Hosts & Guests

Albert Einstein

Albert Einstein at Harnack House Zoom Image
Albert Einstein at Harnack House

In 1914 Albert Einstein (1879 – 1955) moved from Zurich to Berlin. Max Planck and Walther Nernst had in 1913 persuaded the highly promising young physicist to come to the German capital. The Berlin physicists hoped that Einstein would continue his previous work on the quantum theory there, providing significant fresh impetus for developing it further. The prospect of the foundation of a new Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Physics was also held out. It was eventually established in 1917 with Einstein as its Director but did not initially have its own building, which meant Einstein directed it from his private study. The vital exchange with expert colleagues took place at Berlin’s leading physics research institutions of the day – the Academy of Sciences, the Berlin Physics Colloquium and occasionally the Imperial Institute of Physics and Technology.

After the construction of Harnack House in 1929, Einstein visited as a guest despite the world-famous researcher travelling extensively during this period and rarely being in Berlin. There is evidence of at least two lectures in the Goethe Hall. In December 1929, six months after the opening of the guesthouse, he gave a talk on “the problem of space and the ether” as part of the Kaiser Wilhelm Society’s winter lecture series. A second lecture is documented in 1931, held for the Charlottenburg youth centre. The press reported on how Einstein explained physics to children and young people in an easy-to-understand and entertaining way during this lecture.

In early 1933 Einstein was on a lecture tour of the USA when news reached him that Adolf Hitler had been appointed Chancellor of the Reich. Einstein, who had been the target of anti-Semitic polemics for many years, vowed never to return to Germany and resigned from his offices and positions, which from 1917 included membership of the Kaiser Wilhelm Society. He later took American citizenship. After the Second World War, he declined an offer from the Max Planck Society to become an External Scientific Member owing to the conduct of most German people during the Nazi period. He never even returned to Germany for a visit. sk