|Posted by Egonne Roth on May 7, 2018 at 6:15 AM|
“The sailing ship, the distant view, the lonely walks in the autumn, the relative silence, it is paradise.”
Albert Einstein 1929
Visiting the homes of famous people is often an enriching experience. Mostly these homes fall into one of two categories: those where the owner did not anticipate public interest in their dwelling and those that from the beginning are designed with the knowledge that they have a place in history. This last is the case with Chaim Weizmann’s home in Rehovot, Israel and the home of his friend and co-religionist, Albert Einstein in Caputh outside Berlin.
Einstein’s home was originally planned to be a gift from the mayor and people of Berlin to the famous Nobel prize winner for his fiftieth birthday, but in the end, anti-Semitism in the council prevailed – this was after all 1929 – and Einstein paid for his own house. It is a double-storey wooden house designed by the architect, Konrad Wachsmann, who became a friend of Einstein and would five decades later be involved in the restoration of the house. From the upper deck the family could look down across the Caputh palace built in 1662 to the Schwielowsee and the Templinersee, where Einstein enjoyed booting and fishing.
Sadly he only lived in the house for three summers, each time from April to November. After the assassination of his friend, Walter Rathenau, he was warned that his life could also be in danger and he finally left Berlin ten years later in 1932. The tour guide told us many anecdotal stories of little importance, but one thing that he said that I remember is that Einstein supposedly said that he needed no paintings in the house and certainly not in his study – if he wanted to see art, he could go to one of the many art galleries of Berlin. Yet, he hosted many of the foremost artists of his day at the house on Waldstrasse – among them Elias Mandel Grossman, Max Lieberman, Kathe Kolwitz and Hermann Struck. In his study Einstein said he wanted no distractions; he simply needed blank paper and pen on his desk, the view across the green to the water and the absolute quiet.
Yet, the list of eminent guests makes one wonder when the great man had the quiet he so clearly wanted. Famous scientists such as Max Plank who had originally invited Einstein to work at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute, Max Born, Max von Laue, Fritz Haber, Walter Nernst and others came regularly. In 1920 Einstein had met Chaim Weizmann, later the first president of Israel and together the two men worked with others towards the establishment of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Einstein served on the first board of directors and gave the inaugural speech at Hebrew U in 1923, beginning in Hebrew but then continuing in French. As a result, Einstein and Weizmann became firm friends and the Weizmanns were also guests at Caputh. Also the Begali polymath, philosopher, musician and poet, Rabindranath Tagore, who had won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913, visited Einstein in July 1930. Such a profound conversation developed between these two men that it became the basis for the book, Science and the Indian Tradition: When Einstein Met Tagore.
Einstein’s biographer, Philipp Frank, recounts that as Einstein and his wife were leaving their house in Caputh on 6 December, 1932, Einstein said to her, “Before you leave our villa this time have a close look at it.” “Why?” she asked. “You will never see it again.” They did not return to or visit Germany again.
Today 70% of the house is owned by the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, who inherited 70% of Einstein’s total estate, and is administered by the Einstein Forum in Potsdam. On the Sunday that we visited there were two guides on duty. After our tour I asked them what had brought them to this job – I did not think it would be a very well-paid job – but I was unprepared for their answers, “Well, it’s obvious, isn’t it? We’re so good looking!” The inaneness of their response and their unwillingness to engage in a discussion about Einstein, the house and its visitors shocked me. I remembered the young man who led us though Chaim Weizmann’s house in Rehovot and the middle aged woman who spoke to us at David Ben Gurion’s humble kibbutz home in Sde Boker in the Negev in Israel. Anxious and mostly able to answer questions both these guides had shown an interest and enthusiasm for the homes and the original owners and they wanted to share that with us. In contrast, these guides at Einstein’s house seemed unwilling, or maybe unable, to answer questions and probably did not care much for the great man, Albert Einstein, who had once owned the house in Caputh. They should at least study the informative and attractive booklet sold at the house about its history. Albert Einstein deserves better.
Einstein the Renaissance man