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Museum celebrates 20 years of paying homage to physics genius

One of Switzerland's smallest museums, the Einstein House in the capital Berne, is celebrating 20 years of paying homage to one of the biggest names in the world of physics: Albert Einstein.

This content was published on November 24, 1999 - 09:56

One of Switzerland's smallest museums is celebrating 20 years of paying homage to one of the biggest names in the world of physics. It is in the three-room apartment where Albert Einstein spent two productive years working on -- among other things -- his theory of relativity.

The museum is so discreetly located in the old quarter of Berne that many local residents do not even know of its existence. Yet thousands of non-Swiss manage to find it, making it in terms of its size one of Berne's most popular museums for foreign visitors.

"The name 'Albert Einstein' still has a fascinating ring for people all over the world," said guide Barbara Bürki. "And that's why we get visitors from all over the world."

Last year, one-fifth of the 10,000 visitors to the museum were North Americans, with significant numbers also coming from Japan and the United Kingdom.

The museum is above a restaurant, on the third floor of a narrow building looking down on to a cobbled street. The plaque outside the street door is small. There is not much room for a bigger one so it is easy to walk straight past.

But should you spot it, go through the door, climb a spiral staircase to the second floor and you will find yourself in a time warp: An apartment little changed since Einstein lived there with his family for just two years.

Einstein, who was born in the German city of Ulm in 1879, spent seven years in Berne, arriving there in 1902, a year after acquiring Swiss nationality.

He had arrived in Switzerland as a 16-year-old student. Graduation followed a two-year search for a job, which ended in 1902 with the offer of a position at the patent office in Berne.

"When he came to Berne he was a nobody, which you can tell from how long it took him to get a job. Nobody was interested in Albert Einstein at that time," said Bürki.

But not for long. One of the museum exhibits is the desk on which Einstein wrote some 30 scientific papers, including the one on his theory of relativity.

Time has stood still on the second floor of the Einstein House at Kramgasse 49. The wallpaper is fading and the ceilings are ornate in the style of the late 19th century. A gas lamp suspended from the ceiling is no longer in use but otherwise the apartment is just as it was while Einstein worked at his desk.

In the museum office on the floor below, there's a computer. Bürki believes that if Einstein had worked on a similar computer, it would have made little difference to his work.

"The bulk of his work happened in his mind. I think he would have put his work on a computer, but his main tool was a pen," she said.

From SRI staff.

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