Einstein in Ulm

This inconspicuous monument in a pedestrian zone in the center of Ulm is supposed to symbolize the apartment building where the physicist Albert Einstein was born on March 14, 1879.

The building was quite new at the time of Einstein’s birth, since it had been constructed only eight years earlier, in 1871. It was destroyed by aerial bombings during the Second World War, in December 1944, along with many other buildings in Ulm.

Einstein only lived here for the first year-and-a-half of his life, after which his family moved to Munich. It is unclear if he ever returned to Ulm after that, but if so it was only for brief visits.

In 1929, on the occasion of Einstein’s 50th birthday, the city of Ulm named a street after him. Einstein was somewhat amused by this, and wrote to the mayor: “I have already heard about the street named after me. My comforting thought was that I am not responsible for whatever is going to happen there.”

When the Nazis came to power in 1933, they re-named the street because Einstein was Jewish — they called it Fichtestraße after the German nationalist philosopher Johann Gottlieb Fichte (1763-1814). After the war in 1945, the city changed it back to Einsteinstraße.

For Einstein’s 125th birthday the city of Ulm commissioned the Austrian composer Dirk D’Ase (born 1960) to write an opera called Einstein in Amerika, which was first performed at the Ulm City Theater on March 18, 2004.

The Adult Education Center (VHS) in Ulm is in a building called the Einstein House.

Today there is nobody named Einstein in the Ulm telephone book. But there is a secondary school named after him, and a pharmacy, and a small business called Einsteins Lernwerkstaat (Einstein’s Learning Workshop), which offers individual tutoring for pupils who are falling behind in school. Because of Ulm’s location on the border of two German states, this workshop offers “tutoring for both the Baden-Württemberg and the Bavarian school systems.” And during the coronavirus pandemic they provide “individual tutoring in large rooms with lots of fresh air!”

Sun in cans, 2005

In 2005 several temporary tin-can monuments were set up in Ulm to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Einstein’s theory of Special Relativity. But the main purpose of these tin cans seems to have been to advertise local solar energy projects, and the connection to Einstein was tenuous at best.

My photos in this post are from 2005. I revised the text in 2021.

See more posts on Ulm, Germany.
See more posts on the physicist Albert Einstein (1879-1955).

9 thoughts on “Einstein in Ulm”

  1. Very fascinated to hear about the birthplace of Einstein, one of the most-famous physicists in history. It’s also very surprising to hear that no one (at least in Ulm) possesses his surname; I guess he nor his family left behind any descendants? All the same, it’s enriching to learn about the birthplaces of some of the greatest thinkers in history, and it’d be neat to check out Ulm for that reason!

    1. Einstein and his older son both left Germany in the 1930s to escape the Nazis. I’ve read that in 2014 his five great-grandchildren were living in Israel, France, Switzerland and two in California. (But I don’t know how accurate that is.)

    2. If I were called Einstein and lived in Ulm I’d certainly have my name removed from the telephone directory. I expect there’s a whole colony of them with frizzy hairdos and moustaches, hiding from tourists behind lampposts or on top of public sculptures. The Max Bill snapped here by Nemorino is interesting – there are 24 granite slabs, 12 horizontal for the hours of daylight and 12 vertical for nighttime. There is also a whacky sculpture by Jürgen Goertz depicting Einstein as a snail emerging from its shell – tongue stuck out irreverently as in the famous photo. Not everyone’s cup of tea, but apparently the kids love it and want to know more about him after seeing it – Einstein would probably aporove, given his remark that he was surprised curiosity ever outlived formal education. The sub-Warhiol tin cans are pretty dire. One wonders about the final resting places of paraphernalia like this.

      1. I didn’t realize that monument was by Max Bill. Thanks for the info. I’ve taken some photos of sculptures by Jürgen Goertz (like the S-Printing Horse in Heidelberg) but haven’t posted them here yet.

  2. Interesting post, Don.

    To my shame I had never even heard of Ulm until I read this never mind that “the Brain” was born there. Sorry, but I don’t think much of his monument but you know my feelings about modern art.

  3. It’s good that Ulm commemorates its famous son but I’m not sure about that monument, it seems it bit disconnected from its purpose to me.

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