In February 1902 Albert Einstein wrote to his fiancée Mileva Maric: “It’s delightful here in Bern. An ancient, exquisitely cozy city, in which one can live exactly as in Zurich. Very old arcades stretch along both sides of the streets, so that one can go from one end of the city to the other in the worst rain without getting noticeably wet. The homes are uncommonly clean, I saw this everywhere yesterday when I was looking for a room.”
Later in the same letter he wrote: “I have a large beautiful room with a very comfortable sofa. It only costs 23 fr. This is not much, after all. In addition, 6 upholstered chairs and 3 wardrobes. One could hold a meeting in it.”
And he enclosed a sketch of the room with letters marking the position of the “little bed”, the “little picture”, the “magnificent chair”, the “magnificent mirror”, the “chamber pot & table”, etc. [This letter is in The Collected Papers of Albert Einstein, published 2006 by Princeton University Press, page 191.]
In the winter semester of 1961/62 I lived in the same house on the same floor (maybe even in the same room??) and for the same reasons: it was available and cheap. When I lived there it was unfortunately somewhat damp, which I imagine was also the case in Einstein’s time.
A plaque at the entrance notes that “Einstein wrote his paper on molecular forces 1902 at Gerechtigkeitsgasse 32, in his first frugal room in Bern.” The full title of that paper was “On the Thermodynamic Theory of the Difference in Potentials between Metals and Fully Dissociated Solutions of Their Salts and On an Electrical Method for Investigating Molecular Forces.” Einstein himself later dismissed this early paper as “worthless” and said he would never have published it if he had known that two other scientists had already covered the same ground — but physicists today seem to consider it a useful warming-up exercise for the explosion of revolutionary papers that Einstein was to write a mere three years later, in his miraculous year of 1905.
Gerechtigkeit by the way means “justice, fairness, equity”, so I liked to think I was living in “Justice Lane” or “Equity Lane”. In the 21st century this is theoretically a pedestrian zone, but residents are allowed to drive and park here, so the street has largely degenerated into a parking lot for motor vehicles. The blue UEFA flags have to do with the football (soccer) championships which were being held in several Swiss cities in the summer of 2008.
As soon as he could afford it, Einstein moved from the Gerechtigkeitsgasse 32 about 500 meters up the hill to Kramgasse 49, where he and Mileva lived from 1903 to 1905. Actually these are both the same street in the center of the Old Town of Bern — the name of the street just changes about halfway up.
Their apartment in the Kramgasse has recently been “restored in the style of that period to reflect Einstein’s stay in Bern” and is open to the public.
This is where he wrote his revolutionary 1905 paper on the light quantum and the photoelectric effect (for which he was many years later awarded the Nobel Prize in physics), as well as his doctoral thesis on a new determination of molecular dimensions, two papers on Brownian motion and two on special relativity — the second of which contained his now-famous formula E = mc2 showing that Energy is equal to Mass times the square of the speed of light.
One of the text panels in the Einstein House, with a quotation from Stephen W. Hawking, who was the first person to be awarded the Einstein Medal (in 1979): “The special theory of relativity has stood the test of time because it explains why the speed of light appears to be the same to all observers, and it describes what happens when objects move at speeds nearing the speed of light.”
Here’s my favorite book on Einstein: Subtle is the Lord… The Science and the Life of Albert Einstein by Abraham Pais, published 1982 by Oxford University Press — just don’t ask me to explain the equations, okay?
The book’s title refers to a famous Einstein quotation from the year 1921: Raffiniert ist der Herrgott, aber boshaft ist Er nicht. This is usually translated as: The Lord is subtle, but He is not malicious.
My photos in this post are from 2008. I revised the text in 2017.
See also: Palace of Discovery in Paris.