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Einstein in Berlin – Part V: a crucial year, 1919 – by ‘OTA-Berlin Constituency Blog’ contributor Aant Elzinga

October 12th, 2010
Einstein in Berlin - OTA-Berlin

Einstein in Berlin - OTA-Berlin


The year 1919 was an important one in Einstein’s life. Two events occurred in the span of less than a week.

The first was on the 29th of May, the second on the 2nd of June.

On that first date the British astronomer Arthur Eddington’s two parallel solar eclipse expeditions succeeded in photographing images of distant stars in the field of vision around the darkened sun.

Arthur Stanley Eddington

Arthur Stanley Eddington - foto Wikipedia

The observations when later processed confirmed Einstein’s claim that light could bend in the gravitational field of massy bodies – like the sun – exactly as predicted by his general theory of relativity.

After two august bodies, the Royal Society of London and the British Astronomical Society vouched for the accuracy of Eddington’s result the New York Times and other major newspapers in November 1919 carried the story – Einstein’s theory confirmed, Newton surpassed.

A new Copernicus had arrived on the scene.

Overnight he became a world celebrity, comparable to a rock-star nowadays.

 The second event, June 2, 1919 was Albert Einstein’s marriage with Elsa Löwenthal, his cousin, who now became the new Mrs Einstein.

In March the divorce papers had come through from Switzerland, releasing Einstein from the legal bond with his former wife Mileva Maric.

Having kept separate apartments Albert and Elsa now could finally move in together in one apartment on the fourth floor of the five-story house on Haberlandgasse 5 in Berlin.

 In the attic on the fifth floor in the wall on one side a large hole was cut for a window to let in plenty of light into what was turned into a spacious study with a desk, easy chair, table and lots of shelves for books and papers.

A large portrait of Isaac Newton hung on the wall not far from the desk.

This, his attic flat or study is where Einstein spent much of his time during the next thirteen years.

It was hallowed territory where no one, not even his new wife or her daughters were allowed to disturb him except when he approved it.

In the apartment below Elsa acted as a gatekeeper screening visitors and sending away people who might come to the door to ask for advice or money, demonstrate a home baked invention or produce a scientific manuscript with an eccentric slant, or perhaps request a letter of recommendation from the famous physicist.

Mileva Maric for her part had a smart Swiss lawyer who helped draft the final conditions of the divorce settlement.

One of the stipulations was that if and when Albert Einstein got the Nobel Prize the money was to go to her.

It was to be sent on from Berlin to her bank account in Zürich to support her and the two sons.

They were not exactly betting on an uncertainty because after the war Einstein too, like many close colleagues, was clear about the fact that sooner or later he would be recognized. And so, too, it turned out.

After many rejections he was finally awarded the physics prize for the year 1921 in the year 1922. The tortuous road to the prize and why it was not given for his relativity theory is an interesting story in its own right (see part IX of Einstein in Berlin)

The point here is that when he got the prize the money was duly turned over to Mileva. It was a substantial sum with which she bought a couple of large apartment houses in Zürich, lived in one of the apartments, and renting out the rest as a source of steady income.

Some feminist scholars in recent years, together with Serbian nationalists, have argued that Mileva Maric should also have received some of the honor of recognition attached to the Nobel prize for her role in early discussions and the checking of her husband’s calculations when the newly wed couple lived in Bern during the gestation period of the special theory of relativity.

Historians of science have not found sufficient grounds to substantiate the speculations behind such claims.

That the material benefits of the Nobel Prize ended up in Switzerland with Maric may nevertheless be seen, as recognition of a moral debt Einstein owed his former wife and family.


Aant Elzinga, Einstein’s Nobel Prize. A Glimpse Behind Closed Doors (2006). http://www.shpusa.com/books/einsteinsnobel.html

REVIEWS about Aant Elzinga’s book -

“…In tandem with the revival of quantum scepticism in physics, his (Elzinga’s) book helps us recover Einstein’s story from the tendentious interpretation of it that has gone unchallenged far too long.”—BJHS

“…The great value of Einstein’s Nobel Prize is its detailed analysis of relevant documents showing how the academy managed to give Einstein the prize despite his work on relativity,…”—Isis

“…one of his accomplishments with the book under review is that it brings attention to historical works published in Swedish and thus inaccessible to many people. His translation feat is thus of great importance in both directions when it comes to Einstein and the Nobel Prize. But most importantly he adds his own research and insights and makes his own careful explanation of how Einstein got the Nobel Prize — and how the Nobel got Einstein for that matter. Anyone interested in Einstein or the Nobel institution should read this book.”—Nuncius


Further reading: Thomas Levenson, Einstein in Berlin (New York: Bantom Books 2003).

Aant Elzinga, Einstein’s Nobel Prize. A Glimpse Behind Closed Doors (2006). http://www.shpusa.com/books/einsteinsnobel.html

For information about the Nobel Prize in Physics- http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/physics/shortfacts.html


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