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Schröder wants science to be more accessible to the publicImage: AP

Remembering Einstein's Legacy

Christine Harjes (jen)
January 17, 2005

Chancellor Schroeder called for a "culture of science" to encourage German innovation and technology as the country kicked off celebrations marking the 50th anniversary of Albert Einstein's death.


In front of 800 German and international guests, Chancellor Gerhard Schröder on Wednesday officially opened the Year of Einstein, Germany's tribute to its most famous scientist.

Schröder, who last year made innovation and new technology one of his government's policy focus, said Germany should create a "culture of science" that would create an atmosphere of technological advancement and risk-taking. He also said researchers should more readily share their knowledge and make it understandable to the general public and hard-to-reach audiences, such as schoolchildren.

The Chancellor's speech in the German Historical Museum in Berlin kicked off a year-long tribute to Einstein, who died 50 years ago this year. Exhibits, cultural events and lectures on the man, his radical theories and his life in Germany before fleeing the Nazis in the 1932 will dominate the program.

Featured prominently will be his General Theory of Relativity, which turns 100 this year. E=mc² enabled physicists to make predictions about the curvature of space through large masses and also the description of an expanding universe long before the theory of a Big Bang was established. It also has been one of the world's most enduring scientific lessons, even resonating with people who don't know the first thing about physics.

Albert Einstein mit Galeriebild
Albert Einstein writes out an equation for the density of the Milky WayImage: AP

A science revolution

"Through Albert Einstein's work, humankind's horizons expanded endlessly, and at the same time our image of the universe has reached a harmony and intimacy that people could only have dreamed of until then," Danish Nobel Prize-winning physicist Niels Bohr once said.

Zitaten-Teppich zum Einstein-Jahr
People step over a carpet bearing einstein quotes, made to mark the 100th anniversary of the Theory of RelativityImage: dpa

Christoph Lehner, a historian at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin, called Einstein's theories "millennial occasions." Numerous circumstances had to come together in order for him to have made the discoveries, Lehner said. A certain amount of irreverence on Einstein's part was needed.

"Einstein was an extremely independent thinker. He absolutely refused to believe in authority, " Lehner said. This was an extremely important characteristic for his work, since he had to break with deep traditions for his work.

Einstein's own explanation for his creativity doesn't sound anything like genius. Normal adults don't think about the problem of time and space, he once said. "That's above all the work of children. I, on the other hand, developed so very slowly that I first started to think about space and time as an adult. Naturally, I got deeper into the problem than an average child."

Physicist and pacifist

But the Nobel Prize winner had more on his mind than just questions of physics. Einstein fled Germany under the Nazi regime in 1932, never again to set foot on German soil. He moved to Princeton, New Jersey, where he worked at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton University.

einstein protrait aufghehellt
A portrait of a younger Einstein

A committed pacifist, Albert Einstein lobbied for a single world government. In the area of peace and conflict studies, Einstein's positions are still current, said Thomas Held of the German Foundation for Peace Studies. Einstein had spent a good deal of time contemplating what a political means to peace might be.

"He wasn't a pure pacifist," said Held. Einstein had also thought about the limits of civilian means toward peacekeeping, and had asked himself when the military would need to intervene. Thus Einstein, fearing the Germans would build atomic weapons, wrote a letter to then US President Franklin D. Roosevelt recommending the Americans build an atom bomb. It was a recommendation he later regretted.

Sommerhaus von Albert Einstein in Caputh
Einstein's summer house in Caputh, near Potsdam on Berlin's southwest side.Image: dpa

The Year of Einstein will be celebrated with exhibits, international conferences, the reopening of Einstein's summer house near Potsdam, and many other events related to the physicist. The activities will be sponsored by, among others, the Max Planck Institute and the Einstein Forum.

DW-TV is starting the Year of Einstein with a 12 part series. Every 14 days, the science program "Tomorrow Today" will have specials on Einstein's theories; the first is on the relativity of time, others will focus on topics like the speed of light.

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