At the instigation of the Deutscher Reichssausschuss für Leibesübungen (DRAfL or DRA, German Reich Committee for Physical Education), the Deutsche Hochschule für Leibesübungen (DHfL, German University of Physical Education) opened on 15th May 1920 in Berlin. Its first Director was August Bier, who had gained a national and international reputation as Professor of Surgery at the University of Berlin. The office of Deputy Director was filled by the General Secretary of the DRA, Carl Diem. The latter provided important impetus to the design of a modern sport university in terms of research, teaching and practice, including and structuring the diversity of sport. The core objective was a several-year-long degree course, which covered training in all branches of sport including health, education and management theory.

The liberal orientation of the DHfL ended abruptly in 1933 with the seizure of power by the National Socialists and the dissolution of the faculty. In 1936, the DHfL was replaced by the Reichsakademie für Leibesübungen (Reich Academy of Physical Education). Henceforth, it provided a one-year course with the emphasis on military and ideological training. The exploitation of sport for propaganda and warfare purposes during the Second World War unleashed by Germany then had deadly consequences for millions.