Georg Simmel

Georg Simmel was born on March 1, 1858, in the very heart of Berlin, the corner of Leipzigerstrasse and Friedrichstrasse. This was a curious birthplace--it would correspond to Times Square in New York--but it seems symbolically fitting for a man who throughout his life lived in the intersection of many movements, intensely affected by the cross-currents of intellectual traffic and by a multiplicity of moral directions. Simmel was a modern urban man, without roots in traditional folk culture. Upon reading Simmel's first book, F. Toennies wrote to a friend: "The book is shrewd but it has the flavor of the metropolis." Like "the stranger" he described in his brilliant essay of the same name, he was near and far at the same time, a "potential wanderer; although he [had] not moved on, he [had] not quite overcome the freedom of coming and going." One of the major theorists to emerge in German philosophy and social science around the turn of the century, he remains atypical, a perturbing and fascinating figure to his more organically rooted contemporaries.
Simmel was the youngest of seven children. His father, a prosperous Jewish businessman who had converted to Christianity, died when Simmel was still young. A friend of the family, the owner of a music publishing house, was appointed the boy's guardian. Simmel's relation to his domineering mother was rather distant; he seems not to have had any roots in a secure family environment, and a sense of marginality and insecurity came early to the young Simmel.
After graduating from Gymnasium, Simmel studied history and philosophy at the University of Berlin with some of the most important academic figures of the day: the historians Mommsen, Treitschke, Sybel and Droysen, the philosophers Harms and Zeller, the art historian Hermann Grimm, the anthropologists Lazarus and Steinthal (who were the founders of Voelkerpsychologie), and the psychologist Bastian. By the time he received his doctorate in philosophy in 1881 (his thesis was entitled "The Nature of Matter According to Kant's Physical Monadology"), Simmel was familiar with vast field of knowledge extending from history to philosophy and from psychology to the social sciences. This catholicity of tastes and interests marked his entire subsequent career.
Deeply tied to the intellectual milieu of Berlin, both inside and outside the university, Simmel did not follow the example of most German academic men who typically moved from one university to another both during their studies and after; instead, he decided to stay at the University of Berlin, where he became a Privatdozent (an unpaid lecturer dependent on student fees) in 1885. His courses ranged from logic and the history of philosophy to ethics, social psychology, and sociology. He lectured on Kant, Schopenhauer, Darwin, and Nietzsche, among many others. Often during a single academic year he would survey new trends in sociology as well as in metaphysics. He was a very popular lecturer and his lectures soon became leading intellectual events, not only for students but for the cultural elite of Berlin. In spite of the fascination he called forth, however, his academic career turned out to be unfortunate, even tragic.
From: Lewis A. Coser [1977] Masters of Sociological Thought, pp. 194-95.