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The Robert Koch Institute

When Robert Koch first came to Berlin in 1880, he worked for the Imperial Health Office. The Office was founded in 1876 and was not equipped with a chemical and hygiene laboratory on Luisenstrasse 57 until 1879. Koch's first staff members in the new bacteriological laboratory were Georg Gaffky (1850 – 1918) and Friedrich Loeffler (1852 – 1915). They both followed in his footsteps as Director of the Institute on Nordufer.

Although the idea of setting up a research institute had been under discussion since 1887, it was the 10th International Medical Congress in 1890 in Berlin that actually triggered the establishment of an "Institute for Infectious Diseases" for Prussia. Since its opening on 1 July 1891 the "Koch Institute", as it was already called prior to its inauguration, assumed tasks for towns and Reich authorities. It also responded to international enquiries, mostly by way of expert opinions on the basis of experimental work.

The first location was next door to the Charité Hospital, the largest and oldest hospital in the city of Berlin. The scientific department was set up in a converted residential building which was called the "triangle" because of its ground plan. The hospital department was lodged in individual barracks on the Charité site to the east of the rail tracks. The stakeholders saw this as a temporary solution, not least because there were already plans to extend the Charité Hospital with new, purpose-driven buildings.

In 1897 the cornerstone ceremony was held for today's location. The Nordufer and its environs were at that time on the north western edge of the city of Berlin. Incorporation in 1861 and growth in the population led to the belief that the location had been wisely chosen from the angle of the development of Berlin. The construction work was completed in the summer of 1900. On the spacious grounds there were sheds for large and small animals like cattle, horses, sheep and even ferrets and frogs.

At the same time, the fourth city hospital was erected on the other side of the street. Since it opened in 1906 it has borne the name of Rudolf Virchow. A special infections department was run by a physician who was also a staff member of the Koch Institute. The principle of "scientific" and "sickness department" was retained. Further co-operation resulted from the "rabies protection" and other new departments. In 1919 a Medical Examination Office for Berlin and large parts of the Mark Brandenburg was attached which was taken over by the city in 1945 once again.

To mark the 30th anniversary of the discovery of the tubercle bacillus, "Robert Koch" was added to the Institute's name. After World War I the "Royal" disappeared from the name and it was rechristened the "Prussian Institute for Infectious Diseases Robert Koch". In 1935 the "Institute Robert Koch" was incorporated as a department into the Reich Health Office. In 1942 it became an independent Reich body, the "Robert Koch Institute".

After the end of World War II, the Robert Koch Institute was assigned in 1945 – with the approval of the allied powers – to the health administration of the city of Berlin. From June 1945 onwards the Institute was given epidemic control tasks by the Magistrate of the City of Berlin following corresponding orders of the Soviet occupying power. In 1952 the Robert Koch Institute became part of the Federal Health Office (BGA) and retained this status until its dissolution in 1994. Since then the Institute has been an independent federal institute with a second large department responsible for health reporting and epidemiology.

Date: 09.09.2010