Einstein’s Berlin

Einstein Chaplin
Photo of Albert Einstein and Charlie Chaplin at the Los Angeles premiere of the film City Lights, 1931 Photo in public domain, source: Wikipedia

He woke early as usual, slipped out of bed, shuffled over to the shuttered window, stuck his eye to the gap and looked down on quiet, tree-lined Haberlandstrasse, he could hear the birds singing, he watched them fly out of the trees, wheeling into the blue sky. He turned and watched Elsa sleeping, she was smiling, dreaming and smiling, he grinned and went out to the washroom. ‘Fifty three Albert,’ he said to the mirror, he washed quickly, dressed and went up to his study. He looked over the scattered papers on his desk, took his hat put it on, went into the hall, opened the door, went through it and closed it gently behind him. He tumbled down the four flights, the building was still asleep. He stepped out, the weather was fine and still. He turned onto Landshuterstrasse.

Berlin group including Max Planck, Ramsay MacDonald Albert Einstein, July 1931. Photo: public domain, photographer unknown.

A truck sped by packed with Brownshirts, gazing passively down at him, their election flags and bumf fluttering in the wind, reading Deutschland Erwache and Fur freiheit und Brot with small swastikas in the corners Young, handsome, idealistic, virile. A shadow of darkness on the bright street. He turned at the Deutsche Bank, three men in bowler hats and pinstriped suits, laughing disappeared down the steps of the Untergrundbahn. Albert could hear the sound of the train arriving underneath, shunting under his feet through the city.

Einstein and Neils Bohr in 1225, photo in the public domain, photographer unknown, source -pxhere

He went into the shop and bought a bag of apples. Walking back, eating one of the apples, he thought of an article, written b Carl von Ossietzky in the left wing journal, Die Weltbuhne, in which he, Albert, had been name checked, in which von Ossietzky was pointing to the increased usage of the term, ‘Cultural Bolshevism’ being used to attack anything which offended the cultural sensibilities of the right – ‘when Klempereer takes tempi different from Furtwangerl, when a painter uses a colour for a sunset not seen in Lower Pomerania, when one favours birth control. when you build a house with a flat roof, when you admire Charlie Chaplin and Albert Einstein, when you follow the democracy of the brothers Mann and when you enjoy the music of Hindemith and Kurt Weill – all that is ‘Cultural Bolshevism”

From 1917 to 1932, Albert Einstein lived on the fourth floor at Haberlandstrasse 5 (now number 8). Einstein entertained some of the most out-standing personalities of the time in his living room. Guests included Charlie Chaplin, Franz Kafka, Max Libermann, Heinrich Mann, Lise Meitner, Carl von Ossietzky, Max Planck and Rabindranath Tagore. During the Second World War Einstein’s residential house was completely destroyed in an air raid. Nice touch here from whoever now lives on the fourth floor of the building on the original site with their flag emblazoned by the most famous mathematical equation of them all.

There was a man outside the cafe with a placard around his neck on which was written – Antifashisten Wahlt Liste 3 Kommunisten. A truck for President Paul von Hindenburg drives down the streets, warning the people that a vote for Hitler is a vote for “eternal discord.” He made his way onto Bayerischer Platz and got to thinking about Charlie Chaplin’s movie City Lights, he and Chaplin had attended the premier in Los Angeles together, he was thinking about it’s final scene when The Tramp is gazing in the window at the love of this life and the petals are falling from his flower. He walked around Bayerishcer Platz for a while, finishing his apple, it was getting busier, people beginning their day, he started back to his apartment.

Corner of Haberlandstrasse and Landshuterstrasse

The area where Einstein lived, now known as the Bavarian Quarter, was the former Jewish district of West Berlin. In the early 1990s, Berlin-based artists Renata Stih and Frieder Schnock inaugurated their hugely controversial “Places of Remembrance” memorial. Stih and Schnock attached eighty signs hung on lamp posts throughout the Bavarian Quarter, each one spelling out one of the hundreds of Nazi laws and rules that gradually dehumanized Berlin’s Jewish population. They are disgusting – Jews aren’t allowed use the subway; Jews are not allowed to buy sweets; Jews aren’t allowed use telephones; Jews may only buy food between four and five o’clock in the afternoon; Jews are not allowed to have pets; Jews are not allowed radios or record players; Items made of gold, silver or platinum and pearls belonging to Jews are to be turned into the state.

One of the eighty signs in the Bavarian Quarter – notice the painting on the gable end of the building depicting the Bavarian Quarter in the early twentieth century.

Einstein had left the country before these laws began to be implemented. As the political climate changed, he became more aware that his Jewish background meant that even a man of his stature was at risk of anti-Semitic attacks. He spent more and more time in America and, when word reached him during a business trip there in 1933 that Hitler had finally taken over, he decided never to return. He accepted a position at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, where he lived with his family until his death in 1955.

8 Haberlandstrasse

Strange to think of Einstein and Hitler walking the same streets at the same time. Humble Albert pottering about his little apartment; Hitler strutting about the Lustgarten yelling his utopia. Albert changing our way of looking at Newton’s universe; Hitler changing the way Germans looked at the world. Fortunately, Albert escaped the clutches of the Nazis who hated him. Alexander Richie, in her marvelous book, Faust’s metropolis writes, ‘the Nobel laureates Johannes Stark and Philipp Lenard led the attack against Einstein’s ‘Jewish physics’, an approach to science which, they said, sought to undermine the absolute laws of nature. For them, ‘German science’ was factual and objective while ‘Jewish science’ was mere opinion. Ultimately their attack on Einstein’s Theory of Relativity impeded attempts by Nazi scientists to develop a nuclear bomb, according to Albert Speer, Hitler’s knowledge of atomic science ‘was limited to anything that appeared even remotely associated with Einstein, for whom he conceived an irrational hatred.’ It did not help that Heisenberg and Max Planck were called ‘white Jews’ because they agreed with Einstein. Although research in atomic physics did continue throughout the Nazi period, anti-Semitism might have been the crucial factor which prevented Hitler getting the bomb before the United States.”

Landshuterstrasse

Hitlers’ one dissolved into the all, Einstein’s one embraced the all, the power of daydreams mightier than fiendish visions. Contained in Knausgaard’s The End, is a remarkable piece of writing that is worth quoting in full – “Remoteness is the opposite of authenticity, and it is not the yearning for authenticity that is the problem, but the remoteness that gives rise to it. The unique is what cannot be replicated, existing only in a particular place at a particular time.It is the art of the one, and the life of the one. What took place in Germany was that the one dissolved into the all, the sky of ideals descended to earth, and the image of the absolute, which is without consequence, became a point of reference for human action. The absolute, in this case construed in terms of race, biology, blood, soil, nature, death was not only set against the relative, construed in terms of the stock market, the entertainment industry, democratic parliamentarian-ism, as occurred throughout the period leading to the First World War, but it was also carried into life itself, as action: Nazi Germany was the absolute state. It was the state its people could die for. Watching Riefenstahl’s film of the rallies in Nuremberg, its depiction of a people almost paradisiac in its unambiguousness, converged upon the same thing, immersed in the symbols, the callings from the deepest pith of human life, that which has to do with birth and death, and with homeland and belonging one finds it splendid and unbearable at the same time, though increasingly unbearable the more more one watches…and I wondered where that sense of the unbearable came from, the unease that accompanied those image of the German paradise, with its torches in the darkness, the intactness of its medieval city, its cheering crowds, its sun and banners, whether it was something I imposed upon the, knowing from what this paradise arose, what it would become and at what cost, and what happened to it, and I came to the conclusion that this was not the reason, that it came not from what was in me, the knowledge I had of what lay behind the images of those days, but something from in the images themselves, the sense that the world they displayed was an unbearable world. Not that it was a false world, because this was obvious, its every image meticulously created from scratch for that particular occasion, it was more that this false world one if the few pure utopias to be established in the last century, in which everything was exactly the way it was supposed it be, was unbearable in itself. What was unbearable about it lay in its own undifferentiatedness Everything was so affirmative of one and the same thing, and when this is the case no other thing exist but that one, and without the other is nothing. The society that Riefenstahl portrayed , this utopia of the one, had to establish an other for its own simplicity, it own undifferentiatedness, the be maintained, and this what lies beneath those peaceful and harmonious images and fills them with such foreboding: the inevitability of war. It was not the absolute values of Nazism that led them to war, for birth and death, homeland and belonging are characteristics of all people and all peoples it was the utopias of one and the same. It was the fall of the differentiating into the undifferentiated.

Photo of Albert Einstein in Princeton, NJ, soon after he fled Germany. Photo – In the pubic domain, Source -W ikipedia

Albert’s equivalence theory stated that objects and the space-time fabric around them can influence – even distend – one other and influence how they move. A century on, the conclusions are clear: without Einstein we couldn’t even begin to understand black holes or the Big Bang theory. And without his general theory of relativity, the world would be a very different place. Thankfully, the good German won out.

When Albert returned to his apartment, Elsa was still sleeping. He went into his office , closed the door and picked up his violin, he looked out the window and thought, am I or the others crazy?

One Reply to “Einstein’s Berlin”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *