Bright Minds of the Past  

Bright Minds
of the Past

Overview Bright Minds of the Past

Bright Minds of the Past

Georgius Agricola

Georgius Agricola (1494–1555) is known as "the father of mineralogy" for his accomplishments in the field. He was a polymath and studied philology at Leipzig University from 1514 to 1518. During this time, a professor from Leipzig advised him to Latinise his last name Pawer (which meant "farmer" in Early New High German). After his studies, he worked as assistant head and head of the school in Zwickau. In 1522, he studied medicine in Leipzig, and afterwards he lived in Italy until 1526. In 1531, he became town physician in Chemnitz where he was also elected mayor several times. He was appointed historiographer at the court of Maurice of Saxony and he did research in the fields of medicine, pharmacy, alchemy, philology and politics, among others.

Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach

Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (1714–1788) is considered one of the most important composers of the time between the baroque and Viennese classical era. He studied jurisprudence at Leipzig University from 1731 to 1734. When his father Johann Sebastian Bach came to Leipzig in 1723 to work as a cantor, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach entered the St. Thomas School. The fact that several of his works were printed or published in Leipzig and that he applied for the position of cantor at St. Thomas shows how attached Bach's most famous son was to the city of Leipzig. After building up a reputation as an esteemed clavichord player all over Europe, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach died in Hamburg in 1788.

Ernst Bloch

Ernst Bloch (1885–1977) was a German philosopher. After studying philosophy, physics and German philology in Würzburg, he wrote his doctoral thesis about problems with modern epistemology in 1908. After the Nazi seizure of power, Bloch was denaturalised because of his Jewish roots. After living in exile in Switzerland, Czechoslovakia and the USA, he came back to Germany when he was offered a chair in philosophy at Leipzig in 1948. Even though he became a sort of political philosopher in the following years, he adopted an increasingly critical stance towards the Socialist Unity Party's regime as political developments took place. After he became emeritus for political reasons in 1957, he did not return from a visit to West Germany after the construction of the Wall in 1961. He was known for his solidarity with the student movement of 1968 and for his friendship with Rudi Dutschke.

Christian Führer

Christian Führer (1943–2014) was pastor at the St. Nicholas Church in Leipzig until his retirement in 2008. He was a leading figure and organiser of the peace prayers at St. Nicholas Church that led to the Monday demonstrations, which played an important part in the Peaceful East German Revolution and in the decline and fall of the GDR. Christian Führer studied theology at Leipzig University from 1961 to 1965. 1995 he was awarded the Officer's Cross of the Federal Republic of Germany. In 2014, he received the National Prize along with Christoph Wonneberger and Uwe Schwabe as representatives for the Monday demonstrations of Leipzig in memory of the Peaceful Revolution in the GDR and the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832) is considered one of the most renowned writers of German history, especially of Weimar Classicism. Goethe was not only a poet, but also a theatre manager, natural scientist, art theoretician and statesman. He was born in Frankfurt and created world literature with his works "The Sorrows of Young Werther" and "Faust". The scenes of "Faust" take place in Leipzig, which was probably inspired by his studying jurisprudence at Leipzig University from 1765 to 1767. In the play, he has one of the characters say the following: "I praise my Leipzig! It is a small Paris and educates its people!" After numerous travels to Italy and bequeathing a legacy of great literary merit, Goethe died in Weimar in 1832.

Johann Christoph Gottsched

Johann Christoph Gottsched (1700–1766) was born in Juditten/East Prussia. He studied theology and, later on, philosophy in Königsberg (Kaliningrad) and became an admirer of Christian Wolff, a philosopher of German Enlightenment. Gottsched fled to Leipzig in 1724 in order to avoid being drafted into Frederick William I of Prussia's household troops.

This is where he joined the "German Poetic Society" whose president he soon became. At his behest, the society changed its name to "German Society in Leipzig" and followed his aims of reforming the German language and German literature. Gottsched published the first successful German moral weeklies and became associate professor for poetics as well as professor for logic and metaphysics at Leipzig University in 1730 and 1734, respectively.

Werner Heisenberg

Werner Heisenberg was professor for theoretical physics at Leipzig University from 1927 to 1942. In 1927, he published his uncertainty principle. Among various other research findings of the time, he contributed to nuclear physics (introduction of the isospin) and developed a theory of ferromagnetism (exchange interaction in Heisenberg ferromagnet, 1928). Along with Wolfgang Pauli, Heisenberg did pioneering work in quantum field theory. In the 1940s, he studied not only nuclear fission but also cosmic rays and the resulting particle showers. In 1932, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics. Heisenberg had a significant influence on 20th century physics. He died in Munich in 1976.

Gustav Ludwig Hertz

Gustav Ludwig Hertz (1887–1975) and James Franck received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1925 for their experiments on electron collisions in 1912/1913. From 1920 to 1925, Hertz managed the physical laboratory of the Philips Incandescent Lamp Factory in Eindhoven. In 1935, he lost the authorization to test students because of his Jewish roots, so he became director of the Siemens Research Laboratory II in Berlin. While there, he made new discoveries in atomic research. In later years, he was head of the physical institute in Leipzig (1954-1961) as well as editor of a standard work in three volumes on atomic physics.

Erich Kästner

The writer and comedian Erich Kästner (1899–1974) studied history, philosophy, German philology and dramatics at the Alma mater Lipsiensis. He paid for his studies by working as a theatre critic for the "Neue Leipziger Zeitung". In 1925, the newspaper offered him a full-time job and he soon made a name for himself with his witty children's books and his humorous and critical articles and poems. In 1927, Kästner left Leipzig and moved to Berlin. Later on, he lived in Munich.

Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz

Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646–1716) was a universal mind in the 17th and 18th century. As a philosopher, scientist, mathematician, diplomat, physicist, historian, politician, librarian and jurist, he is considered a mastermind of the Enlightenment period. Leibniz was born on 1 July 1646 in Leipzig and went to school at the Schola Nikolaitana before he studied philosophy at Leipzig University from 1661 to 1663. He stayed at the University to study jurisprudence and wrote his doctoral thesis in Altdorf in 1667. In the course of his life, Leibniz travelled to European capitals such as Rome, Paris, London and Vienna, had close relationships to nobility and achieved fame even during his lifetime. His discovery of the theory of calculus is seen as one of his most important findings. After his career as president of the Royal Prussian Academy of Sciences and member of the French Academy of Sciences, Leibniz died from a debilitating stone disease in Hanover on 14 November 1716.

Karl Liebknecht

Karl Liebknecht (1871–1919) was a prominent representative of a Marxist and antimilitarist movement in the German Empire and is considered a trailblazer for the Weimar Republic. He was born in Leipzig and studied law and economics at Leipzig University from 1890 to 1893.
He is famous for the formation of the Spartacist League and the Communist Party of Germany (KPD).
In 1919, members of the ultraconservative paramilitary group "Guards Cavalry Division" murdered Liebknecht and his fellow campaigner Rosa Luxemburg in Berlin.

Theodor Mommsen

Theodor Mommsen (1817–1903) was one of the most renowned German historians. His research focused on classical studies and on the Roman Empire in particular. His contributions to research were rewarded when he received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1902, among other accolades. In 1848, Mommsen started pursuing an academic career at Leipzig University as professor for jurisprudence. After three years of teaching, he was forced to resign in 1851 because he had taken part in the May Uprising in Dresden in 1849. During Mommsen's time as a professor, he was member of the Royal Saxonian Society for the Sciences.

Thomas Müntzer

Thomas Müntzer was a theologian, reformer and revolutionary during the Peasants' War. He was born in the village of Stolberg in the Harz Mountains in 1489 and started studying at Leipzig University in 1506. His theology combined spiritual, Anabaptist, apocalyptic and social-revolutionary elements on a mystic basis. In his published liturgies, he tried to take the Latin clerical chants (late mediaeval Gregorianics) that were introduced to Allstedt and translate them relatively literally into German. Müntzer was one of the pioneers of German-language church services in Central Germany. He was not only zealous for everyone to be fearful of God, but as a God-fearing man, he believed in social justice. As a pastor, Müntzer started out as an enthusiastic supporter and admirer of Martin Luther. However, Luther distanced himself from Müntzer at the beginning of the Peasants' War because of the latter's radical social-revolutionary endeavors and his spiritualist theology that became apparent in a number of spirited texts and sermons. Müntzer was beheaded at the gates of Mühlhausen on 27 May.

Wolfgang Natonek

Wolfgang Natonek (3 October 1919 – 21 January 1994), born in Leipzig, was a German student politician who became known for his opposition to the GDR regime. He was member of the Liberal Democratic Party of Germany (LDPD) and chairman of Leipzig University's students' union. In 1949, a Soviet court martial sentenced him to 25 years of hard labour for trying to mobilise the masses in 1948. After he was released, Natonek worked as a German and history teacher in Göttingen, where he died at the age of 74 in 1994.

Friedrich Nietzsche

Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900) was one of the most important German philosophers. He did not only write philosophical, but also philological, lyrical and musical works. In these works, he criticised morality, religion, philosophy, science and certain art forms. Nietzsche was born in the village of Röcken (Saxony-Anhalt) on 15 October 1844. In 1865, he started studying philology in Leipzig, but had to interrupt his studies for a service with the Prussian artillery division in Naumburg. Shortly after that, he was appointed to his first chair in Basel, at the age of 24. Nietzsche's health started to fail him early in life, and from his 46th year on, he suffered from mental illnesses as well. Nietzsche succumbed to his maladies on 25 August 1900.


Novalis (1772–1801), the pseudonym of Georg Philipp Friedrich Freiherr von Hardenberg, was a writer of early German Romanticism, a philosopher, jurist and mining engineer. At the age of six, young Georg writes his first poems and in 1790, he attended the University of Jena. This is where he meets Friedrich Schiller. In 1791, he begins to study mathematics, jurisprudence and philosophy at Leipzig University. Six years later, he is studying mining science, mathematics, chemistry and other subjects, as well as the practical work in the mines at the Mining Academy of Freiberg. From 1798 on, he publishes under the name of "Novalis"; in 1800, he creates his "Hymns to the Night". Only a year later, Novalis dies of a lung disease.

Wilhelm Ostwald

Wilhelm Ostwald, a Baltic German chemist and philosopher, was professor at Leipzig University from 1887 to 1906. His lectures focused on the topics of chemistry and philosophy. In 1888, he published his law of dilution, nine years later the Ostwald ripening. He also formulated the Ostwald's step rule and the Ostwald-Volmer rule. During this time, he and Svante Arrhenius, Jacobus Henricus van 't Hoff and Walther Nernst founded the field of physical chemistry. From 1894 on, Ostwald coined the term of catalysis, and between 1901 and 1921, he was the editor of the Annals of the Natural Philosophy (Annalen der Naturphilosophie). Ostwald was one of the founders of the German Society of Electrochemistry (Deutsche Elektrochemische Gesellschaft) and the International Association of Chemistry Societies (Internationale Assoziation der Chemischen Gesellschaften). In 1909, he received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his work on catalysis, chemical equilibria and reaction velocities. Because of his textbooks and the fact that he published the first magazine on physical chemistry, he is widely considered the founder and organiser of the field of physical chemistry. Ostwald died in a Leipzig hospital in 1932 and was buried in Großbothen.

Robert Schumann

Robert Schumann (1810–1856) was a German composer and pianist of the Romantic era. By the young age of seven, he was already receiving piano lessons. From 1828 to 1830, he studied law in Leipzig and Heidelberg, but was already focusing mainly on his music and started composing. In 1840, Schumann married fellow pianist Clara Wieck. Three years later, his connection to Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy brought him to the Conservatory of Music in Leipzig; in 1844, he became choirmaster in Dresden. In 1850, he worked as musical director in Düsseldorf. After a suicide attempt in 1854, Schumann was admitted to a mental asylum in Endenich near Bonn. This is where he died two years later.

Georg Philipp Telemann

Georg Philipp Telemann (1681–1767) was a German composer of the Baroque era. He was a self-taught musician to a large degree, and celebrated his first successful compositions during the time he studied law in Leipzig. His talents were recognised and he became musical director of the university church. In 1712, he was appointed as musical director and conductor of two churches in Frankfurt and he started self-publishing his works. After 1721, Telemann worked as Cantor Johannei und Director Musices of the city of Hamburg and soon became manager of the opera. After his stay in Paris in 1737/38, Telemann had finally achieved international fame.

Christian Thomasius

Christian Thomasius (1655–1728) was born on 1 January 1655 in Leipzig. His father was Jakob Thomasius, famous for giving lectures on philosophy at Leipzig University, working as head master of the St. Thomas and St. Nicholas Schools and for teaching Leibniz. Between 1669 and 1672, Christian Thomasius studied philosophy at Leipzig University; however, he did not continue his studies after his Magister degree and started studying jurisprudence instead. In 1679, he completed his doctorate. He started a legal practice in Leipzig and gave lectures at the University. Thomasius is widely regarded as a pioneer of early German Enlightenment. His contributions in favour of a humane penal code in the name of Enlightenment were a big step towards the abolishment of witch trials and torture.

Wilhelm Richard Wagner

Wilhelm Richard Wagner was born on 22 May 1813 in Leipzig. In 1831, he started studying music at Leipzig University after attending the St. Nicholas and St. Thomas Schools. Richard Wagner was one of the most important musicians of the 19th century. He changed the entire concept of the opera by conceiving and designing it as a Gesamtkunstwerk, a "total work of art". Furthermore, he conceived the Bayreuth Festival that takes place annually between 25 July and 28 August in the Bayreuth Festspielhaus, planned by Wagner himself. His most important works include The Ring of the Nibelung, Lohengrin and Parsifal. Richard Wagner died on 13 February 1883 in Venice.

Carl Friedrich von Weizsäcker

Carl Friedrich von Weizsäcker (1912–2007) was a German physicist, philosopher and peace researcher. He studied physics, astronomy and mathematics in Berlin, Göttingen and Leipzig. After he habilitated in 1936, he worked and taught at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Physics (as it was called then) in Berlin, at the University of Strasbourg and in Göttingen. In 1957, he started giving lectures on philosophy at the University of Hamburg. In 1970, the Max Planck Institute for the Study of the Scientific-Technical World in Starnberg was founded for von Weizsäcker. He was director of the institute along with philosopher Jürgen Habermas until von Weizsäcker retired in 1980. He received, among other accolades, the Max Planck Medal, the Grand Cross of the Federal Republic of Germany and a number of honorary doctorates.

Christa Wolf

Christa Wolf (1929–2011) was a renowned author who wrote mostly about life in the GDR and received numerous prizes, among them the Heinrich Mann Prize and the Georg Büchner Prize. After studying German philology in Leipzig and Jena between 1949 and 1953, Wolf – who was a member of the Socialist Unity Party – found that her published works were successful only in the GDR. However, in 1983, her novel "Cassandra" earned her recognition in the whole of Germany. After having published more than 30 works, radio dramas and film books, Christa Wolf died at the age of 82.

Wilhelm Maximilian Wundt

Wilhelm Maximilian Wundt (1832–1920) was a physician, psychologist and philosopher. He studied medicine at the universities of Heidelberg and Tübingen and completed his studies in Karlsruhe in 1855. A year later, he did his doctorate and worked in Heidelberg and Berlin. In 1857, he habilitated and started working as a private lecturer. Until 1863, Wundt assisted Hermann von Helmholtz, and in 1864, he became associate professor for anthropology and medical psychology at the University of Heidelberg. After several positions as substitute lecturer, a chair in Zürich and work as a military surgeon, Wundt was appointed as professor for philosophy at Leipzig University. This is also where he founded the first institute for experimental psychology in 1879. Wundt is widely regarded as the founder of psychology as an independent field of study. Between 1889 and 1890, Wundt was rector of Leipzig University.

last update: 01.03.2018 


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