Walter Zimmermann was born in Schwabach, Franconia.
His early studies were focused on the oboe, the violin and the piano.
He started composing at the age of 12. He studied composition with Werner Heider in Nuremberg and piano in Heider's art nova ensemble, between 1968 and 1970.
He attended, briefly, the Mauricio Kagel's New Music Course in Cologne. Simultaneously he studied at the Institute of Sonology, in Utrecht and the Jaap-Kunst Ethnologyy Center (Amsterdam) between 1970- 73. He also has computer studies in Hamilton USA, in 1974; ethnological research, gathering folk music, especially from American Indian reservations, 1975-6.
Zimmerman founded the Beginner Studio in Cologne in 1977 where he organised concert series until 1984.
From 1982 he was the composition teacher at the Liège Conservatoire, taught at Darmstadt Summer Courses from 1982 until 1984, and he held the teaching post at the Royal Conservatoire den Haag in 1988, while from 1990 he was the composition teacher in Karlsruhe.
In 1992-93 he was a visiting professor at Folkwang-Hochschule and from 1993 he is a professor of composition at the Berlin Academy of the arts. He has been awarded the City of Cologne Förderpreis, in 1980; 'Ensemblia' first prize, in 1981; Villa Massimo stipendium (Rome), in 1987, Schneider-Schott Prize, in 1989 and the Prix Italia, in 1990, for Die Blinden.
He now lives in Berlin and Seidmar (Franconia).