On September 30, 1975—the last day when such actions were permitted by a law passed by the Berlin House of Representatives—the “Hochschule der Künste” (HdK) was founded as a “künstlerische und wissenschaftliche Hochschule,” or academic university of the arts. The new institution was the result of merging two arts academies, the “Hochschule für Bildende Künste” and the “Hochschule für Musik und Darstellende Kunst.” Art historian Detlef M. Noack had been chosen as President-elect in the summer semester of 1975.
The early days of the institution proved to be quite turbulent—in a time marked by controversy in higher education, it wasn't easy for all the parties to find common ground. After only one and a half years, Noack resigned from his post.
In late 1977, the University Council elected a new president, Ulrich Roloff (later Roloff-Momin), a politician and cultural policy maker. Roloff-Momin succeeded in consolidating the newly formed, progressive institution. He was reelected president several times and resigned from his post only after becoming Berlin's Senator for Cultural Affairs in 1991. In the era of Roloff-Momin, favorable financial conditions allowed for a major expansion of the HdK. The education of art and music teachers, hitherto under the auspices of the teacher-training college “Pädagogische Hochschule,” was integrated into the HdK. One by one, new study courses and focal points were developed in areas such as experimental film, New Music, creative writing for the stage, music therapy, and continuing education for artists (today this takes place at the Institute for Art in Context). Key research fields emerged, among them urban renewal. In addition, the HdK established a broad network of international contacts and relationships.
On November 9, 1989, the Berlin Wall fell. The city's division was at an end, and higher education institutions faced drastically changed circumstances. The HdK, which since its founding had been a West Berlin university, became overnight an institution at the heart of a reunited Berlin.
This unexpected new circumstance gave rise to new opportunities. However, the necessity of unifying the two formerly separated parts of the city, coupled with the poor budgetary situation in which Berlin found itself, forced deep structural changes and stringent budget restrictions. The HdK was forced to close down its printing department and had to accept the elimination, because of spending cuts, of its department of education and social sciences. However, all the artistic core subjects that from the start had been envisioned as part of a future „universitas” of the arts were able to be saved. The HdK was reorganized: Eleven departments gave way to four faculties.
In 1991, Olaf Schwencke, like Roloff-Momin a politician and cultural policymaker, was elected president. In 1995, the art historian Lothar Romain followed in his footsteps. Both these presidents initiated vital and forward-looking changes. In 1996, the Academic Senate decided on a radical reform that led to today's structure of four university faculties: Fine Arts, Design, Music, and Performing Arts. In 2001, under Romain, the institution was renamed “Berlin University of the Arts”: HdK became UdK. This name change concluded a development that had begun with the founding of the HdK. Specific university powers, such as the right to award doctorates, had already been granted HdK years earlier. On July 14, 2005, Lothar Romain passed away. The former First Vice President and professor for concert guitar, Martin Rennert, was elected his successor. Martin Rennert began his third presidential term in 2014.