Berlin may be better known for its more terrestrial nightlife options, but the city that discovered Neptune has always had a love affair with astronomy.
When planning a romantic night out, you might not think immediately of science. You are probably even less likely to turn to astrophysics, meteor showers and nebulae in far-flung corners of the galaxy. But for Felix Lühning, there is something amorous about astronomy.
“I really think there is a romance with astronomy,” says Lühning, head of the department of astronomy at the Deutsches Technikmuseum and director of the Archenhold Observatory, one of the last bastions of Berlin’s astronomical glory days.
Since the founding of the Societät der Wissenschaften in 1700 by Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, Berlin has been weak at the knees for the nocturnal science.
It was from this city that Neptune, the rock-and-ice planet, was discovered on September 23, 1846. Berlin astronomers first examined divisions within the rings of Saturn, and it was here that a new mathematical formula (using aberrations of numbers and trigonometric parallaxes) was developed for calculating the distance of certain stars. And yes, we’re still stuck on the Neptune thing, too.
Archenhold Observatory was actually never supposed to be where it stands now, on Puschkinallee in Treptower Park. Friedrich Simon Archenhold, the observatory’s founder and namesake, built what was then the world’s longest telescope for the Berlin Industrial Exposition in 1896. he planned to move it south of Berlin after the event where the conditions for use would be better. But after pouring all his money into the telescope, Archenhold went bankrupt and could not fulfill his plans.
Public interest meant that it became the only exhibit from the expo to remain permanent, and Archenhold raised money through lectures and with the help of the trade unions, who bought and distributed 100,000 tickets to allow the public a chance to use the telescope. On May 17, 1908, after more than 10 years, work started on the current building that houses the telescope.
It was here at the observatory that Einstein gave his first public lectures in Berlin on his Theory of Relativity and the telescope remains the world’s longest moveable refracting telescope at 21 meters.
Today, astronomy may not have quite the popular cachet it did in the 19th century, when astronomy clubs and societies were spreading throughout Europe. But Dr. Lühning thinks Berlin is still a place where people can be captivated by the mysteries of space and the thrill of discovery.
“I think you can see this most with kids and how they get excited by the planets and stars,” he says. “We get a number of people coming here who are taken by the beauty of it all, including a number of couples.”
According to Lühning, there is a strong community of amateur astronomers in Berlin, and they have plenty of options to choose from. In addition to Archenhold, there’s the Zeiss-Großplanetarium on Prenzlauer Allee and the Wilhelm-Foerster Observatory in Schöneberg for taking in the wonders of the night or maybe even for your next hot date.