Physics in Berlin I: The Historical City Center

  • Dieter Hoffmann


Hans-Jürgen Treder has written that, “During the nearly 60 years that spanned the call of Hermann Helmholtz to become professor of physics in the Berlin University ... in 1871, and Erwin Schrödinger’s call to the chair of theoretical physics [in 1927] ..., the general history of physics was closely connected to the history of physics in Berlin.”1 Besides Helmholtz and Schrödinger, the list of famous physicists who worked in Berlin during those six decades includes Albert Einstein, Max Planck, Max von Laue, Walther Nernst, Gustav Hertz, James Franck, and Lise Meitner, to name but some of them.2 But the heyday of physics in Berlin arose neither by chance nor out of the blue: It resulted from a long historical process that began with the foundation of the Brandenburg Academy of Science in 1700 by Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz; the present Academy of Science in Berlin is the direct descendent of that society. With the founding of the Academy in the capital of Prussia, science established itself in Berlin as a constituent part of its social life. It was predominantly in the context of mathematical research and the fields of mechanics and astronomy that physics was practiced at first. The names of such renowned scientists as Leonhard Euler, Joseph Louis Lagrange, Johann Heinrich Lambert, and Franz Ulrich Theodosius Aepinus bear witness to the remarkably high level that mathematical and physical research had reached in Berlin as early as the 18th century. There was no other city in Germany at that time where there was such a large and extraordinary community of mathematicians, physicists, and chemists teaching and carrying out research. You will find a reminder of this early period in the history of physics in Berlin at Behrenstrasse 21 (a street parallel to the western part of Unter den Linden), where Leonhard Euler lived during his Berlin period from 1743 to 1766. Of course, this is not Euler’s original house, since large parts of Berlin were totally destroyed by reconstructing or bombing during the following two centuries.


Continental Drift Historical City Short Walk Famous Physicist Physiology Institute 
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© Birkhäuser Verlag Basel, Switzerland 2009

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  • Dieter Hoffmann

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