The non-profit Hertie Foundation bears a well-known name in Germany, going back to the early days of grand department stores in the 19th century. Its history reflects both the skill and foresight of entrepreneurial personalities and Germany’s historic and political developments.
Founded in 1974 by Georg Karg, the Foundation provides financial support to projects that lead to concrete improvements in people’s lives, with a focus on brain research and strengthening democracy. Among its most notable projects are the Hertie School in Berlin, the Hertie Institute for Clinical Brain Research in Tübingen and the START Foundation for young people with migration backgrounds. It also has a strong focus on social engagement, such as its support for multiple sclerosis patients.
The Hertie Foundation’s story begins in the 1880s with a highly successful department store chain. The stores were founded by a German Jewish family, led by Oskar Tietz, with the support of his uncle, Hermann Tietz (the name “Hertie” is derived from his name). In the early 1930s, the department stores were “aryanised“ and a consortium of banks effectively dispossessed the Tietz family, who immigrated to the US in 1934.
After the war, a financial settlement was reached with the Tietz family and Georg Karg, the subsequent owner of the Hertie Waren-und Kaufhaus department stores. From the 1960s, Hertie became one of the most successful retail chains during the Federal Republic of Germany’s “economic miracle“ years.
The Hertie Foundation’s leadership is strongly committed to honouring its past. In November 2020, its board commissioned the Frankfurt-based Gesellschaft für Unternehmensgeschichte (Society for Company History) to conduct an academic review of the early history of the foundation's assets.
Georg Karg, who died in 1972, felt a duty not only towards the company and its employees, but also towards the common good, to which he dedicated the Hertie Foundation. The funding areas set out in its constitution – neuroscience, democracy training and European integration – invest in people and projects that serve as sources of inspiration, role models and disseminators.
Visit the Hertie Foundation's website for more information.
Areas of activity
In the area of neuroscience, the Foundation promotes research and dialogue on the subject of the brain and combatting brain disease. Key areas are support for clinical brain research (in particular through the Hertie Institute for Clinical Brain Research) and multiple sclerosis. In addition, the Foundation supports neuroscience initiatives for innovative forms of research, education and communication.
With an average funding budget of nine million euros per year, the Hertie Foundation is the biggest private funding body supporting brain research in Germany, and the third largest in Europe. In the area of multiple sclerosis, the Foundation is the leading funding institution both for MS research and self-help for MS sufferers.
The Foundation’s Strengthening Democracy area covers projects that safeguard social cohesion in Germany and the rest of Europe.
Democracy is about more than elections every few years – democracy, as the Foundation sees it, forms the basis for peace, freedom and security, and is a pillar of our society. However, democracy involves a constant process of consolidation. And now this process is in danger.
Democracy is taken too much for granted. It is being eroded: by governments’ inadequate efforts, which are reflected in dwindling public confidence; by injustices caused by capitalism; by citizens’ feelings of powerlessness; by unsuccessful integration; by a lack of education and an unthinking approach to information; by media hysteria and many other factors.
People’s confidence in the ability of the established political powers to solve problems is dwindling. The results? A strengthening of the political fringes, populism, new nationalism, ‘alternative facts’, political apathy and non-voters. The Hertie Foundation wants to convince people – the younger generation in particular – that a commitment to democracy is worthwhile.