People

Adolf von Harnack

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Adolf von Harnack (1851 – 1930) was one of the pioneers of modern research promotion. The theologian was a professor at the University of Berlin from 1888 but was also involved in the reform of the German science system. In 1909, he wrote a position paper which provided the impetus for the foundation of the Kaiser Wilhelm Society (KWG). It was eventually founded in 1911 and became the first German organization to focus on basic research. Harnack himself became its first President, an office he held until his death in 1930.

From 1926 onwards, Harnack, as President of the KWG, and his Secretary General Friedrich Glum drew up the plans to build a guesthouse in Berlin-Dahlem. It was intended for use as a KWG clubhouse, on one hand, and to accommodate visiting foreign scientists on the other. At an early stage, the Senate of the KWG decided to name the building after Harnack in his honour. It was inaugurated on Harnack’s 78th birthday, 7 May 1929. 

Harnack’s ideas were progressive in many ways. He advocated gender equality and admired the USA as a nation devoid of the narrow social outlook of the old Europe. His liberal world-view also influenced his widely spread bourgeois family.

The US Army, which used Harnack House as an officers’ club from 1945 to 1994, paid tribute to Harnack for his efforts to foster German-American friendship by installing a plaque in his honour at the entrance to the modern-day lecture theatre. sk