Albert Einstein left a trail in Prague
Several plaques mark places where the famous scientist lived, worked and played the violin
While Mozart and Kafka get all the attention, they were not only famous people to spend time in Prague. A number of famous scientists also called the Golden City home at least for a while, and the list is long with Christian Doppler, Ernst Mach and even Thomas Edison making appearances. The seat of honor has to go to Albert Einstein. He lived in Prague for 16 months in 1911–12 when he was around 32.
During his time here, he worked on his general theory of relativity, which was published in 1915, and he published On the Influence of Gravitation on the Propagation of Light in 1911.
The brilliant scientist wasn't here on vacation. He took a post teaching at the German University in Prague, now a part of Charles University. The appointment was made by the Ministry of Culture and Education in Vienna, as Bohemia was still part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
His salary was 8,872 Austro-Hungarian kroners per year, and he taught five hours a week with two more exercise hours. He had 20 students including two women.
Einstein moved to Prague with his wife, Mileva, and sons Hans Albert and Edward. They found a three-bedroom flat in a then-new building in Prague's Smíchov district at Trebížského Street no. 1215/7. The new building had electricity installed, a novelty at the time. The street since 1947 has been called Lesnická Street. The house now has a life-size sculpture Einstein’s head and a plaque with the dates he lived there.
For fun, Einstein would visit Cafe Louvre on Národní 22 in Prague 1, which the cafe is sure to mention on every place mat. Just in case you didn't know. The cafe was home to a circle of intellectuals including Franz Kafka and Max Brod. Philosopher Rudolf Steiner would join in when he was in town as well.
The group also frequented a salon on Old Town Square at the House at the Unicorn, or Staroměstské nám. 551/17. The salon was that of Mrs Berta Fanta, a patron of the arts and the wife a successful pharmacist. A plaque with Einstein's likeness is on the side of the building but often overlooked by tourists. Some nights were lectures, others more free form. Einstein played the violin there on several occasions, he is rumored to have played one evening while Kafka read some of this stories. Einstein usually performed with pianist Ottilie Nagel. Max Brod is also supposed to tried his hand on the ivory keys.
The school building where Einstein taught was at Viničná Street 7 in Prague 2, now part of the Faculty of Natural Sciences at Charles University. Another plague with his likeness is inside the building, but not visible to tourists from the street. The walk from his house to the school took about 20 minutes, crossing the river by Palackého most (Palacký Bridge) and heading up past Karlovo náměstí and the Faust House to his classroom. He also lectured on occasion at the Klementinum. He liked the Kampa area and Charles Bridge as well.
But his wife was unhappy in Prague, and urged Einstein to take a different teaching job in Zurich after 1912. He said Prague was “so beautiful, it would justify living here a lot longer,” but his wife seems to have won the argument. The marriage did not last, though, and they divorced in 1919. While he loved Prague, he always boiled the tap water before he drank it.
Einstein wrote a special introduction to the Czech edition of About the Special and General Theory of Relativity in Plain Terms. "I am pleased that this small book ... should now appear in the native language of the country in which I found the necessary concentration for developing the basic idea of the general theory of relativity, which I had already conceived in 1908. In the quiet rooms of the Institute of Theoretical Physics of Prague's German University in Viničná Street, I discovered that the principle of equivalence implies the deflection of light rays near the sun by an observable amount," he said.
While in Prague, he wrote some 11 theoretical papers on physics. He developed two important theories in Prague: deflection of light and gravitational redshift.
Einstein visited Prague again in 1921, the year he won the Nobel Prize, but did not stay. It was just a brief stop to discuss his ideas with Czech scientists.
But he did not forget the city. In 1950 he sent a telegram to the communist leader of Czechoslovakia, Klement Gottwald. The scientist implored the dictator to spare the life of Milada Horáková, who had been convicted of conspiracy and treason in a show trial. The telegram had no effect, though, and Horáková was executed June 27, 1950.
Einstein died on April 18, 1955, in Princeton, New Jersey, at the age of 76.
Prague in 1971 named a street after Einstein in Prague 10. It is near other streets named after scientists including Edison.
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