The Dahlem Konferenzen were a series of high-level workshops in Berlin that ran from 1974 to 2012. They were initiated by a German scholar, Silke Bernhard. They resulted in books and reports that spanned the sciences, and latterly included the humanities and social sciences. The structure of the workshops, called the 'Dahlem workshop model', has been applied more widely. The name comes from the Berlin suburb of Dahlem, where the Free University of Berlin (latterly a conference sponsor), several Max Planck Institutes, scientific federal institutes, and museums are located.



Flammarion engraving, Paris 1888, for Flammarion's 1888 L'atmosphère : météorologie populaire (p. 163). Used as the Dahlem Konferenzen logo.

The format of the conferences was a structured five-day program of group discussions and feedback on a key interdisciplinary research area or challenge. The themes were first proposed by scholars and leaders to the Dahlem committee. If chosen for funding, the proposers worked with the Konferenzen to invite participants to a structured event in Berlin. Each conference was followed by a press conference where key findings of four working groups, edited by the 'rapporteurs', were presented. The organizers later edited a volume of the findings, with chapters led by the 'rapporteurs' but with the group participants all named. They were published in book format by commercial publishers, Dahlem University Press, and latterly by MIT Press.

In the 1970s and 1980s, with Berlin still divided, West Berlin was keen to be a magnet for intellectual and scholarly work, and conference funding came from the City's Senate, the Stifterverband fur die Deutsche Wissenschaft (industrialists from German trade and industry), and the Deutsche For-Schunsgemeinschaft (the German Science Foundation).[1] The organiser in the early years remained Silke Bernhard and by the 2000s, Julia Lupp.

By 1987, 50 Dahlem Konferenzen had been held,[2][3] and by 2010, 100.

The series was suspended in around 2012. Exact circumstances are not known but there were several threats to its continuation over its lifetime. In 1989 the Stifterverband threatened to fire all the staff and ceased funding, having raised financial concerns about their involvement from 1986.[4] The fate of the series and its staff became embroiled in German unification in 1989-90, and the Free University of Berlin entered as a partial sponsor from 1990. However, the city of Berlin lost its generous federal subsidies after unification, and the Free University had to find money from its own budget. By the 2000s, there was a growing dispute between the board and the university over funding and the conference format; the organizer Julia Lupp was sacked by the university in 2004 and several senior scientists threatened to resign from the board. She was later reinstated under a new scientific director.[5]

However Lupp, several board members, including the influential neuroscientist Wolf Singer, set up a rival organization in 2007 at the Frankfurt Institute for Advanced Studies, the Ernst Strüngmann Forum[6] "based on the format and philosophy of the original Dahlem Workshop Model".[7] Lupp soon joined them as organizer. These founders alleged that the Dahlem conferences had lost too much financial support to continue in their desired format.[8] The Strüngmann Forum is supported by the Ernst Strüngmann Foundation (from money from pharmaceuticals), and proceedings are published by MIT Press.[8]


Dahlem conferences took place over five days. After an opening session on Monday morning, four Dahlem working groups - having already read pre-circulated research reports on the conference topic written by experts who attended - started discussion. Their aim was to identify key issues to work through and explore together over the week. Tuesday and Wednesday saw various iterations of group activity, including working with and listening to other groups, further highlighting where more research maybe needed. The idea was to tape into the expertise of each working group, and the group of 40-50 scientists always had substantial pre-existing knowledge.

The four rapporteurs, chosen for their skills at summation and editing, presented a written synthesis of the group's findings on Thursday. Aided by Dahlem staff (including, in the early days, typists), they prepared draft reports for discussion on Friday - often working all night to do so. These were sent to all participants by email when it became widely available in the 1990s. The resulting conference book, edited by the original organizers, was generally published within a year of the event.

The costs of Dahlem conferences were high - travel, accommodation, food, venue and staffing. The format also allowed for social activities such as museum visits and dinner. Locations for the conferences varied; the glass sided Europa Centre and after German unification, buildings owned by the Free University of Berlin.


A list of all conferences is available.[9] Some years were missed. The resulting conference books had various publishers: Wiley, Springer, Dahlem University Press,[10] deGruyter and MIT Press (2001-2007[11]).

Year Topic Organizers
2012 (102) Opto Genetics. Challenges and Perspectives. Example
2011 (101) Knowledge Domination and the Public in Africa Richard Rottenburg, Sandra E. Greene, Vinh-Kim Nguyen, Muna Ndulo
2010 (100) New Approaches in Economics after The Financial Crisis C. Jaeger, D. Colander, Th. Lux, D. Mangalagiu
2009 (99) Infection, Inflammation and Chronic Inflammatory Disorders: Common and Divergent Solutions to Problems at the Host Environment Interface S. Ehlers, S. Kaufmann
2008 (98) Is there a Mathematics of Social Entities? C. Jaeger, R. Klein
2007 (97) The Globalization of Knowledge J. Renn
2005 (96) ntegrated History and Future of People on Earth R. Costanza
2005 (95) The Dynamic of Fault Zones ?
2004 (94) Heuristics and the Law C. Engel, G. Gigerenzer
2004 (93) Microcircuits: The Interface between Neurons and Global Brain Function S. Grillner
2003 (92) Attachment and Bonding: A New Synthesis CS Carter, L. Ahnert
2003 (91) Towards Earth System Analysis HJ Schellnhuber, PJ Crutzen, WC Clark
2002 (90) Genetic and Cultural Evolution of Cooperation P. Hammerstein
2001 (89) Energy and Mass Transfer in Marine Hydrothermal Systems P. Halbach, V. Tunnicliffe
2001 (88) Global Desertification: Do Humans Cause Deserts? F Reynolds, M.J. Stafford Smith
2000 (87) Coping with Challenge: Welfare in Animals Including Humans DM Broom
2000 (86) Rational Decision-making in the Preservation of Cultural Property NS Baer, F. Snickars
1999 (85) Science and Integrated Coastal Management B. B. von Bodungen, RK Turner
1998 (84) Simplicity and Complexity in Proteins and Nucleic Acids H. Frauenfelder, J. Deisenhofer, PG Wolynes
1998 (83) Simplicity and Complexity in Proteins and Nucleic Acids H. Frauenfelder, J. Deisenhofer, PG Wolynes
1998 (82) Integrating Hydrology, Economic Dynamics, and Biogeochemistry in Complex Landscapes J. D. Tenhunen, P. Kabat
1997 (81) The Eradication of Infectious Diseases W. R. Dowdle, D. R. Hopkins
1997 (80) Mechanistic Relationships between Development and Learning: Beyond Metaphor T. J. Carew, R. Menzel, C. J. Shatz
1996 (79) Saving our Architectural Heritage: The Conservation of Historic Stone Structures N. S. Baer, R. Snethlage
1995 (78) The Evolution of the Universe S. Gottlöber, G. Börner
1995 (77) Regulation of Body Weight: Biological and Behavioral Mechanisms C. Bouchard, G. A. Bray
1994 (76) Upwelling in the Ocean: Modern Processes and Ancient Records C. P. Summerhayes
1994 (75) Aerosol Forcing of Climate R. J. Charlson, J. Heintzenberg
1994 (74) Molecular Aspects of Aging K. Esser, G. M. Martin
1993 (73) The Role of Nonliving Organic Matter in the Earth's Carbon Cycle R. G. Zepp, G. M. Martin
1993 (72) Flexibility and Constraint in Behavioral Systems R. J. Greenspan, C. P. Kyriacou
1993 (71) Cellular and Molecular Mechanisms Underlying Higher Neural Function A. I. Selverston, P. Ascher
1992 (70) Durabiliy and Change: The Science, Responsibility, and Cost of Sustaining Cultural Heritage W. E. Krumbein
1992 (69) Acidification of Freshwater Ecosystems: Implications for the future C. E. W. Steinberg, R. F. Wright
1992 (68) Twins as a Tool of Behavioural Genetics T. J. Bouchard Jr., P. Propping
1991 (67) Fire in the Environment: The Ecological, Atmospheric, and Climatic Importance of Vegetation Fires P. J. Crutzen, J. G. Goldammer

Source: Free University Berlin[9]


  1. ^ "Dahlem Workshop Modell". 2006-11-08.
  2. ^ "The Dahlem Format Deserves Imitation".
  3. ^ Altman, Jennifer (1985). "Ten years of Dahlem Conferences". Nature. 313 (6000): 265. doi:10.1038/313265a0.
  4. ^ Lewin, R. (1989). "Dahlem Conferences Face Ax". Science. 245 (4914): 122. doi:10.1126/science.245.4914.122. PMID 17787867.
  5. ^ Abbott, Alison (2005). "University dispute puts Berlin science meetings in crisis". Nature. 433 (7025): 446. doi:10.1038/433446b. PMID 15690000.
  6. ^ Ernst Strüngmann Forum
  7. ^ "Ernst Strüngmann Forum".
  8. ^ a b Stafford, Ned (2007). "German workshops start afresh". News@nature. doi:10.1038/news070319-1.
  9. ^ a b "Geschichte". 2006-11-08.
  10. ^ "Publisher: Dahlem University Press | Open Library".
  11. ^ "Dahlem Workshop Reports".