Category Archives: Object of the Month

Object of the Month: From Invalidenstrasse 110 to Adlershof. A house facade and the morphological model of an ideal crystal

Object of the Month 02/2024
Fig. 1 Crystal general view
Fig. 1 Crystal general view. Photo: Dr. Holm Kirmse
The model (see fig. 1) shows the ideal shape of a crystal. This is a combination of three crystal shapes that can be found in the cubic crystal system. The cube catches the eye first because of the size of the faces. In crystallography, it is called a hexahedron because it is bounded by six identical faces. The second form is a tetrahedron (bounded by 4 faces). The third shape is bounded by twelve identical faces and is called a rhombdodecahedron. The individual faces of the three shapes can be given indices. Miller’s indices correspond to the reciprocal values of the intersection points of a given face with the axes x, y and z: In the cubic crystal system these three axes are perpendicular to each other and are of equal length. In case of the rhombdodecahedron, an individual face always intersects two axes in the same ratio, while the third axis is not intersected. The axis intersections are therefore 1 : 1 : ∞. The reciprocal values are 1 : 1 : 0. If the axes are chosen accordingly, Miller indices (110) – say “one one oh” – are obtained for the face oriented towards the observer.
Arrangement of lattice planes inside a hexahedron and corresponding Miller indices. Source: Wikipedia - File: Miller Indices Ebenen.png - Created: 27 March 2006 (The original uploader was Noamik in the German Wikipedia) CC BY-SA 3.0
The mathematical consideration of the symmetry properties of crystals can not only be expressed in formulas, some people also see these shapes in completely different contexts. And that brings us to Invalidenstrasse 110: Before the Institute of Physics at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin moved to its current location at Campus Adlershof in 2003, it was housed as the Institute of Physics and Electronics in the building Invalidenstrasse 110 at the junction with Chausseestrasse (see photo below right). The Institute of Crystallography with its research focus on crystal growth and crystal characterization was also part of the institute. The crystallography course was supported by an extensive teaching collection. Today, crystallography is part of the specialization in solid state physics in the Master’s degree course in physics. The crystallography teaching collection does further exist.
Fig. 2 Crystal
Fig. 2 (left): Identical polyhedron model seen from a different perspective. For guiding the eyes, the (110) face is highlighted. The face above exhibits an irregular hexagon. It belongs to the tetrahedron and is assigned by the Miller indices (111). For better imagination see the schematic drawings shown above depicting the arrangement of faces (100), (110), and (111). Photo: Dr. Holm Kirmse
Fig. 3 House facade Inv. 110
Fig. 3 (right): Facade of the institute building Invalidenstrasse 110. Photo: Oliver Zauzig

The facade of the former institute building with its faces parallel to Invalidenstrasse and Chausseestrasse exhibits a 45° cut off at the junction, creating an additional third face in which the main entrance is located. Whether intentional or not: if you lay the axis system along the edges of the building, then the Miller indices of this third face correspond exactly to the house number of the building. What now reads like one of the countless conspiracy stories is probably pure coincidence. It is well known that “one one oh” is also the telephone number of the police, physicists and chemists recognize the element Darmstadtium in it and as a binary system it plays an important role in computer science. And if you do recognize a connection between the ideal shape of a crystal and the facade of the building, it should be noted not only that the building was built in 1981 according to information from the Technical Department, but also that there was an inn called “Zum Kuhstall” at this address before 1920, at least according to research conducted by Foto Marburg.

In December 2023, the HU’s Technical Department handed over the property at Invalidenstrasse 110 to the Senate Department for Urban Development, Building and Housing for the upcoming conversion and refurbishment measures. These are planned to be carried out over the next five years.

Author: Dr. Holm Kirmse

Head of Crystallographic Teaching Collection
Newtonstrasse 15
12489 Berlin

Polyhedron model combination cube-tetrahedron-rhombic dodecahedron in “Sammlungen digital”:

Corner of Chausseestraße/Invalidenstraße in the Technical Department of the HU: and

Restaurant “Zum Kuhstall” in photo archive Foto Marburg:

Object of the Month: “Souvenir from Yokohama” A lacquer album in the scientific collection “Holdings of the Mori-Ōgai Memorial Center”

Object of the Month 12/2023

Thanks to a significant donation of historical photographs from Japan during the Meiji period (1868-1912), a precious lacquer album has come into the possession of Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin.
Lacquered photo album (40 x 31cm) from the late 1890s, attributed to the Adolfo Farsari studio. It contains fifty hand-coloured photographs (approx. 20 x 27 cm), which can typically be divided into "views" and "costumes".

It is preserved in the scientific collection “Holdings of the Mori-Ōgai Memorial Center” and is currently being digitized in the media library of the Grimm Center. Fifty coloured albumen prints are mounted on the large-format pages, framed by illustrations lovingly executed in watercolours.

One of the landscape shots shows the "Sacred Bridge" (Shinkyō), once reserved for imperial messengers, which leads to the shrine complex in Nikkō (World Heritage Site). A symbol of modernity, the electricity pylon on the right bank of the Daiya River, was apparently deliberately concealed by the colouring. The photograph is often attributed to Tamamura Kōzaburō, who worked together with Adolfo Farsari (late 1890s).

There is no information about the authors of the photographs or their age. It is not known when and how the album came to Europe. The only clue is a delicate entry in pencil on the otherwise blank third page. It reads “Farsari” and thus assigns the object to “Yokohama photography”, which was in demand worldwide at the end of the 19th century.

In the middle of the 19th century, the dynamics of global history had also torn Japan from its “idyllic silence” (Mori Ōgai). After more than two hundred years of self-imposed isolation, the island kingdom opened up to the scientific and technological civilisation of the “West”. Although the tourist discovery of the distant destination was initially difficult, the “Land of the Rising Sun” quickly became a new place of longing for the travelling classes of Europe. Aesthetic currents such as the flourishing Japonism and a zeitgeist increasingly critical of civilisation worked together to passionately imagine the popular destination.

Nach dem Frühstück steigen wir zu den Tempeln empor, über lange Stufenreihen in rauschenden Hainen, durch deren dunkles Laub das Meer hindurchleuchtet. Was Griechenland einmal war aber nicht mehr ist, was man [ … ] von seiner Schönheit träumt, das ist in dieser Landschaft zur Wahrheit geworden.
After breakfast we climb up to the temples, over long rows of steps in rustling groves with the sea shining through the dark foliage. What Greece once was but no longer is, what one dreams [ … ] of its beauty, has become the truth in this landscape.
(Harry Graf Kessler, Diary, 15 April 1892)

As early as the 1860s, European and Japanese photographers had studios in Yokohama – the port city that most travellers used to arrive and depart from. The studios mainly produced for tourists, who purchased individual prints or artistically crafted albums. Felice Beato (1832-1909) is considered the founder of “Yokohama photography”. In the early years of his Japanese creative period, the Italian-British photographer captured impressions of a seemingly magical world that had supposedly barely been touched by Western civilisation. His studio popularised the production of prints on albumen paper. His students and competitors – including Adolfo Farsari (1841-1898) and Tamamura Kōzaburō (1841–1932) – responded to the rapidly growing demand. Initially, genre paintings, and later also coloured landscape views, came onto the market.

The genre pictures in the album show the traditional everyday life of the country from a (European) perspective. Here, a lady in a kimono ties a richly decorated obi belt. The focus is entirely on the "painting woven in silk" (Curt Netto). Probably Tamamura Kōzaburō, late 1890s.

The employees who skilfully added colour to these prints brought with them skills from the production of woodcuts. Thanks to the cost-effective process, which delivered detailed and attractive results, tens of thousands of copies were soon being produced and sold overseas every year.

Photography and tourism enjoyed a fruitful interrelationship. Travellers at the end of the 19th century were familiar with images. They formed longings and expectations; they defined what was worth seeing. The demand from Europe and North America, which had been preceded by a lively reception of Japanese woodblock prints, in turn exerted a great influence on the choice of motifs, perspectives and colours. By choosing from thousands of images, tourists were able to compile an album of ‘their’ experiences as souvenirs.

The donation mentioned at the beginning is thanks to a private collector and was made in 2021 in memory of the private banker Moritz Friedrich Bonte (11 July 1847 Magdeburg – 18 July 1938 Berlin). The twelve albums and a total of more than 700 photographs form a valuable source for the work of the Mori-Ōgai Memorial Center, which focuses on the diversity of encounters between Japan and Europe during the transition to modernity. The “Souvenir from Yokohama” and a selection of photographs will be on display in a special exhibition at the Memorial Center from the beginning of 2024. Tokyo Views prepares for the anniversary of the Tokyo-Berlin city partnership next year and looks at the tourist perception of the Japanese metropolis at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. It explains contemporary concepts of sightseeing and presents a series of “notable places” (meisho).

Author: Harald Salomon
Scientific director of the Mori-Ōgai Memorial Centre

The information on the photographs was compiled by students of the Institute of Asian and African Studies.

Mori-Ōgai Memorial of the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin
Luisenstr. 39, 10117 Berlin
Phone: 030-2093-66933
Opening hours: Tuesdays to Fridays 12pm – 4pm; Thursdays 12pm – 6pm

Object of the Month: A Private Library Moves – the Working and Research Center Private Library Christa and Gerhard Wolf

Object of the Month 11/2023

In May 2023, 6000 books from Christa and Gerhard Wolf’s flat came to Humboldt-Universität. Thanks to a donation in 2015, a unique library of authors is now open to the public. Together with the partial holdings that have been brought to the Christa and Gerhard Wolf Private Library Work and Research Centre by volunteers from the Souterrain of the Wolfs’ Pankow flat and Woserin summer house since 2016, the bookshelves from the workrooms of the author and essayist, who died on 7 February, can now be browsed in three rooms of the Institute of German Literature.
Fig. 1 Registering, detail. (Photo: Ralf Klingelhöfer)

His inspiring spirit and encouraging generosity run through the “Gerhard Wolf Room”, not only in the form of the bookshelves full of charm (the label “Volkseigentum” (People’s property) is still legible on one cupboard), his desk and the graphics of Christa Wolf’s Medea. Voices. The new “Christa Wolf Room” with the desk, books and shelves of her last study, East and West German editions of her works, a collection of reading copies with traces of use that are informative in terms of contemporary and literary history and the stock of licensed editions in more than 50 languages also became a much-used seminar, research and event venue immediately after the move.

A conceptually essential idea was to preserve the last arrangement of the books as far as possible. After all, the very location of an Anna Seghers exile edition in the immediate vicinity of Christa Wolf’s desk promises insights into a poetic relationship of tradition. Why the various Hölderlin editions ended up in Gerhard Wolf’s study can be deduced from the essay volume Ins Ungebundene gehet eine Sehnsucht. Projektionsraum Romantik (1985). A couple’s library that has grown over six decades follows its own laws.
The prerequisite for securing the arrangement of the shelves was, on the one hand, the photographic documentation of the shelves (partly in 3D) and, on the other hand, a detailed indexing of each item.

Fig. 2 Registering on 20 March 2023 (Photo: Ralf Klingelhöfer)

Thanks to enthusiastic teamwork, it is now possible to document where a book originally stood, even if the difference between the 3.50-metre room height at Pankow’s Amalienpark and the 2.70-metre room height in the workspace made a one-to-one arrangement impossible. Even during the long days of distortion in the flat, the students and researchers involved made a lot of discoveries: The Sinn und Form booklet 1/1949 contains notes by Gerhard Wolf. The young Christa Ihlenfeld dedicates Kurt Tucholsky’s Rheinsberg für Verliebte to her future husband in 1950! Love poems by Stepan Stschipatschow – who do you think that is? – bear a 1951 dedication by Gerhard Wolf to her. What an arc of life shines out between Christa Wolf’s detailed dedication text of 28 July 1957 in Walt Whitman’s book of poems Leaves of Grass and the one for her husband’s 80th birthday in a cookbook by Wolfram Siebeck! How revealing that Gerhard Wolf signed and dated his earliest poetry acquisitions. What a desire for research is triggered by a Rilke volume from Insel-Verlag with the entry “Gerhard Wolf, Bad Frankenhausen, 1947. Abitur”.

Fig. 3 Name entry Gerhard Wolf 1947 in Rilke (Photo: Birgit Dahlke)

Dedications by Louis Fürnberg (1954), Edgar Hilsenrath (1978 and 1990) or Said (2001) literally ‘fell into one’s hands’ during the indexing work in March 2023. What is behind the undated double signature of Heinrich Böll and Lev Kopelev? How did Paul Eluard’s dedication to Stephan Hermlin end up in the Wolfs’ library? Emma Ulrich had already reconstructed the literary-historical context behind a unique edition by Hugo Huppert from 1940 in her bachelor’s thesis in 2018.

Fig. 4 Unique 1940 by Hugo Huppert (Photo: Birgit Dahlke)
Max Frisch’s 1975 dedication in his diary 1946-1949 provides a clue to the decades-long correspondence between Wolf and Frisch.
Fig. 5 Dedication Max Frisch 1975 (Photo: Birgit Dahlke)

Does it refer to the founding history of the small bibliophile publishing house Januspress when Oskar Pastior mentions the word “Janus” in his dedication to Gerhard Wolf in 1990, or to the title of the dedicated copy Kopfnuß Januskopf with Palindromes? The dedications in the private library raise questions that initiate research in literary histories and archives. They document German-German and supranational relationship stories that have yet to be told.

Fig. 6 Dedication Oskar Pastior 1990 (Photo: Birgit Dahlke)

PD Dr. Birgit Dahlke
Head of the Work and Research Centre
Private Library of Christa and Gerhard Wolf at the HU
Faculty of Linguistics and Literature
Institute for German Literature
Dorotheenstr. 24/ Rooms 3.509, 3.543 and 3.544
Website Private Library of Christa and Gerhard Wolf

The private library is open to the public on Tuesdays from 12 to 14 and by appointment with Alina Mohaupt (Email:

Object of the Month: Hyperboloid of two sheets of Stoll (No 224)

Object of the Month 10/2023

Only a few insiders would immediately recognise the object of October. The model of a Hyperboloid of two sheets is located in Adlershof, more precisely in the Institute of Mathematics and belongs to the Mathematical Model Collection there. However, the connection to the university goes much deeper. The template for the model arose from the institute’s teaching and research activities. Even though the model is not complete, it demonstrates very well the basic idea of a teaching collection, which is to be seen in its use in academic as well as school teaching. That’s why the objects show signs of usage over the course of time, or sometimes even break. Although they are usually very robustly constructed for touching. But one thing after the other.

Hyperboloid - Figure 1
Specimen of the Hyperboloid of two sheets of Stoll in the mathematical model collection in Adlershof. The upper sheet is missing, indicating the frequent use of the object (Photo: Robert Pässler, TU Dresden).

The Hyperboloid of two sheets, a geometric shape in mathematics, is a second-order surface. In order to think of it as a body, one rotates a hyperbola around its main axis. This creates two separate surface pieces (in the model as a body), whereby in the case of the Berlin model the upper surface piece (the upper body) is missing. The sketch in Figure 2 from Meyer’s Großes Konversations-Lexikon of 1905 shows a Hyperboloid of two sheets with the axes, whereby the vertical axis shown in the picture is the main axis.

Hyperboloid - Figure 2
Meyer's Großes Konversations-Lexikon of 1905 shows a Hyperboloid of two sheets with imaginary axes.

The origin of this model is interesting. It was manufactured by the company Rudolf Stoll K.G. Berlin. It was located at Oderbruchstraße 8-14, i.e. in the Friedrichshain district of Berlin. The company not only took over the production, but also the distribution of the teaching models.

The teaching aids were developed at the Second Mathematical Institute of the Humboldt University in Berlin under the direction of Professor Dr. Kurt Schröder (1909-1978). He held the professorship of Applied Mathematics and was also Director of the Institute. In the first half of the 1960s, he was also Rector of the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin.

Stoll’s models can be seen in a line of development with the mathematical models produced by Brill, Schilling and Wiener since the 1880s. They appeared at a time when their use in mathematical teaching was already taking place through other media. Nevertheless, they were produced and distributed, and moreover, they were used regularly.

Hyperboloid - Figure 3
The model described in the catalogue "Lehrmodelle für Mathematik" of Rudolf Stoll K.G. Berlin No. 18 (Source: SLUB Dresden).

Only a few traces of the Stoll company can be found today. Apart from the models found in some mathematical collections of other universities (e.g. TU Dresden or University of Marburg), the catalogue “Lehrmodelle für Mathematik” (Teaching Models for Mathematics) by Rudolf Stoll K.G. Berlin No. 18, published in three languages (German, English and French), still exists. The models shown there are divided into teaching aids for elementary mathematics, for geometry and for analysis. Our model is found under the number “Modell 224/114” with the note that “a Hyperboloid of two sheets ” is shown. The weight is 2 kilograms. The dimensions are 20 x 16 x 30 cm.

In this context, it is still worth mentioning that such sales catalogues are not classic library collectors’ items. They are therefore very rare and often only preserved by chance. The price list for the Stoll catalogue cannot be found digitally. We do not know whether a copy has been preserved somewhere.

Dr. Oliver Zauzig


Mathematische Modelle am Institut für Mathematik: und

Mathematik und ihre Didaktik (Completed project for the collection):

Zweischaliges Hyperboloid (Stoll) der Mathematische Modellsammlung der HU im Digitalen Archiv mathematischer Modelle:

Mathematische Modelle auf der Projektseite Materielle Modelle:

Digitalisierter Katalog „Lehrmodelle für Mathematik“ in den Digitalen Sammlungen der SLUB Dresden:

Hyperboloīd in Meyers Großes Konversations-Lexikon:īd

Object of the Month: A powerfull piece: Annemirl Bauer, “Männliche Herrlichkeit Gottes” (Male Glory of God), 1988

Object of the Month 09/2023

Accusing, shocking, melancholic – the large-format painting by Annemirl Bauer is expressive. From the eyes of a centrally placed female figure, crouching on a box in prisoner’s clothing, rays emanate to both sides of the picture. On the left, a row of naked women in high-heeled shoes stand in line, the one in front holding out her armed hand. Behind her are other figures, some with oversized phalluses. The pistol points to the right side of the picture with a female figure crucified by crutches, from whose womb blood is flowing. A male army, indicated in heads at the lower right edge of the picture is described with the invocation of the Trinity. The dark, violent and sexualised scenes are only counteracted on the far right by a mother and child standing in the golden light, standing upright and calm despite all hostility.
The title “Männliche Herrlichkeit Gottes”, present in the picture through characters in the sky or on a rocket, refers to the horrors of war and violence (perpetrated by men) as well as to the roles of women – as victims, as perpetrators, as mothers.

A.Bauer Männliche Herrlichkeit Gottes
Annemirl Bauer, Männliche Herrlichkeit Gottes, oil/ carpet, 208 x 246 cm, 1988

Since 2018, the painting has been hanging in the Humboldt University as one of the few works by Annemirl Bauer still present in public. The valiant paintress, herself under surveillance by the Stasi, expelled from the GDR artists’ association (VBK) and subsequently banned from working, repeatedly explored feminist themes. The “Male Glory of God” can also be linked very specifically to the conscription law for women in the GDR, the “Women for Peace” (Frauen für den Frieden), but also to the feminist Ingrid Strobl, who was imprisoned in the Federal Republic.

In 1982, a new law on military service was passed that would also have called on women to serve in national defence in the event of mobilisation. Against this, 150 women protested in a joint plea to Erich Honecker: “We women want to break the cycle of violence and withdraw our participation from all forms of violence as a means of conflict resolution. […] We women understand the readiness for military service as a threatening gesture which opposes the striving for moral and military disarmament and allows the voice of human reason to be drowned in military obedience.” (Petition to the Chairman of the Council of State, Erich Honecker, 12 October 1982)
This pacifist criticism was followed by a wave of interrogations by the state security, intimidation and arrests – for example, of the politically active paintress and main signatory Bärbel Bohley, who, like Annemirl Bauer, was organised in the Association of Visual Artists of the GDR (VBK), from whose district executive committee she was expelled in 1983.

Ingrid Strobl, in turn, an Austrian journalist who was editor of the magazine Emma in Cologne from 1979 to 1986, was taken into remand or solitary confinement as a terrorism suspect in 1987. She had been filmed buying an alarm clock that had been prepared by the BKA (Federal Criminal Police Office) and identified in the remains of a bomb in the 1986 attack on the Lufthansa administration building. The attack against Lufthansa, perpetrated by the organisation “Revolutionary Cells” (Revolutionäre Zellen), also had a feminist background and targeted sex tourism (“state racism, sexism and the patriarchy”, as the Revolutionary Cells themselves stated, cf. Ingrid Strobl: Vermessene Zeit. Der Wecker, der Knast und ich, Hamburg 2020). Strobl received public solidarity after her arrest.
Even without knowledge of this historical background, Annemirl Bauer’s work has an effect through its offensive pictorial language, which also plays with religious motif quotations.
Despite all the criticism – especially against the rejection of Annemirl Bauer’s repeated calls for travel “with return” – the artist was not a dissident and did not want to leave the GDR. Changing the social and political structures, that was her struggle throughout her life, which she lost through her early death shortly before the fall of the Wall in the summer of 1989.
Since 2010, a square named after her in Friedrichshain at Ostkreuz station has commemorated the pugnacious artist.

Author: Christina Kuhli

Object of the Month: Diagram of the precipitation in Berlin-Dahlem in 2022

Object of the Month 08/2023

For the object of the month August, we have chosen the diagram of the precipitation in Berlin-Dahlem for the year 2022 (Fig. 4), which is a piece of the daily weather observation. Morever it also reflects the diversity of research at the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin as well as allowing the connection to current debates such as climate change and questions of future food security. It is therefore about the one topic where everyone surely always wants to form an opinion: the weather.

The terms weather and climate should be kept apart. Weather describes the measurable instantaneous state of the atmosphere, whereas climate is defined more as a typical recurring annual pattern of weather, usually based on 30-year averages.

Weather is usually associated with sunshine, wind, rain or temperature. These are variables that can be measured or counted and play a central role, especially for agriculture and thus for food. And in order to be able to measure or count them professionally, there are fixed weather stations, which are also located at Humboldt-Universität.

The agro-climatological weather station at the agricultural experimental site in Berlin-Dahlem was established in 1931. The weather data measured since then is used on the one hand for the evaluation of the permanent agricultural experiments at the site (investigation of the relationships between weather patterns and growth, development and yield formation of agricultural crops) and on the other hand for the evaluation of the most diverse field experiments, which are designed to be more short-term. The data is available to all students and staff for the evaluation of their field trials.

In addition, the long-term weather records provide an insight into the climatic changes in Berlin.

Figure 1: Weather station on the grounds of the permanent field experiments of the Department of Crop and Animal Sciences of the Thaer Institute of Agricultural and Horticultural Sciences in Dahlem. (Photo: O. Zauzig 2023)
Figure 2: Course of the annual mean air temperature (Ta) since the beginning of weather recording in Dahlem.
Figure 3: Annual precipitation (Pa) over the same period.
The two graphs show the course of the annual mean air temperature and the annual precipitation depth (both y-axis) from 1931 to 2022. The air temperature in Berlin-Dahlem increased significantly by 1.8°C between 1931 and 2022 (1.78 Kelvin in 92 years). Annual precipitation shows no significant trend, with the lowest annual precipitation to date of only 338 mm (equivalent to 338 litres per square metre) measured throughout the year in 2022.
Figure 4: Course of precipitation depth in 2022, measured at the Dahlem site.

Figure 4 shows that only 3 months of the year (February, April, December) had precipitation levels above the long-term average. This led to an annual precipitation deficit of 40 percent and thus to the lowest annual total of 337.8 litres per square metre since observations began in 1931. With only 0.6 l/m² precipitation, March 2022 also set a record, which was due to the highest sunshine duration of 245.3 hours measured to date.

This means that four records were set at once in 2022: highest sunshine duration and lowest precipitation level in March, lowest annual precipitation level since 1931, highest number of “desert days”.

Observing the weather remains our task.

Authors: Prof. Dr. Frank-M. Chmielewski and Dr. Oliver Zauzig

Object of the month: The poet and the dolphin skull

Object of the Month 07/2023

The poet Adelbert von Chamisso (1781-1838) is probably familiar to most people as the author of the fantastic tale „The Wonderful History of Peter Schlemihl” published in 1814. In it, the protagonist sells his shadow to the devil and thus falls victim to social ostracism. Chamisso’s importance as a natural scientist is far less well known. He was active in the fields of ethnology, zoology and, above all, botany. From 1815 to 1818, he participated in the circumnavigation of the globe by the Russian research vessel Rurik (Chamisso 2012). One of the significant results of this voyage was Chamisso’s discovery of the alternation of generations of the salps. He was not only able to decipher the alternating formation of sexual and asexual generations of these planktonic organisms, but was one of the first researchers ever to recognize the connection between larvae and generational successions of marine animals (Glaubrecht & Dohle 2012).

Fig 1 - Dolphin Skull
The sawed dolphin skull shown here from two sides comes from Chamisso's voyage around the world aboard the Russian research vessel 'Rurik'. (Photography G. Scholtz)

The sawed dolphin skull shown here from two sides also comes from this voyage. In his book “Reise um die Welt” Chamisso mentions dolphins among other things in the notes of May 12 and June 4, 1816: “A dolphin was harpooned, the first of which we got hold of – it served us as welcome food.” “…On the 4th a second dolphin of a different species was harpooned.” In total, Chamisso reports catching of six dolphins, all of whose skulls he donated to the “Zootomisches Museum zu Berlin.” This statement is confirmed by the inventory book of the zootomic collection, as six dolphin skulls collected by Chamisso are listed there. The entry in the inventory book under number 3956 for the skull shown here states: “Crania Delphini n. sp. … cl. a Chamisso ex itinere trans orbem attulit.”

Fig 2 - Crania Delphini
Crania Delphini n. sp. a 3955 diversa. illi Delphini dubii Cuv. oss. foss. affinea aut vero sumuliter (simuliter?) eodem (Translation: Dolphin skull n. sp. (new species) different from 3955. The excavated bones resemble those of Delphinus dubius (Cuvier) or are even the same). cl. a Chamisso ex itinere trans orbem mundum attulit. (Translation: collected by Chamisso, he brought them back from his voyage around the world).

In 1999, the skull and a mandible from the anatomical collection of the Charité were given to the Zoologische Lehrsammlung of the Humboldt-Universität (see Scholtz 2018). The historical significance of these objects went unnoticed for over a decade. It was not until there was an inquiry from Hamburg about the whereabouts of a dolphin skull collected by Chamisso as part of the DFG project “The Appropriation of World Knowledge – Adelbert von Chamisso’s world tour” that our own provenance research led to the identification of the object. Other dolphin skulls collected by Chamisso were identified in the holdings of the Museum für Naturkunde. A comparison with the notes in Chamisso’s travel diaries (Sproll et al. 2023) now offers the possibility to identify individually the six skulls mentioned in the diaries and to which dolphin species they belong.

Fig 3 - Adelbert von Chamisso in the South Seas
Watercolor portrait of Chamisso under palm trees in the Pacific Ocean by Ludwig Choris from 1817 (Collection Stiftung Stadtmuseum Berlin, Reproduction: Oliver Ziebe, Berlin, Paper, Sheet: H: 22,80 cm, W: 18,40 cm, Inv.Nr.: TA 00/2026 HZ)

Like many of his scientifically active contemporaries, Chamisso was a member of the “Gesellschaft Naturforschender Freunde zu Berlin”. As a characteristic product of the Age of Enlightenment, this private association was launched on July 9, 1773, in the apartment of the Berlin physician Dr. Friedrich Heinrich Wilhelm Martini (Böhme-Kassler 2005). The seven founding members, beyond their professions as physicians, pharmacist, astronomer, royal war councillor and royal administrators, showed great interest in natural science issues and were proud owners of natural history collections. Martini, for example, who initiated the foundation, was a dedicated conchologist, and the pharmacist Marcus Élieser Bloch was interested in ichthyology. The eventually twelve full members met regularly in their private residences, discussed natural history issues, and presented their newly acquired collection items. Associate and honorary members were also appointed. Last but not least, the founding of the Berliner Universität in 1810 caused the number of members to rise sharply. When Chamisso was elected to the GNF in 1819, it was already good manners to list membership alongside that in other national and international associations and academies. The explosive development of scientific research in the 19th century was also reflected in the GNF. It grew steadily, and especially the large number of outstanding researchers who belonged to it shows its historical importance. The focus of interests changed more and more towards biological questions. Accordingly, the Society was closely connected with the Museum für Naturkunde, and with the beginning of the 20th century the meetings were held there. The 2nd World War led to a break in the activities of the GNF.In 1955 the revitalisation took place at the newly founded Freie Universität in the western part of Berlin, where the society is still located today. From the beginning, the GNF has dedicated itself to the promotion and dissemination of scientific knowledge. It still follows this ideal today. It is closely connected to the major Berlin universities and the Museum für Naturkunde. It awards an annual prize for outstanding biological bachelor’s and master’s theses. Regular meetings with scientific lectures as well as excursions are still held. It is the oldest still existing private natural history society in Germany. The GNF celebrates its 250th anniversary on July 9, 2023 with a colloquium in the lecture hall of zoology at the Freie Universität Berlin. In addition, a Festschrift published on behalf of the steering committee highlights aspects of its long history (Scholtz et al. 2023).

By Prof. Dr. Gerhard Scholtz

Zoologische Lehrsammlung der Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin (only in German)
Salpen (Feuerwalzen), Feuchtpräparat (only in German)

Böhme-Kassler, K. 2005 Gemeinschaftsunternehmen Naturforschung. Modifikation und Tradition in der Gesellschaft Naturforschender Freunde zu Berlin 1773 – 1906. Franz Steiner, Stuttgart.

Chamisso, A. von 2012 Reise um die Welt (Nachdruck). Die Andere Bibliothek, Berlin

Glaubrecht, M. & Dohle, W. 2012 Discovering the alternation generations in salps (Tunicata, Thaliacea): Adelbert von Chamisso’s dissertation “De Salpa” 1819 its material, origin and reception in the early nineteenth century. Zoosystenatics and Evolution 88: 317-363.

Scholtz, G. 2018 Zoologische Lehrsammlung (Zoological Teaching Collection). In: Beck, L.A. (Hrsg.). Zoological Collections of Germany – The animal kingdom in its amazing plenty at museums and universities. Springer, Berlin, pp. 123-134.

Scholtz, G., Sudhaus, W. & Wessel, A. (Hrsg.) 2023 Festschrift zum 250-jährigen Bestehen der Gesellschaft. Sitzungsberichte der Gesellschaft Naturforschender Freunde zu Berlin 57 (NF): 5-320.

Sproll, M., Erhart, W. & Glaubrecht, M. (Hrsg.) 2023 Adelbert von Chamisso: Die Tagebücher der Weltreise 1815-1818, Edition der handschriftlichen Bücher aus dem Nachlass. Brill/V&R Unipress, Göttingen.

Object of the month: Photographic reproduction of the X-ray image of a bound foot

Object of the Month 06/2023

Over a period of a thousand years, Chinese girls had their feet bound to shorten them. Europeans looked at this beauty practice with a mixture of fascination and astonishment. In the 19th century, doctors also became interested in bound feet, one of them being the Berlin anatomist Hans Virchow, whose podological collection is now housed in the Centre for Anatomy at the HU.

The object presented here, a print of an X-ray image glued to cardboard (cf., which is handwritten “Fuß einer 32 jähr. chin. Frau” (“Foot of a 32 year old Chinese woman”), also belongs to this collection.

Foot of a 32 year old chin. Woman
Photographic reproduction of the X-ray image of a bound foot, photo: Felix Sattler

The skeleton shows the characteristic features of bound feet: the small toes are curved under the sole, the instep is arched upwards. Apart from the extreme foreshortening, the nailed sole is particularly striking – obviously the X-ray image was taken through the shoe.

How this came about can be seen in the “Zeitschrift für Ethnologie”: In March 1905, Hans Virchow invited the members of the Anthropological Society to the foyer of the Berlin Circus Schumann “to inspect the Chinese troupe currently staying here” in order to convince himself “of the smallness and reshaping of the Chinese feet”. Advertisements and contemporary sources provide information about the identity of the “troupe”. They were the magician Ching Ling Foo and the “famous small-footed women”: his wife (the “32 year old Chinese woman”), their daughter Chee Toy and Chee Roan, whose name is noted on a photograph in the Náprstek Museum in Prague, another stage of their European tour (cf. Heroldová 2008).

Photograph in the Náprstek Museum Prague
Ching Ling Foo, his wife, Chee Roan and Chee Toy in the Náprstek Museum, 1905, black and white photograph on cardboard, © Náprstek Museum Prague.

Virchow had already dampened hopes of an inspection of uncovered feet in the invitation, “for it is well known [that] Chinese women are particularly difficult about their feet”. In fact, bound feet were never publicly shown naked in China. Foreign photographers and doctors often broke the gaze taboo in the 19th century by harassing women with money and gifts. Female performers also refused the intrusive gaze, but allowed themselves to be x-rayed – through the shoe. Whether this succeeded, as James Fränkel claimed in the “Zeitschrift für orthopädische Chirurgie” (Journal of Orthopaedic Surgery), only because the women were unaware of the procedure discovered in 1895, or whether he was invoking the topos of the secret “X-ray gaze” here, cannot be decided. In any case, the photograph bears witness not only to the encroaching medical gaze, but also to the resistance of the women.

For the anatomists, the campaign was a success, because it not only allowed them to see the feet in three stages of deformation, but – contrary to the popular prejudice of the inability to walk – also in motion. Virchow made several revisions to the X-ray images for the publication of the examination results: He rotated and retouched the images to make them more legible (cf. Dünkel 2021). For him, the on-site visit was neither the first nor the last encounter with bound feet. As early as 1903, he had examined a wet preparation that had come into the Berlin collection after the First Opium War, and in 1912 he macerated the feet of a woman who had died of typhus, which he had received in the course of the “Boxer War”, the suppression of the Yihetuan movement. Whereas medical practitioners in the 19th century had repeatedly complained about the lack of access to Chinese corpses in addition to the gaze taboo, the situation changed with the establishment of mission hospitals and the colonial wars. Soon almost every anatomical collection of the imperial powers possessed preparations of bound feet – some of them from looted graves. Virchow’s collection of casts, models and bones of bound feet also owes much to colonial conditions. The exhibition “unBinding Bodies” in the Tieranatomisches Theater opposite has set itself the task of re-contextualising these sensitive objects. The focus is not on the feet, but on Chinese women and their lives. The exhibition runs until 31 August.

Jasmin Mersmann and Evke Rulffes

unBinding Bodies. Lotosschuhe und Korsett at TA T

unBinding Bodies – Zur Geschichte des Füßebindens in China
Jasmin Mersmann / Evke Rulffes (Hg.)
transcript Verlag, 2023. Open Access.

Vera Dünkel (2021): Beyond Retouching. Hans Virchow’s Mixed Media and his X-ray Drawings of the Lotus Foot, in: Hybrid Photography, ed. by Sara Hillnhuetter, Stefanie Klamm, Friedrich Tietjen, London/New York, pp. 79-88.

James Fränkel (1905): Ueber den Fuß der Chinesin, in: Zeitschrift für orthopädische Chirurgie 14, pp. 339-356.

Helena Heroldová (2008): Příběh jedněch botiček, in: Cizí, jiné, exotické v české kultuře, ed. by Kateřina Bláhová and Václav Petrbok, Prague, pp. 126-133.

Jasmin Mersmann (2023): Bis auf die Knochen. Gebundene Füße in anatomischen Sammlungen, in: unBinding Bodies, ed. by ders. and Evke Rulffes, Bielefeld, pp. 119-129.

Hans Virchow (1903): Das Skelett eines verkrüppelten Chinesinnen-Fußes, in: Zeitschrift für Ethnologie 35:2, pp. 266-316 and (1905): Further communications on the feet of Chinese women, in: ZfE 37:4, pp. 546-568.

Object of the month: An Indian Tablā (dāyāṃ) in the Berlin Lautarchiv

Object of the Month 04/2023 

In addition to its core holdings of audio recordings of prisoners of war from the First World War and the collection of German dialects from the 1920s and 1930s, the Lautarchiv (Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin) also preserves other interesting sub-collections that have so far remained rather in the background and initially seem to have no obvious connection to the collection. Take, for example, three Indian drums.

No historical written documentation exists for these instruments. There is no entry in any inventory book that would indicate how, why and from where they came into the collection of the Lautarchiv. In terms of organology, the three drums do not form a coherent ensemble. One of these drums—an Indian tablā (dāyāṃ)—will be the focus of attention here.

An Indian tablā (dāyāṃ) in the Berlin Lautarchiv; height 29cm.
Tabla Top View
The tablā (⌀ 20cm) viewed from the top with the characteristic black tuning paste (shāī) in the middle. Note the white areas (stains from an improper application of stickers).

About the instrument

Tablā is the name for a pair of drums played with the hands, consisting of two small kettle drums. The smaller of the two drums played with the right hand is also called dāyāṃ (literally: right), which is referred to as the “real” tablā in some publications. The larger drum played with the left hand is called bāyāṃ (literally: left). There is only a dāyāṃ in the Lautarchiv; the pair of drums is incomplete. The tablā is more than a mere “object”; it demands the respect of musicians to be treated as individuals: instrument and musician become one. The drums are placed on the floor and played cross-legged. However, it is not allowed to simply step over a tablā standing on the floor; this is considered disrespectful.

Provenance: a few tentative & speculative thoughts

Some speculative lines of thought on the provenance are outlined here due to the lack of documentation:

  • Non-returned loan?
    First of all, the speculative thought suggests itself whether it could possibly be a historical loan from the Museum of Musical Instruments SIMPK or the Ethnological Museum. This can be ruled out for the MIM due to a missing catalogue number on the instrument. The same applies to the Ethnological Museum.
  • Guest gift?
    According to Dieter Mehnert, who was responsible for the collection in the 1990s, the drums had been “brought” from India before the 1960s. Further circumstances were not known. So whether it was a guest gift to the university deposited in the Lautarchiv must remain open.
  • Age of the instrument?
    Even though the instrument probably came to the Lautarchiv before 1960, this does not allow us to draw any conclusions about the age of the instrument. It could be considerably older. The age could only be reliably determined by a dendrochronological examination (a dating by means of a tree ring examination of the wood used), not by mere visual inspection.

Within the non-material context of the collection

Although no direct connection of the tablā to the other holdings of the Lautarchiv can be reconstructed, the tablā in the Lautarchiv by no means stands in a culturally isolated space. Interesting cross-references exist within the collection that lend a non-material context to the fact that there is a tablā in the Lautarchiv. Consider that the Nobel laureate Rabīndranāth Ṭhākur (রবীন্দ্রনাথ ঠাকুর,1861–1941) gave a speech and sang a song at Friedrich-Wilhelm-Universität in June 1921. This audio recording is now in the collection of the Lautarchiv (shelf mark AUT 48). Whether it might even have been a gift from Rabīndranāth Ṭhākur cannot yet be determined on the basis of current knowledge. A song sung in the Tamiḻ language (தமிழ்) by Rājamāṇikkam (born around 1902) on 28 September 1926, accompanied by tablā (shelf mark LA 733), is unfortunately among the losses of the Lautarchiv.

Symbolic power of a Tablā in the Berlin Lautarchiv

Last but not least, the tablā also stands symbolically “in the midst” of the POW recordings of Indian colonial soldiers sent by the United Kingdom against Germany in the First World War. One of the most famous cyclically repeated rhythmic structures in North Indian classical music is the so-called Teental (तीन ताल). Its rhythmically balanced structure in 16 drum syllables (bol), which in turn are subdivided into 4×4 syllables, was considered a symbolic force for peace by none other than Ravi Shankar (1920–2012). It is up to everyone to decide whether the existence of a tablā in the collection of the Lautarchiv, “in the midst” of the audio recordings of prisoners of the First World War, can also assume and unfold such a symbolic power of peace today.

Text and photos: Christopher Li, Head of Collection of Sound Archive

Object of the month: Historical drawing of a new horse stable building

Object of the Month 03/2023 

House 9 on the North Campus once served as the equine clinic of the former Prussian Royal Veterinary School, which was one of the leading training and research centres for veterinary medicine in the young German Empire. The northern part of the building was built in 1836 by Ludwig Ferdinand Hesse, the southern part in 1874 by Julius Emmerich as an extension. A drawing from the plan archive of the Technical Department provides information on the construction of the extension.
HU, Campus North, House 9
Campus North, House 9, Photo: Kerstin Hinrichs, 14 March 2023
The drawing by the architect Julius Emmerich shows the front of an elongated single-storey stable building with a high roof, framed by stair towers and transoms on a scale of 1:100. The centre is emphasised by a risalit with a wood-decorated roof gable, and three window axes each on the left and right. On the ground floor, double-wing windows form a line with the skylights and thus vertically divide the cube. In the gable of the risalite, at the level of the attic, a double-leaf slatted door through which straw and hay could be stored in the attic. The towers served as access to the work and living rooms of the animal keepers in the transverse bays. The shape of the roof, the profiled beam heads and brackets, the accentuation of the cornices by moulded stones as well as the alternating coloured brick bands are depicted in great detail in the drawing. Emmerich’s design borrows from Schinkel’s designs for Prussian country house buildings. Trees and bushes frame the planned building and refer to the park character of the site.
project new horse stable
"Project for the construction of a new horse stable on the site of the Thierarzneischule", 59.8 cm x 45.4 cm, drawing, ink, wash on cardboard

The plan served as an appendix to the cost estimate for the building of 17 August 1873 and was submitted by Emmerich and countersigned by master builder F. Schulze on 12 September of the same year.
At that time, Emmerich was in the Prussian civil service and was in charge of the planning. On the basis of the other autographs, the remarks on the plan and the accompanying signatures, it is possible to trace the usual approval procedure for new buildings that was customary for the city of Berlin in the young Empire. Government building officer Ludwig Giersberg, an employee of the Ministry of Construction, Military, Trade and Finance, Department of Construction, confirmed the accuracy of the plan document. From 1866 onwards, Giersberg was entrusted in the Ministry with the preparation of expert opinions and the examination of building projects of outstanding importance in public construction. His signature under the plan, dated 27 April 1875, confirmed the planning for the new stables for the veterinary school. The text “Neuer Stall der Medizin. Klinik” using a blue pen probably goes back to the planning for necessary new buildings for the veterinary school at the beginning of 1908. At that time, 10,000 horses per year were already being treated in the existing buildings.

After the equine clinic was completed in 1839, the building was used as an animal stable and warehouse until the veterinarians moved to Dahlem in 1991. In 2014, extensive renovation and conversion work took place. Today, there are laboratory and seminar rooms on the ground floor and offices of the Institute of Biology on the upper floor.

Author: Kerstin Hinrichs, Technical Department