Out of this world – with the courage to become an icon |

Erich Mendelsohn was already drawing the first sketches for the Einstein tower on the western front. His friend, the astrophysicist Erwin Finlay-Freundlich, had introduced him to the theory of relativity and asked him to build a building on the site of the Potsdam astrophysical observatory in which the theories …

Erich Mendelsohn was already drawing the first sketches for the Einstein tower on the western front. His friend, the astrophysicist Erwin Finlay-Freundlich, had acquainted him with the theory of relativity and commissioned him to construct a building on the site of the Potsdam astrophysical observatory, in which Einstein’s theories are to be proven. But because Germany lost World War I, the project stalled. In November 1919, the Royal Society and the Royal Astronomical Society announced in London that British researchers had succeeded in proving the theory of relativity. Did that mean that the spectacular project on the Telegrafenberg in Potsdam is dead?

You’re kidding, you’re serious when you say that! Germany cannot accept any such thing. Should the nemesis, England, have the advantage? With nationalist words, Freundlich calls for donations. If experimental evidence is no longer needed, the tower should at least become a memorial to Einstein in order to rehabilitate German research. Scientists like Max Planck are supporting the campaign, which is supposed to bring in half a million marks. Erich Mendelsohn, who lived from 1887 to 1953, returned to work in 1920.

He wants to “overcome” the “heaviness and inertia” of the mass of the building with its tower, he explains in a conference at the Arbeitsrat für Kunst, “and squeeze all the energy into the home, into the energy point of its own space “, in order to express Einstein’s rental theory. To do this, he plans a bold and futuristic construction made of a new type of formwork concrete.

It was not until July 7, 1920, a week before construction began, that the sketch with the final appearance became available. But problems arise quickly. Visionary design calls building authorities to action. Friendly must convey. Inflation affects the cost of building materials. And then, for technical reasons, Mendelsohn’s plan to build the tower entirely in concrete fails and he has to build the inner skeleton of bricks. He will therefore never be satisfied with his work and will always publish the building section in magazines where no bricks have been used. The tower will be built in just twelve months. On August 24, 1921, the exterior appearance was completed and a small-scale inauguration took place; the work inside and the installation of technical equipment took another three years, so that the building would not be returned to its intended use until December 1924..

Inside the 20-meter-high tower is a tube well in which mirrors direct the light beams to the laboratories arranged horizontally. The objective is to demonstrate how gravity shifts the color spectrum of light. Under the dome is a telescope modeled on the Mount Wilson Solar Observatory near Pasadena. Even more so than for Einstein, who received the Nobel Prize in physics in 1921, Erich Mendelsohn (who would later also build the Schocken department store in Chemnitz) made a monument to himself with the tower. Only a few weeks after the completion of the outer shell, the Einstein Tower was the subject of specialist international publications. To this day, the building, which is generally attributed to Expressionism, but for which Mendelsohn drew inspiration from Art Nouveau architects such as Joseph Maria Olbrich or Henry van de Velde, misses no glimpse of the architecture of the Twentieth century. It is an icon of modern architecture.

The tower, which the German-American writer Herman George Scheffauer called the “glittering crypt of modern alchemists and magicians”, looked out of this world. However, only five years after completion, cracks appeared in the concrete of the facade due to the different building materials. In 1937, the prism spectrograph had to be enlarged due to humidity and fungal attack in the building. Since then there have been repeated restorations (1940, 1950, 1958, 1964, 1974 to 1978, 1984, 1997 to 1999). These construction flaws do not change the brilliance of the Einstein Tower. It has remained intact to this day.

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