Karsten Harries was born on January 25, 1937, in Jena, Thuringia, Germany. He is the son of Wolfgang and Ilse (Grossmann) Harries.
His early childhood was spent mostly in Berlin. Toward the end of the war, his father brought the family to a little town in northern Bavaria, then in Munich. In 1951 the family came to the United States. They firstly ended up in Keyport, New Jersey and then Yale, which Karsten liked.