The Einstein Scandal

The Einstein scandal: How a birthday present from Berlin to Professor Einstein attributed to the downfall of Berlin’s Mayor.

Happy Birthday Mr. Einstein

It’s 1929 and Berlin is enjoying its place in the sun. The economic crisis of the earlier half of the decade has faded, for some, from memory as the vices of a city at its peak draw attention away from the past and into the moment.

Streets are filled with traffic as private car ownership begins to soar, public transport routes are being expanded and advanced in technology as a city bulging at its seems beings to flow over into the new housing developments as architects of the bauhaus put function before form and expand great housing estates into the forests.

Since coming into power Oberbürgermeister Böß has done much to help the city especially in regards to places of entertainment and relaxation. Stadiums to host football and athletics are being planned for Moabit and Westend, the Deutsches Sportforum, where the cancelled olympics of 1916 was to be held, is being redesigned and in some cases finished, parks are redesigned in Jungfernheide, he’d over seen the completion of the new Berlin Flughafen (later to become Flughafen Tempelhof) and the exhibition centre in Westend that was crowned by the Funkturm the marvel of both engineering and technological advancements.

Education had also been high on Böß agenda. Not only had schools been constructed but the arts had been made more accessible for the younger generation. Concerts were held in town halls, free for the youth in the hope that they might become inspired and later join the ranks of Berlin’s already famous Philharmonie. He was a man, if anything, who wished to provide for the people a city that was not of industry but a city of health, entertainment and education that would not only last for the day but would provide for many generations to come.

It was in this vein that he also wished to honour those who made Berlin their home, who added to the vibrant texture of a city ever changing, and to show, that Berlin was a city that welcomed all with open arms if you so chose to make it your home and there was few more famous people who had chosen to make Berlin their home than Albert Einstein.

Einstein had relocated to Berlin due to the persuasion of another of Berlin’s famous residents in the field of Physics Max Planck. Einstein arrived in April 1914 and quickly made the city his home. A year later in 1915, on the 25th of Novemeber, he presented at the Prussian Academy of Sciences on Unter den Linden the core of his theory of general relativity. His first home, albeit temporary, had been in the south western district of Dahlem, before relocating to Wittelsbachstraße in Wilmersdorf as he became the director of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute and then finally to the Bayerisches Viertel in Schöneberg, a quaint district in the old Nuremberg Style where many artists, writers, journalists and scientists found peace in the green streets or at the numerous cafes that dotted the squares of the district where he made a home on Haberlandstraße.

His fame continued to grow, despite his divorcing of his wife Mileva for his cousin Elsa, and his 1919 observations of a solar eclipse made him a global celebrity. Oberservatories were built for his research and named after him and in 1922 he received the Nobel Prize in Physics. The continued growing fame that surrounded him also attracted people to Berlin not only from the world of Physics but from greater society.

With the fame of the man continually growing and his tenure in Berlin on going, by 1929 Böß wished to honour the man for calling Berlin his home as he had done for the previous fourteen years in the hope that Einstein might consider remaining in Berlin for many more years. One way to do this was to, quite literally, cement the mans foundations in Berlin. It was decided between Lord Mayor Böß and the cities magistrates that a plot of land, perhaps with a house upon it, should be bequeathed by the city on to the eminent physicist.

Berlin was a renting city, as it still very much is today. Most people who occupied a dwelling were not the owner but merely a resident, a system that worked well with the transient nature of the city. People came to Berlin in the droves looking for work, most found it, but with the horrors of the economic crisis of the earlier part of the decade behind them, much of Germany was thriving and many past through Berlin, stopping for a few weeks or months, before moving on to cities across the nation. However, in the earlier years of the 20th century, when the Kaiser still sat on the thrown and Berlin was enjoying its greatest economic success, being only behind New York in terms of its economy in 1905, many of the wealthy residents of Berlin, and not just the traditional families with suffixes like von, found that the great smoke of an industrial city bore heavy upon their bodies. From the dust and dirt of a city towered over by chimney stacks for porcelains works, for breweries and for train yards, they found refuge in the calm waters of the lakes that had been dug to drain the swamp forests many years before, or on the larger bodies of water that formed part of the river Havel that lapped at the border of Berlin. It was on the shores of these bodies of water that many little houses, built in the simplest of methods from wooden planked walls, windows of single paned glass, and stilts pushed into the earth that wealthy residents of Berlin found restbite amongst the trees and lakes that surrounded it.

It was upon this idea that Lord Mayor Böß decided to act. Surely a thinker such as Professor Einstein nobel prize winner and notable physicist the world over would find solace to continue his work so the search began for a suitable location that could be purchased and offered to the great professor as a gift from Berlin to Einstein in celebration of his 50th Birthday.

It was certainly the best laid plan of mice and men.

The Berlin Magistrate had purchased a house upon a plot of land in Berlin’s Neu-Cladow district (Neukladow). A small settlement nestled on the banks of the Havel and looking on towards the Schwanenwerder Island, where the super wealthy of Berlin were forming their grand homes. Neu Cladow, taking Cladow from the slavic meaning Tree Trunk was a settlement that was first documented in the 13th century but like much of the area around the city of Berlin archeology revleaed that the settlement was indeed roughly four hundred years older. It was, and remains a pleasant charactered area. As far south in the district of Spandau as one could get, where the banks of the river were doted with the small houses of the city elite and white, red and brown hulls of sailing boats, the village was charming. A small church was at its centre with neo-gothic architecture. Other than the church and the small housing, both for summer and winter, the main feature for the traveller wishing to set their eyes upon Neukladow is the Gutshaus Neukladow.

Gutshaus Neukladow that dominats the estate by the water was built by famed architect David Gilly, whose work dominated the pages more often than land, for the King Friedrich Wilhelm III, but it, for a brief time at least, became the home of Wilhelmine Luise Mencken, who was famous for being the mother of Otto von Bismarck, the iron chancellor of the German Empire. The Gutshaus is simple as it is elegant in a refined Prussian neo-classism architectural styling, in gardens that had been restored in 1912 by Paul Schulze-Naumburg who not long after would embark on a much larger commission in the Schloß Cecilienhof palace for the Crown Prince. It was within this land that the house, purchased by the magistrates lay.

Lord Mayor Böß took to a stand to declare to the press on the 14th of March 1929, Albert Einstein’s 50th Birthday that the magistrates, the City of Berlin and himself had granted upon Albert Einstein residence for life for the single family house located in the park of Neu-Cladow.

However, the magistrates could have done well to read the small print of the contract that they had signed with the former owner when purchasing the property.

In the house intended to be the gift from the great city to the great professor resided a man by the name of Herr von Zachow. Herr von Zachow tended to the property, maintained it and its gardens but was informed that he would have to vacate. He was aware that the property had been sold but was not aware and quite shocked to find out that he had to leave, and he took up his grievances with the magistrate.

His argument was quite simple, he was the manager of the property not its owner, however, its owner a Frau von Brandis had within the contract of sale with the magistrate slid in a clause. Upon the properties sale, the magistrates and the City of Berlin would come into ownership however, she would maintain the rights to live in the property for a further five years after the sale. She, herself, was no longer in the region, she had left for a long journey through Africa, leaving Herr von Zackow to tend to the estate in her absence.

News quickly spread amongst the press that something had gone wrong with the gift and the Professor Einstein had been put into a pickle of being awarded residence in a house to which someone else already occupied. The press spoke of the embarrassment not only for the Professor, but predominantly for the City Government and inparticular the man who had announced the gift Lord Mayor Böß.

The city profusely apologised to the Professor and gathered quickly, and without much thought, not learning from their prior mistake, a list of properties that could be made available for the Professor to inhabit. The city announced to the press through a statement.

“About the Birthday present of the city of Berlin to Professor Einstein, erroneous rumours are often spread. The city has discussed with Professor Einstein various places in Neu-Cladow for selection. Among them was the originally published so-called Kavalier-Haus, which is currently still inhabited. Professor Einstein has decided on another plot of land also offered to him, which is located behind the farm of the Neu-Cladow manor and is situated in Datow. The property is about two acres in size and has a very beautiful agricultural setting. Professor Einstein will build himself a country house there. The magistrate has agreed to this. The garden will be tidied up and access will be granted to it through the adjacent property of the Motor-Yacht-Club. The board of directors of this club has graciously agreed to this. A direct access to the named garden plot from the farm is not possible, as a barn steals the whole width of the plot. Consequently, the entrance must be through the Motor Yacht Club.”

It sounded nice in first instance but soon after the realities set in. To access the plot in any other manner other than through the Motor-Yacht-Club meant having to pass through three other plots of land, the owners of which, coming from the small village of Neukladow had not been blinded by the brilliance of the man that could have walked across their patch of earth like the city dwellers had themselves. The grace of the Motor-Yacht-Club also was not a logical means of accessibility as it itself could only be accessed via the water.

Soon the controversy grew, it festered. The Mayor and Magistrates were easy to please and tried to do much with the land without permission of the residents around and their determination of offering a gift soon turned, for Einstein, in feeling as if the tainted gift was forced upon himself. It could not be particularly relaxing if the neighbours around brought spite and the only means of access to anything other than the plot of land on which he could build a house was via the water. It came to be that Einstein, politely, refused the gift of Mayor Böß. He also refused to accept any other land, despite the insistence of the Mayor vowing not to take any land from a resident, in the end he, Einstein, purchased a quaint patch of lang on the other side of the water near another Rittergut in Caputh.

In Caputh they built a small home from the plans of Konrad Wachsmann that looked over the Templiner See. Meant as a summer home the residence in its seclusion finally offered the Professor the solace to work that Mayor Böß had initially wished to offer with the original gift but could not deliver. The house still stands today, even after being stolen from Einstein after he emigrated to flee Nazi persecution by the National Socialist regime after which it was used briefly by the Wehrmacht, before becoming a private residence in the times of the East German State until 1979, when, on the 100th birthday of Einstein, it was restored by the Academy of Sciences for which he once belonged. Today it belongs to the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and can be visited on special occasions but walked by freely.

Red house standing in the trees once belonging to Albert Einstein.
Einstein Haus Capthus: Photo by Sebastian Wallroth

More scandal for Mayor Böß

As for Lord Mayor Böß, for a man who tried to do good he would also meat his political end in scandal later the same year of Einsteins 50th birthday. It came to pass that his wife had received a fur coat from the Sklarek brothers.

The Sklarek brothers had acquired, in 1926 the rights to a clothing distribution company’s stock that had provided the city’s officials with clothes during the Great War and they were granted the right to continue the distribution of the clothes.

Soon however, blighted by greed, or political ambition it is not certain, they began forging invoices and investing money in the city officials, offering cheap clothes to politicians and civil servants, they had been able through this to gain a monopoliy on supplies to hospitals and welfare institutions and had ultimately committed credit fraud. When an investigation was begun into the finances of the brothers and their business it was discovered the embezzled amount came to 10,000,000 Reichsmarks or 27.2 million Euros today.

One of the brothers was a member of the DDP, the Deutschen Demokratischen Partei to which Mayor Böß belonged. The others to the largest party within the parliament the SDP Sozialdemokratisches Partei Deutschland, but they been giving money to most parties. For Mayor Böß they had gifted a fur coat to his wife worth 1,000 RM or 2800 Euros in 2020. His wife having only paid 200 RM. The remaining amount Böß had donated via the purchase of a painting and its donation to a charitable cause and 200 RM were given to two distressed sister-in-laws but the accounts of the Sklarek brothers when they were brought for analysis did not, of course, show this. Böß head was for the block.

Proceedings were brought against the man who had done so much for the city and through a mistake of his wife he had attempted to make good on in his donations his political career was over. The Prussian Higher Administrative Court next to the Station Zoologischer Garten, acknowledged that he had attempted to pay the difference through other means but it in itself breached duty. Böß retired from office on 7th of November 1929 with a fine of one months wage.

The two parties that gained most from the scandal were those on the extremes, the KPD under Ernst Thälmann and the National Socialist Party of Adolf Hitler. In the following elections the SPD would loose 4,2%, the DDP 3,3% and the KPD would gain 5,9% and the NSDAP for the first time in Berlin received over 5% with 5.8% allowing them to enter parliament in Berlin for the first time.

Eventually, once Adolf Hitler and the Nazi’s had seized power and began the Gleichschaltung of Germany, Böß would be put on trial again and held in solitary confinement for 9 months, however the charges of receiving to higher a salary and spending too much money on the conversion of a company flat proved to be unfounded and he was released. The Sklarek brothers were not so lucky. Willi Sklarek died in Prague in March 1938, Leo was shot in Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp in 1942 and Max was murdered in Auschwitz in 1944.

Many of the infrastructure works of Mayor Böß still exist today, especially the sport parks. As for Einstein, he, first through Britain, would relocate to the United States, and apply for citizenship in 1935 and be lucky to predominantly avoid the persecution of the Nazis not only against his Jewish faith but also against intellectualism.

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