Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Einstein's Summer House in Caputh

On our way back from Potsdam last week, Stefan insisted we absolutely should stop to see Einstein's summer house in Caputh. Caputh is a small place South-West of Potsdam, located idyllically at the slope of a hill on the lakefront of Schwielowsee ("See" = "Lake"). Thanks to unexpected one-way traffic, an abundance of construction sites, and a malfunctioning railway crossing gate, it took just an hour drive for the five kilometers from Telegraphenberg to Caputh.


Einstein's summer house in Caputh.

In the summer of 1929, Einstein invested his savings in the construction of a small house to spend the summer there, away from busy Berlin. The site, at the border of a forest, offers a great view over the lake and the Brandenburg landscape. Unfortunately, last week this view was hidden in foggy haze. The house is built out of wood, which is uncommon in Germany, and looks very elegant and modern.

The summer house in Caputh is the only of the places where Einstein has lived in Germany that is left. It has been restored a few years ago, and is used today as a location for a variety of lectures and cultural events.

Einstein and his wife spent four summers in Caputh, before they left Germany in December 1932 never to come back. Einstein later said that he never felt more comfortable and at ease than when in Caputh. TIME magazine told its readers in its "People" column of August 31, 1931, that "last week he was vacationing at Caputh near Potsdam, wearing white linen pajamas, no socks, no shoes."


Unfortunately, last week was a bit to chilly to dispense with socks and shoes.




(If you think the photo looks like I have to use a bathroom really urgently, that's exactly correct.)



See also:

  • Website of the Einstein Forum / Einsteinhaus
  • Website of the Initiativkreis Albert-Einstein-Haus Caputh e.V.


  • 17 comments:

    Giotis said...

    You used the bathroom of the great man? Sacrilege!

    Bee said...

    They should have T-shirts saying "I pissed where Einstein pissed." But no, there was some event going on in the house, so we couldn't enter (good thing because it limits Stefan's pain that the battery of the camera was almost dead and he couldn't take more photos). I was very tempted to pee in the bushes, but made it to the next gas station. Though we could also have went to the "Cafe Einstein" in downtown Caputh, and I think they also had some Einstein museum or something of that sort.

    Phil Warnell said...

    Hi Bee & Stefan,

    Thanks for sharing this and as I believe that between you Stefan is more of the science history buff, would it be safe to imagine he was the instigator of this excursion. The first thing I notice about the house is it appears to have a intentional dissymmetry about it, with for intense the odd placement of that small round window between the two rectangle ones and how the stairway to the deck section being so divorced stylistically from the central house section. It has me to wonder if it is representative of the owner's sensibilities or those of an unusual architect:-)

    Your mention of this being the last place Einstein would ever call home in Germany holds significance greater than being simply disenfranchised from his own nation. That is from this point on he would be heard to admit he no longer felt to be a citizen of any nation, which I’ve always taken to suggest he in general grew to detest the whole concept and to wish there would come a day when there would be no such distinction.

    Best,

    Phil

    P.S. That rope in the background across the stairway of the house must have only served to increase the anxiety you felt in regards to the natural urge you experienced at the time:-)

    Bee said...

    it's not that I'm not interested in the history of science, i just don't believe things have memories. in addition i find it kinda creepy how people have turned inside-out every single quote and letter of Einstein and probably sell pieces of his brain on eBay or so.

    Bee said...

    there were more of these ropes btw, surrounding the whole garden area.

    Phil Warnell said...

    Hi Bee,

    I agree that such things can be taken to the point of being overdone and overplayed as to being fanatical. However I have wondered often if this is a natural tenuously and desire of many to carry simple admiration for a individual to the level of mysticism, as to suggest that those like Budha, Christ and Mohammed may have begun as being simply at first considered as Einstein is today. I certainly hope not, as this would not only be a tragedy in terms of the utility of general understanding and reason, yet counter to the principles and thoughts of the man himself. That is to say let’s hope there will never come a day where the words “I wish to know his thoughts” is taken to mean as actually having to have known them.

    Best,

    Phil

    Phil Warnell said...

    Hi Bee,

    I did take note you mentioned there being a nearby forest and that it was foggy at the time and would imagine you might have taken advantage of the utility of both in such a circumstance :-)

    Best,

    Phil

    Bee said...

    It was a haze more than a fog. I considered the forest, but it was a little... sparse.

    Giotis said...

    I think that if he had stayed in Europe he would not have become the legend that he is today. He would still have been of course one of the greatest but not a T-shirt.

    Americans are notorious for blowing things out of proportion and for creating myths. They can sell efficiently almost anything, an idea, a scientific theory or a name.

    In Einstein's case I don't say that this was bad. He was (and still is) an icon for entire generations and his legacy has lead many young people to science.

    Steven Colyer said...

    Interesting, thank you Bee. Who owns the house now and what is its history since 1932? I know the German government that swept into power in 1933 confiscated it; I was just wondering if it was returned to the Einsteins after the war. Not sure who the patriarch of the Einstein family is now, it may be medical Dr. Thomas Einstein of California assuming he's still alive. I'd ask them but they clearly wish their privacy, still, have they ever commented on it?

    stefan said...

    Hi Giotis,

    I think that if he had stayed in Europe he would not have become the legend that he is today.

    That's an interesting point! Actually, when out of curiosity I searched the online archive of TIME magazine for "Einstein Caputh" I was a bit surprised by the "gossip" nature of the results:

    One hit about "no shoes, no socks", and the other, from the visit to the states in winter 1930/31, tells us that "Less respectful last week were burglars who broke into Dr. Einstein's summer home at Caputh, Germany, drank his wine, stole a piece of Japanese embroidery."

    Best, Stefan

    stefan said...

    Hi Steven,

    You can find more on the history of the house on the pages of the "Einstein Forum/Einsteinhaus", see specifically Leaving the Nest, 1933-45, and Renovations.

    As for the ownership today, here is a quote from the page Renovations:

    After the GDR Academy of Sciences was dissolved in 1991, the house went back into the possession of the Caputh municipality and the Federal German State of Brandenburg. In 1993 the newly-established Einstein Forum assumed administrative responsibility for the house. An important question in the post-reunification period concerned the ownership of the property, which had since become quite knotty. After a long period of litigation, it was determined that the house belonged to a community of twelve heirs, ranging from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem to an animal shelter in New Jersey. Hebrew University, to which Einstein’s had willed the rest of his estate, owned 70% of the property, with the remaining 30% distributed among the other heirs. In 2004 all were finally entered into the land register.

    Best, Stefan

    stefan said...

    Hi Phil,

    concerning the architecture of the house, you can find more also on the pages of the Einstein Forum/Einsteinhaus, see: The Architect, Building the House, and The Interior.

    It was one of the first projects of a young architect, Konrad Wachsmann, who later also had to emigrate and came to some fame in the US, it seems.

    Cheers, Stefan

    BoringAntiAmerican said...

    Giotis said "Americans are notorious for blowing things out of proportion and for creating myths. They can sell efficiently almost anything, an idea, a scientific theory or a name. "

    Maybe. But I doubt that even they could sell Marxism, eh Giotis?

    Phil Warnell said...

    Hi Stefan.

    Thanks so much for the links to all that additional information in regards to the Einstein home you visited, as to its history and that of the architect. It confirms many the suspicions I had about the architect, as well as reinforces some of the ideas I hold about Einstein the man himself.

    One thing this has had me become aware of about him, which I never knew before, is that he snored so loudly that his room being set off from the rest of the house, was meant to preserve the comfort of others as much as it was to afford him the privacy he required when he was contemplating. So I can now boast at least one commonality I share with Einstein and that unfortunately is not the deep contemplation aspect ;-)

    Best,

    Phil

    Steven Colyer said...

    Yes, here here and thank you very much Stefan, very informative links which back up contention that no matter how much you think you know about Einstein, there's always more to learn.

    One question, before your digital camera's battery gave up the ghost, were you able to capture a picture of the lake Schwielowsee from his Caputh residence? I got the impression from his bography that sailing was his true passion, and the confiscation of his sailboat hurt him more than the house.

    My goodness all the notable people who passed through that house and the incredible letters he wrote from there regarding human rights, including his famous essay: the wonderfully concise two page "The World As I see It".

    I've stood outside his house on Mercer Street in Princeton and felt inspired. THAT house doesn't look like much in pictures but goes way, way back. It also lacks a house number and has "Private Residence" cast in the iron gate. Whomever lives there now truly discourages visitors. I'd love to buy that house and open it up to the public, but lack of funds prevent that.

    "For Einstein, celebrity meant idolatry and he did what he could to discourage a cult."

    Nice try, but no cigar, Albert. Or pipe in your case. Which may explain the snoring. :-)

    stefan said...

    Hi Steven,

    before your digital camera's battery gave up the ghost, were you able to capture a picture of the lake Schwielowsee from his Caputh residence?

    Unfortunately, not. The house (here on google maps, just zoom out to see the lake...) is a few hundred metres away from the lake, and there is no direct view along the shortest path to the shore. Thus, the view blurred in the haze over the roofs of Caputh, as visibility was quite low that day.

    It seems we will have to go there again ;-)

    Best, Stefan