I wasn’t surprised when I read the following news, “A man who was born German and died American has just been named the most significant Swiss of all time. Albert Einstein (1879-1955) beat such greats as Red Cross founder Henry Dunant and educationalist Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi in a survey conducted for the SonntagsZeitung newspaper…”
It seems like many people know about Albert Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity and of the formula that helped rock the world, E=mc2. The results of Einstein’s discoveries touch us daily from from atomic bombs to cell phones. What many people may not know, however, is that Einstein developed the bulk of his theories, including E=mc2, while working at a patent office in Bern, Switzerland. Einstein called this period in Bern from 1902 to 1909, the happiest and most fruitful period in his life. It was in 1905, while living at Kramgasse No. 49, that 26 year-old Albert Einstein published six of his most influential scientific papers. Einstein referred to this year as his “annus mirabilis,” the most creative period of scientific endeavors for himself and the world of physics. He eventually presented no less than 32 scientific publications during his stay in Bern.
I visited Einstein’s apartment at 49 Kramgasse on two different occasions. The old residence is now a small museum called the Einstein House, and visiting the museum makes a great side trip for any student of physics and/or history.
The Einstein house, a small second floor apartment, sits directly above the main shopping street in Bern. Walk out of the Einstein Haus and turn left, you’ll run smack into the Zeitglockenturm, a clock tower that served as Bern’s first western city gate between 1191 and 1256. The gorgeous astronomical calendar clock that marks the face of the tower dates to 1530. It’s easy to understand how Einstein would revolutionize our conceptions of space and time while living in the shadow of such an attractive time-keeping device.
I also had a chance to visit another Einstein museum during a recent stay in Bern. Referred to as the Einstein Museum, the museum is actually a permanent exhibit that falls within the greater auspices of the Bern Historical Museum. When 350,000 visitors from around the world attended the Jubilee Exhibition on the life and work of this genius of physics in 2005 and 2006, the museum decided to make the exhibit permanent and call it the Einstein Museum.
The phenomenal Jubilee turnout offered a testament to the quality of the exhibit. I was impressed. I also enjoyed spending a few extra Swiss Francs for the audio guide. The stylish ipod, (I asked for a blue one), is easy to use and allows a visitor to skip, fast forward, and rewind chapters on demand. The ipod allows a guest to dive into areas of the museum that interest them the most. I spent most of my time studying Einstein’s theories and experiments, though I DO recommend taking the whole tour.
It’s an interesting fact that the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology denied Einstein’s application for study. They claimed that he lacked what they desired in a model student. What do they think now? Einstein’s experience reminds me of the author James Joyce who mused, “When the soul of a man is born in this country there are nets flung at it to hold it back from flight. You talk to me of nationality, language, religion. I shall try to fly by those nets.” I submit that Einstein not only flew, he soared.
One afternoon, this past October, I sat by an open window in Einstein’s old living room. The window curtains fluttered gently in the warm autumn breeze, and the hollow sound of footsteps falling on stone drifted skyward from the cobbled street below. Suddenly I heard the clock bell chime, and a flood of inspiration consumed me. For a single moment I felt the creativity that Einstein must have known while living there. The city of Bern can be a magical place. It also makes great city stop between hiking tours.
Top photo courtesy of the Einstein Haus.
Zeitglockenturm by Chris P.