Harnack House

Berlin, Germany

Harnack House

The Harnack House (German: Harnack-Haus) in the Dahlem district of Berlin, Germany was opened in 1929 as a centre for German scientific and intellectual life. Located in the intellectual colony of Dahlem, seat of the Free University Berlin, it was founded by the Kaiser Wilhelm Gesellschaft (KWG) on the initiative of its first president, the theologian Adolf von Harnack, and of its then chairman, Friedrich Glum. The project was supported politically by the Weimar Republic Chancellor Wilhelm Marx and Foreign Minister Gustav Stresemann, and an influential Centre Party deputy Georg Schreiber. The land for its construction was donated by the state of Prussia, and the costs of building and furnishing the house were defrayed partly by the government (which contributed 1.5 million marks), and partly by public subscription (which raised about 1.3 million marks).

The original purpose of the Harnack House was to provide a conference centre and visitor accommodation for major events designed to promote German science and overcome the isolation that German academics suffered after the First World War. Many notable German scientists resided or worked there, including Nobel prize winners Fritz Haber, Otto Hahn and Albert Einstein. After the Nazis' seizure of power in 1933 the House fell under their influence, for example becoming the seat of the Reichsfilmarchiv. However prominent members of the KWG did not always comply with the Nazi agenda; for example in 1935 the Harnack House was the scene of a major commemoration of the life of Fritz Haber, led by Max Planck, despite the fact that Haber had been exiled by the Nazis because of his Jewish origins. In 1941 Planck in a public lecture at the House warned of the consequences for humanity of attempts to split the atom, despite the ongoing German nuclear energy project, sponsored by the German government, led by Werner Heisenberg and based at one of the KWG institutes.

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