latin American journey from 1799 to 1804 was celebrated as the second scientific discovery of South America. Members of natural science disciplines such as physical geography, climatology, ecology or oceanography see Humboldt as their founder. The masterpiece of his advanced years, the five-volume "Cosmos. Draft of a Physical Description of the World," has remained unique in its comprehensive approach.

Alexander von Humboldt not only invested his inheritance in his own studies but also selflessly sponsored other young scholars and talents, among them Justus von Liebig and Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy.

Humboldt-Gemälde von Friedrich Georg Weitsch von 1806 (Montage: Raufeld Medien)

The Humboldt Code

He was an obsessive networker, a daredevil and a marketing genius. The reports on his travels and adventures earned him star status. Today, the Prussian scholar is still revered. On the secret of an eternal idol.


“Everybody’s star”

Whether as a discoverer, Romantic, Atlanticist, climate prophet or working class hero: there isn’t just one Humboldt, but lots of them. Historian of science, Nicolaas A. Rupke, has investigated how the various images of Humboldt have come about.

Humboldt-Gemälde von Friedrich Georg Weitsch von 1806 (Montage: Raufeld Medien)

If Humboldt were on Twitter today

He liked to formulate succinct sentences and deliver punch lines. He took a stand against slavery, colonialism and environmental destruction. What stance would Humboldt take on current issues? We present his quotes in a new light.


“The sensual Humboldt is yet to be discovered”

In his biography, historian Andreas W. Daum puts Alexander von Humboldt’s life in the context of a revolutionary age marked by major upheaval.


Humboldt’s Groove

Alexander von Humboldt providing the inspiration for hip hop music? Is that even possible? Absolutely – „Humboldt’s Groove“ is the name of the track by Cuban rapper El Temba and Retrogott (real name Kurt Tallert) from Cologne. The latter is known for the social criticism of his lyrics.

Conepatus humboldtii - Patagonischer Skunk

A name to conjure with

Few figures in history have had so many landmarks or discoveries named after them. The memory of Alexander von Humboldt is kept alive not only in his anniversary year of 2019 but also in atlases and encyclopaedias. His name even crops up in outer space.


Humboldt’s Travels

Alexander von Humboldt left the shores of Europe for the first time in 1799. His country of embarkation was Spain and his destination the ‘New World’. Insights into Humboldt’s great American voyage from 1799 to 1804.


A testimony to a restless spirit

Andrea Wulf has written numerous books, including “The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt’s New World” which became a bestseller in 2015. Her latest work “The Adventures of Alexander von Humboldt” is an illustrated biography documenting the explorer’s great journey through South America (1799 – 1804).


“Humboldt had this ruthlessness towards himself”

Researcher, globetrotter, networker and discoverer – Alexander von Humboldt was a real high-flyer. But who was Alexander, the private person? An interview with journalist and author Dorothee Nolte about the life and loves of an immortal genius.

Eduard Gaertner, Aquarell von St. Petersburg, 1835
The last expedition

At the easternmost point of his life

At an age where most scientists would have settled for the odd conference, Alexander von Humboldt was still seeking adventure. In 1829 he set off on an expedition that took him to the court of the Russian Emperor and the border with China.


Selected Literature

  • The Invention of Nature. Alexander von Humboldt's New World
    Andrea Wulf, München: C. Bertelsmann Verlag 2016
  • Humboldt and the Cosmos
    Douglas Botting, München/New York: Prestel 1994
  • Alexander von Humboldt
    Andreas W. Daum, München: C.H. Beck 2019
  • Alexander von Humboldt. Der Preuße und die neuen Welten.
    Rüdiger Schaper,  Siedler-Verlag 2018
  • Alexander von Humboldts Amerikanische Reise
    aufgezeichnet von Hanno Beck, Stuttgart: Thienemann 1985
  • Die amerikanische Reise. Auf den Spuren Alexander von Humboldts
    Loren A. McIntyre, 2. Edition, Hamburg: Gruner + Jahr 1982
  • Zur Freiheit bestimmt. Alexander von Humboldt – eine hebräische Lebensbeschreibung (mit einem Essay über „Alexander von Humboldt und die Juden“ von Peter Honigmann, herausgegeben von Kurt-Jürgen Maaß)
    Chaim Selig Slonimski, Bonn: Bouvier 1997
  • Das Buch der Begegnungen – Auszüge aus A. von Humboldts amerikanischen Reisetagebüchern
    Ottmar Ette (Hrsg.), Manesse 2018
  • Alexander von Humboldt, Die Russland-Expedition Von der Newa bis zum Altai
    Oliver Lubrich (Hrsg.)  München: C.H.Beck 2019

For children from 10 years:

  • Alexander von Humboldt oder Die Sehnsucht nach der Ferne
    Volker Mehnert, Gerstenberg 2018
  • Alexander von Humboldt: Explorer, Naturalist & Environmental Pioneer
    Danica Novgorodoff,  Random House 2022

Postage stamp

Sonderbriefmarke "250. Geburtstag Alexander von Humboldt"
Das Bundesministerium der Finanzen gab am 5. September 2019 ein Sonderpostwertzeichen „250. Geburtstag Alexander von Humboldt“ heraus.