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A close-up look at Einstein's genius

Changing portraits of Einstein in the staircase of the Historical Museum in Bern Keystone

The biggest-ever exhibition on the life and times of Albert Einstein has opened in the Swiss capital, Bern.

This content was published on June 15, 2005 - 17:49

It is being held to mark the fact that it was exactly 100 years ago that the scientist came up with some of his most famous theories while living and working in the city.

In 1905 Einstein published a series of groundbreaking papers that changed the way the universe was considered.

Yet it wasn’t within the confines of a laboratory that he made his discoveries, but while he was working as a clerk as the Swiss Patent Office in Bern.

The ten-month long exhibition at Bern’s Historical Museum aims to document both Einstein’s work and his complex life, while also providing some historical background.

"We wanted to makes things as understandable as possible," said Peter Jezler, the exhibition’s organiser. "It should appeal to all ages and visitors should be able to take as little or as much time as they want to see it."

Everyday life

Einstein’s life is shown through documents, letters, newspaper articles, photos and everyday objects, like his desk from the patent office.

A tea towel from the home of Einstein’s parents in Ulm, Germany, proclaims: "Work brings blessings". No doubt the young Einstein read – and meditated - it many times, well before he became a superstar in the world of science.

The physicist’s turbulent marriages and his behaviour towards his children are also highlighted, as well as his Jewish origins.

His relationship with Switzerland and the rest of the world, plus his opinions on war and social and economic issues are also considered.

The highpoint of the exhibition is the view from the museum tower room. From there, visitors can see where Einstein lived in Bern from 1902 to 1909.

Also provided are 120 documentary videos putting the scientist’s life into historical perspective, covering everything from the First World War to the creation of Israel.

Understanding the universe

The second part of the exhibition is devoted to Einstein’s work. Computer animations explain his revolutionary theories and their effect on our understanding of the universe.

Jezler is confident that visitors, even those not so familiar with physics, will find the exhibition accessible.

"My daughter is in fifth year at primary school and she understood it," he told swissinfo.

In addition, a special outdoor historical exhibit charts the discoveries made in this field of physics before Einstein’s so-called "miracle year" in 1905.

Impressive

Most impressive is the virtual trip from Einstein’s home to the patent office on a bicycle. Using a home trainer and a video projection, visitors can see how moving at the speed of light changes one’s perspective.

The installation was designed with help from Tübingen University in Germany and Zurich’s Federal Institute of Technology. According to Jezler, it is "the very best in current visualisation technology".

The organisers say that the exhibition is the biggest Einstein event ever. Its SFr7.2 million ($5.7 million) budget also makes it one of the most ambitious cultural displays staged in Switzerland.

The museum expects 150,000 visitors to come to the exhibition, many of them from out of town. "Experience has shown us that usually a quarter of the visitors are from abroad, half of them are locals, and the rest other Swiss," said Jezler.

swissinfo, Andreas Keiser

In brief

Bern is honouring physicist Albert Einstein (1879-1955) with a special exhibition at the city’s Historical Museum on the revolutionary discoveries he made while living in the Swiss capital.

The event opens on June 16 and will last until April 17, 2006.

The exhibition, which cost SFr7.2 million to set up, aims to explain Einstein’s life and work.

With 2,500 square metres of floor space, it is the biggest Einstein exhibition ever.

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