The Max Planck Society and Harnack House

In the post-war period, many Max Planck Society (MPG) scientists had vivid memories of Harnack House. Many still felt an association with its predecessor organization, the Kaiser Wilhelm Society (KWG), and the Statutes of the MPG founded in 1948 stated that the “Max Planck Society was continuing the tradition of the Kaiser Wilhelm Society”.

The Administrative Headquarters of the Max Planck Society were located in Göttingen. But Berlin remained the MPG’s legal domicile, deliberately continuing the tradition of the KWG, and remains so today. It was probably in light of this tradition that its President Adolf Butenandt attempted to regain the building for the MPG in 1965. When his efforts failed, the MPG began coming to terms with the loss. Butenandt, who became President of the MPG in 1960 and whose life centred around Munich as Director of the Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry, organized the relocation of the Administrative Headquarters to Munich in 1960. Once the organization established itself in the Bavarian capital and the division of Berlin became permanent with the construction of the wall in 1961, Harnack House attracted increasingly less attention. MPG events nevertheless continued to be held there occasionally even during this period.

The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 marked the end of the Cold War. The western Allies left Berlin as a result. Harnack House was also handed back after almost 40 years of confiscation. The Berlin Senate awarded the property to the Max Planck Society in 1996 as the Kaiser Wilhelm Society’s legal successor. Drawing inspiration from the founding history of 1929, the MPG established its conference venue there. The initial renovation in 2000 was followed by the comprehensive restoration of the building drawing on Carl Sattler’s original architecture from 1929 as a point of reference.

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