By Bill Harby
In physics circles, 1905 is known as the “Annus mirabilis,” the “Miracle Year” of Albert Einstein’s astounding rush of discoveries in modern physics.
That year, the little-known 26-year-old genius, while working in Bern at his day job in the Swiss patent office, submitted his Ph.D. dissertation on the size of atoms, and published no less than four other ground-breaking academic papers that redefined our understanding of how the universe works. These articles included his most famous contribution to physics, the theory of the equivalence of energy and mass, a.k.a. the special theory of relativity, which we all know by its improbably simple, exquisite, haiku-like equation: E = mc2.
Today, at the Einsteinhaus museum in Bern’s medieval town centre, you can stand in the same quaint period-preserved room where young Albert thought such thoughts. He lived here on Kamgrasse with his son and first wife, Mileva Maric, whom he’d met as a fellow student at the Federal Polytechnic School in Zürich (now the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology). Even if you don’t quite get that Energy equals the mass x the speed of light, you’ll probably still be moved by standing where Albert had these eureka moments, gazing down onto the cobblestones and shops of Kramgasse, which were not so different then as they are today.
We learn this and much more at both Einsteinhaus and, across the Aare River, at the much larger Einstein Museum within the Bern Historical Museum. Here there are several rooms exhibiting original documents, scientific instruments, photos and videos that show Albert’s German family roots, his early failures as a student, his emerging intellect as a student in Aarau and Zürich, his family life – or rather, lives – and the turbulent times in which he lived (1879 – 1955). Here we learn of Einstein’s later commitment to a Jewish Homeland (though he declined Israel’s request to be President), and his activism to contain the use of nuclear weapons. We also see that, all his life, Albert was a man who loved women.
Albert Einstein was nothing less than the mason of the foundations of modern cosmology. No wonder he was named Time magazine’s “Person of the Century” in 1999. His most seminal ideas were born as a student in Zürich and a young physicist in Bern. Just to walk where he walked is inspiring.
Address: Second floor of Kramgasse 49, 3011 Bern, Switzerland
Opening hours: Mon to Sun, 10am to 5pm – closed 24 Dec to 31 Jan, and three other days.
Entry cost: Adults CHF 6, Children (6 – 15) CHF 4.50.