It opened on 22 April 1985, the 40th anniversary of Kollwitz's death. The basis of the collection, consisting of 60 graphical works along with all 15 of the artist's bronze sculptures, was acquired by the Kreissparkasse Köln (a savings bank) from Kollwitz's granddaughters in 1983. These works had previously been under the care of the Wallraf-Richartz Museum in Cologne and the Staatsgalerie in Stuttgart.
The museum is located above a shopping gallery at Cologne's Neumarkt. It now owns over 750 works by Kollwitz, and has received over 500,000 visitors since its founding.