I have never understood why Germany describes itself as the ‘Land of Poets and Thinkers’ (Dichter und Denker). I suppose it’s because of Goethe and Schiller and Freud and Kant and so on, but I always think hmmn, but what about Bach and Handel and Beethoven – shouldn’t it be ‘Land of Composers’? And, since I have lived with my lovely husband and had so many trips to interesting industrial and science museums, for me Germany is the Land of Scientists. I will tell you about my personal favourite, Justus Liebig, later.

Dotted around Germany are various institutes, supported by but independent of government, each with a different mission, and named after a famous scientist. My heart, of course, belongs to Fraunhofer, as its website writes:

The Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft, headquartered in Germany, is the world’s leading applied research organization. With its focus on developing key technologies that are vital for the future and enabling the commercial exploitation of this work by business and industry, Fraunhofer plays a central role in the innovation process. As a pioneer and catalyst for groundbreaking developments and scientific excellence, Fraunhofer helps shape society now and in the future. Founded in 1949, the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft currently operates 75 institutes and research institutions throughout Germany. The majority of the organization’s 29,000 employees are qualified scientists and engineers, who work with an annual research budget of 2.8 billion euros. Of this sum, 2.4 billion euros are generated through contract research. 

Each institute has its own speciality. Here’s what happens at Fraunhofer IFAM in Bremen:

Here’s all about Joseph Fraunhofer himself (in German, Youtube will provide English subtitles)

Close to Fraunhofer in Bremen is the Max Planck Institute:

Max Planck Institutes are built up solely around the world’s leading researchers. They themselves define their research subjects and are given the best working conditions, as well as free reign in selecting their staff. This is the core of the Harnack principle, which dates back to Adolph von Harnack, the first president of the Kaiser Wilhelm Society, which was established in 1911. This principle has been successfully applied for nearly one hundred years. The Max Planck Society continues the tradition of its predecessor institution with this structural principle of the person-centered research organization.

The currently 86 Max Planck Institutes and facilities conduct basic research in the service of the general public in the natural sciences, life sciences, social sciences, and the humanities. Max Planck Institutes focus on research fields that are particularly innovative, or that are especially demanding in terms of funding or time requirements. 

Max Planck himself was born in Kiel in 1858, died in Göttingen in 1947 and was a physicist who is regarded as the founder of quantum mechanics. Of course.

I’m an English teacher and due to how it was all arranged in England back in the 1970s I spent a lot of time in school learning about history and geography and French and German and even more time grappling with English, language and literature. Science got lost completely, so I started all this from an embarrassingly low level.

I swear some of the lines on my face come from trying to look as if I understand when my scientist participants told me of their latest research. I mostly didn’t.

Which brings me to Paul Ehrlich. My, what a Corona-week this has been. Just last week some countries started reporting unusual symptoms in a very few of their patients who had been vaccinated with the AstraZeneca vaccine. On Monday, Germany paused vaccinations on the recommendation of the Paul Ehrlich Institute.


Paul Ehrlich was born into a well-off Jewish family in 1854 in Lower Silesia, at that time part of Germany. He studied medicine, married, travelled and in 1891 was invited by Robert Koch (There’s a Robert Koch Institute too!) to join the staff at his Berlin Institute of Infectious Diseases, where in 1896 the Institute for Serum Research and Testing was established for Ehrlich’s specialization. Ehrlich was its founding director. His research fields included immunisation, serum, chemotherapy and much more: Paul Ehrlich – Wikipedia

In 1908 he was awarded The Nobel Prize for his “work on immunity”. Kaiser Wilhelm was very sad when he died in 1915. He would have liked to raise Ehrlich to the nobility: for that, he would have needed to convert to Christianity, and that he refused to do.

Germany now has an Institute with his name, which has made international headlines this week:

“The Paul-Ehrlich-Institut (PEI), the Federal Institute for Vaccines and Biomedicines, in Langen near Frankfurt/Main is a senior federal authority reporting to the Federal Ministry of Health (Bundesministerium für Gesundheit, BMG). It is responsible for the research, assessment, and marketing authorisation of biomedicines for human use and immunological veterinary medicinal products. Its remit also includes the authorisation of clinical trials and pharmacovigilance, i.e. recording and evaluation of potential adverse effects.”

And it was the findings from these scientists which caused such concern and worry to many people.

Personally, I am reassured to know that top scientists are on the ball, and once everything had been thought about and clarified at the highest levels, vaccination began again with the AZ vaccine in Germany after 72 hours. I will be thrilled to get any vaccine I am offered.

In the middle of all the furore about vaccine this week, our President, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, presented Özlem Türeci und Uğur Şahin, founders of BioNtech, with the Bundesverdienstkreuz, Germany’s highest honour

All of this is way beyond my understanding, I see my job as to keep quiet (difficult) and stay home until the brilliant scientists all over the world have found a way for us all to deal with Covid-19. I am so grateful to them, and that we have such humans whose brains work in such mysterious ways.

Oh yes, I promised to tell you about my favourite scientist, and that is Justus von Liebig, father of modern chemistry and more importantly from my point of view, father of the meat stock cube – OXO!

Land of Dichter and Denker? I don’t think so.


Header photo of Paul Ehrlich’s study: Von Waldemar Titzenthaler – Georg-Speyer-Haus (Ullstein-Bild, Bildnummer: 00161452) (transfered from Wikipedia.de; original uploader was Armin Kübelbeck), Gemeinfrei, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=12056192

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