Symanzik was born in Lyck (Ełk), East Prussia, and spent his childhood in Königsberg. He started studying physics in 1946 at Universität München but after a short time moved to Werner Heisenberg at Göttingen. There also the fruitful collaboration with Wolfhart Zimmermann and Harry Lehmann started. In 1954 he earned his PhD for his thesis The Schwinger functional in quantum field theory.
His early work in non-perturbative quantum field theory together in a circle with other researches nicknamed "Feldverein" led to now classic results. He also contributed to the Euclidean quantum field theory ansatz.