Some Historical Points of Interest in Göttingen

  • Klaus Hentschel


The Georgia Augusta University of Göttingen, founded in 1737, was a child of the Enlightenment, and the new sciences have always played a major role here.1 Among the teachers of physics, physical chemistry, astronomy, and related subjects we find Johann Christian Polykarp Erxleben, Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, Johann Tobias Mayer, Carl Friedrich Gauss, Johann B. Listing, Wilhelm Eduard Weber, Woldemar Voigt, Friedrich Kohlrausch, Eduard Riecke, Walther Nernst and Peter Debye — the last two subsequently moved on to Berlin. In the 1920s, physics students were jestingly referred to as “Frankierte, Bornierte und Polierte” (loosely translated as stamped, limited and polished), in allusion to their teachers, the theoretical physicist Max Born and the experimentalists James Franck and Robert Wichard Pohl, the first two being important figures in the history of quantum theory, the third, one of the founding fathers of experimental solid state physics.2 The National Socialist’s rise to power had a devastating effect on this world-renowned center for physics and mathematics. Most of its high-caliber scientists either were dismissed on the basis of the racist “Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service” or themselves felt compelled to emigrate: About a dozen members of the physics faculty, including Born and Franck, and ten from the mathematics faculty left Göttingen.3 After the war, Richard Becker, who in 1936 had received a compulsory order to take the chair for theoretical physics vacant since Born’s emigration, and Friedrich Hund, who was also an enthusiastic historian of science, distinguished themselves as physics teachers there but the university as a whole never recovered its international standing of before 1933 (see Figs. 1 and 2).


Physic Teacher Lecture Hall Historical Point Physic Student International Standing 
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  1. 1.
    For a general survey, e.g. Ulrich Hunger, “Die Georg-August-Universität und ihre Vergangenheit: Eine historische Retrospektive aus mathematisch-naturwissenschaftlicher Sicht,” Deutscher Verein zur Förderung des mathematischen und naturwissenschaftlichen Unterrichts e.V., 82te Hauptversammlung, Göttingen (1991), 17–42, or Hans-Heinrich Voigt, Naturwissenschaften in Göttingen (Göttingen: Vandenhoek & Ruprecht, 1988); cf. also the websites: for general information on today’s university, its various collections and a city map.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    For brief expositions of the history of physics in Göttingen see Hans Schimank, Zur Geschichte der Physik an der Universität Göttingen vor Wilhelm Weber (1734-1830), Rete, 2 (1973), 207–252; Friedrich Hund, “Höhepunkte der Göttinger Physik,” Physikalische Blätter, 25 (1969), 145-153, 210-215, Die Geschichte der Göttinger Physik (Göttingen: Vandenhoek & Ruprecht, 1987); on Franck and Born see also Jost Lemmerich, ed., Max Born, James Franck: Der Luxus des Gewissens (Berlin: Staatsbibliothek Preußischer Kulturbesitz, 1982); Jost Lemmerich, Science and Conscience-The Life of James Franck (in press); on Pohl see ref. 6 below.MathSciNetGoogle Scholar
  3. 3.
    See, e.g. Heinrich Becker, Hans-Joachim Dahms and Cornelia Wegeler, eds., Die Universität Göttingen unter dem Nationalsozialismus (Munich: Saur, 1987; 2nd exp. edn. 19), and Klaus Hentschel, ed., Physics and National Socialism. An Anthology of Primary Sources (Basel: Birkhäuser, 1996), pp. liii ff. on emigration, and pp. 21-33 on Franck’s resignation.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    See, e.g. Eduard Riecke, “Das neue physikalische Institut der Universität Göttingen,” Physikalische Zeitschrift, 6 (1905), 881–892, and Die physikalischen Institute der Universität Göttingen. Festschrift 1906 (Leipzig: Teubner, 1906).Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    For a richly illustrated description of the collection see Gustav Beuermann, et al., Die historische Sammlung des 1. Physikalischen Instituts der Georg-August-Universität Götingen. Ausstellungskatalog (Göttingen, part 1:1986, part 2:1988); cf. also “Die Sammlung historischer physikalischer Apparate im 1. Physikalischen Institut,” Georgia-Augusta, 65 (1996), 21-30, and Zeit-Magazin, No. 27 (June 26,1992).Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    See Lillian Hoddeson, Ernest Braun, Jürgen Teichmann and Spencer Weart, eds., Out of the Crystal Maze. Chapters from the History of Solid-State Physics (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992), chap. 4; and J. Teichmann, Zur Geschichte der Festkörperphysik. Farbzentrenforschung bis 1940 (Wiesbaden: Steiner, 1988) particularly about Pohl.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    See, e.g. Julius C. Rotta, Die Aerodynamische Versuchsanstalt in Göttingen, ein Werk Ludwig Prandtls (Göttingen: Vandenhoek & Ruprecht, 1990); and J. C. Rotta, ed., Dokumente zur Geschichte der Aerodynamischen Versuchsanstalt in Göttingen, 1907-1925, no. 5 (Göttingen: DLR-Mitteilungen, 1990), and Tollmien in Becker, et al., eds. (ref. 3).Google Scholar
  8. 9.
    See, e.g. G. Beuermann and Roland Görke, “Der elektromagnetische Telegraph von Gauss und Weber aus dem Jahre 1833,” Gauss-Gesellschaft e.V. Göttingen. Mitteilungen, 20:21 (1983:84), 44–53.Google Scholar
  9. 10.
    See, e.g. Hans-Heinrich Voigt, “Geschichte der Göttinger Sternwarte,” Georgia Augusta (May 1992), 27–38, “Von Karl Schwarzschild bis Hans Kienle,” Sterne und Weltraum, 28 (1989), 12-17; and Hartmut Grosser, Historische Gegenstände an der Universitäts-Sternwarte Göttingen (Göttingen: Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1998); cf. also their webpage at www.uni-sw.gwdg.deGoogle Scholar

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© Birkhäuser Verlag Basel, Switzerland 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Klaus Hentschel
    • 1
  1. 1.Section for the History of Science and Technology History DepartmentUniversity of StuttgartStuttgart

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