Friday, 2 April 2010

Einstein A Go Go!

The sleepy village of Caputh lies between the lakes Schwielowsee and Templinersee, both on the River Havel, about 6km SW of Potsdam. We visited it on a sunny Good Friday (Karfreitag in German) using a combination of S-Bahn and red Regional trains; it is just inside zone C on the Berlin transport network, about as far as you can go for the price of a ticket from our home in Basdorf.

The Bahnhof is shared with Geltow, Caputh's poorer cousin, and to reach Caputh itself you either have to take a cable ferry the short distance to the other side, or walk a twenty minute detour down the river bank and across a railway bridge. We took the ferry - it's only fifty cents per person and runs back-and-forth continuously. The current ferry boat is called Tussy II, and apparently the ferry has been running this trip since 1853. It would be no big enterprise to replace it with a bridge, but thankfully this quaint operation is still running. Oh, and yes, that is a bush with eggs planted on top of the cabin - it is Easter after all!

If you are in a car then you are forced to take the ferry or suffer a much longer detour. For some reason, there were half a dozen Ferraris waiting to cross from Caputh.

Caputh didn't seem a Ferrari type of place, except that you probably need a bit of money to afford a lakeside villa and mooring rites for your yacht.

There were plenty of people out on The Havel this Good Friday holiday; I particularly liked the name of this one - 'Be Cool !'

And Caputh is a pretty laid back, leisurely kind of place. A large proportion of the houses are for rent during the holiday season. And in fact one famous resident lived here with his wife, in a house he had built himself, every summer between 1929 and 1932. That person was Albert Einstein, taking a break from his duties as head of the newly founded Kaiser-Wilhelm-Institute of Physics in Berlin, and working on his Unified Field Theory. (The rest of the year they spent in their city flat in Berlin in Haberlandstrasse 5) .

We were going to visit his house (signposted das Einsteinhaus - natch!) but first we walked through idyllic Caputh, as his Summer house lay on the edge of the village, up by the tree-line.

There are some colourful houses in Caputh to look at; this is a writer's workshop:

By the way, the chalked inscription above the door, 20+C+M+B+10, isn't some arcane formula from nuclear physiscs. It is something you often see in Catholic parts of Germany, and was chalked there on Epiphany by wandering kids pretending to be the three wise men. So you have the year at either end, and the initials of said Eastern Soothsayers: Caspar, Melchior and Balthazar (C+M+B). Or, you also have the abbreviation of the Latin phrase 'Christus mansionem benedicat', may Christ Bless the House. Neat huh? Except it is unlucky to clean it off your door-mantle all year, and you also have to give the kids presents instead of the other way around.

Other houses look like the renovation-work has only been half-completed:

Whilst others are just plain weird:

Well, it makes a change from having a plastic gnome in the garden I suppose.

The grandest building though is the inevitable Schloss:

Built in 1621, it was presented in 1671 to his second wife Dorothea by the Great Elector of Brandenburg, Friedrich Wilhelm, who got the builders and decorators in, and made the house into a prestigious and sumptuous Summer residence. Friedrich I, King in Prussia, also enjoyed Summer retreats here, and so no doubt did many other Friedrichs and Wilhelms after him.

More resonant in my mind for previous residents is a pre-fabricated wooden house, built to a simple Bauhaus design (one of the earliest) a short way up a hill above Caputh, overlooking the lake Templinersee. It was here that Einstein, his wife Elsa, and many visitors including prominent cutting-edge physicists, spent three idyllic summers.

Here is a view of the house from the road:

And a side view of the house:

Einstein might have spent many more Summers there, but of course a certain Herr H and his anti-Semitic NSDAP party seized absolute control of Germany in January 1933. On March 20th the Nazis searched Einstein's summer house for an alleged cache of Communist party weapons. On April 1st a national boycott of Jewish-owned businesses was declared. In mid-April Einstein's Berlin flat was searched by the Nazis. On 10th of May on Babelplatz in Berlin, a mass book burning ceremony of works containing 'un-German' thoughts was held by members of the S.A. ("brownshirts") and Nazi youth groups, on the instigation of the Propaganda Minister, Joseph Goebbels. Einstein's works were amongst those burnt. He had spent the Winter in Pasadena, California with his wife, and it was from there that he declared on 10th March 1933:
"As long as it is possible for me I only will stay in a country in which political freedom, tolerance and equality of all citizens are stated in the law. (…) These conditions are nowadays not fulfilled in Germany."
Einstein renounced his German citizenship, and never set foot on German soil again. In July 1933 his German properties and remaining finances and possessions were seized by the Nazis, including the summer house.

Poignantly, the house was for a while used to accommodate children from the neighbouring Jewish school and orphanage. The progressive teacher who operated the children's home, Gertrude Feiertag, was to die in Auschwitz in 1943. Today the children's home has been renamed after Ann Frank.

So, we had lots to think about as we made our way back to Caputh-Geltow station (this time over the railway/foot bridge) and the journey home (the long way round via Schönefeld airport). A very enjoyable day, with lots of potential for future exploration, especially if we take our bikes.

p.s. For those who know a bit of German, yes Caputh is indeed pronounced the same way as 'kaputt', but it wasn't at all broken or washed out!


  1. WOW .. this is such a beautiful place !

  2. Nice day trip. We'll have to "trip" over there sometime. We've been diving in Schwielowsee, but I never knew about the Einstein House.
    Thanks for the info.


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