Follow TV Tropes


Useful Notes / Dichter and Denker

Go To
The "Dichterfürsten"note  Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller.

"In the beginning, the good God gave to the French the dominion of the land, to the English the dominion of the seas, and to the Germans the dominion of the clouds."
Jean Paul Richternote 

"Das Land der Dichter und Denker" ("The land of poets and thinkers") is a common nickname Germans give to their country. The German self-identity has always laid emphasis on a shared culture and language, due to Germany not being a unified country at the time nationalism became the latest craze in Europe. And because of certain events during the years 1933 - 1945, seeking patriotic feelings in military accomplishments (or, as is often the case, even expressing any patriotism at all) is no longer en vogue in Germany. This fact has perhaps even strengthened the traditional German emphasis on cultural and scientific achievements.

It's worth noting that during WWII even some Allied wartime propaganda acknowledged this, portraying the Nazis as crushing Germany's widely-admired cultural output with their unsophisticated militarism (this is in contradistinction with most other propaganda both in WW2 and WW1, when German Kultur was depicted as being brutal Prussian militarism).

As can be easily seen from the list below, or from this little list here, the Germanies and later unified Germany indeed was a powerhouse especially in natural sciences (and in that field, again especially in physics). After 1945, not so much. No prizes for guessing the reason. (About a third of the leading researchers were Jewish, another third opponents to the Nazis and the rest were scooped up by the Allies after the war.)

The expression was coined by literary critic Wolfgang Menzel in 1836. According to economic historian Eckhard Höffman, as quoted by the magazine ''Der Spiegel'', Menzel didn't have in mind the actual "thinkers and poets" Germany is famous for, but rather a "strange" (for the time) predilection for reading books; as there was no copyright law in Germany at the time, there was no monopoly on the individual books they published, so the publishers had to mass produce those books at cheap prices (alongside deluxe editions for the rich) to recover the money they invested; this led to an increased interest in reading (as already mentioned) and, as some of those books were of a technical, practical or scientific nature, Höffman argues that this mass readership led to the rise of Germany as an industrial power. Another interpretation (which only really works due to the ambiguous German syntax) is that "Land der Dichter und Denker" was supposed to mean "the land that only exists inside the heads of poets and thinkers" as opposed to the other countries that actually existed in real life. And for most of the 19th century, Germany really was more of an abstract concept talked about by intellectual elites than an everyday reality like Britain or France.

After 1945 some changed the wording to "Land der Richter und Henker" - land of judges and executioners, due to the way in which the legal profession had been largely complicit in the Nazi crimes.

And so without further ado, we present you a list of some famous German "Dichter und Denker":


Actual Poets and Other Writers

  • Otfrid of Weißenburg (died ca. 875) — As the first named author to write in the (Old High) German language, he is sometimes called the "Father of German literature". He was a monk in Weißenburg (French: Wissembourg) in Alsace; his major work is the Liber Evangeliorum, a biblical epic poem that introduced the Romance end-rhyme into German literature to replace the traditional Germanic alliterative rhyme.
  • Hrotsvit (Roswitha) of Gandersheim (ca. 935 - after 975) — Considered the first female German poet, this nun wrote in Latin. Her works include a history of the life of Emperor Otto the Great in classical hexameters and some of the first new dramas since Roman antiquity. Her Theophilus is considered the first literary treatment of a Deal with the Devil. (She is also the "Hroswitha" who is the subject/addressee of overly-adoring lamentations about modernity by the avant-le-lettre neoreactionary Ignatius J. Reilly in A Confederacy of Dunces.)
  • Hartmann von Aue (died between 1210 and 1220) — Together with Wolfram von Eschenbach and Gottfried von Straßburg (died ca. 1215, the writer of Tristan) this knight forms the "big three" of epic poetry in the middle ages. Two of his works - Erec and Iwein - are Arthurian romances in the tradition of Chrétien de Troyes; he also wrote Gregorius and Der arme Heinrich.
  • Wolfram von Eschenbach (died ca. 1220) — A knight who became one of the greatest poets of his day, even though Gottfried and Hartmann looked down on him for his lack of (clerical) education. His Parzival, a translation and completion of a work by Chrétien de Troyes, has been handed down in more manuscripts than any other medieval poem. He also wrote Willehalm and the unfinished Titurel.
  • Walther von der Vogelweide (ca. 1170 - ca. 1230) — The most famous Minnesänger, considered the greatst German poet of the middle ages. Besides poems dealing with matters of love, he also wrote and sang about the political issues of the day and his own life.
  • Ulrich von Hutten (1488 - 1523) — A Humanist scholar and writer, he is today best remembered for his poem Ich hab's gewagt ("I dared") and his participation in the Epistolae virorum obscurorum, a satire of Scholasticism.
  • Hans Sachs (1494 - 1576) — Shoemaker and poet in Nuremberg. His carnival comedies haven't aged well (as is to be expected with 500 year old jokes), but he is still famous, if only as the central character of Richard Wagner's Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg.
  • Andreas Gryphius (1616 - 1664) — Born Andreas Greif, the most famous exponent of the Silesian School of poetry which reshaped German literature durin the early Baroque. Is best remembered for his sonnets, especially the ones reflecting the horrors of the Thirty Years' War. He also was a playwright of both tragedies (like Carolus Stuardus, König von Groß Britannien) and comedies, one of which has the delightful title Horribilicribrifax.
  • Hans Jakob Christoffel von Grimmelshausen (ca. 1622 - 1676) — Soldier and the first important German novelist. His picaresque novels Der abentheuerliche Simplicissimus Teutsch and Lebensbeschreibung der Ertzbetrügerin und Landstörtzerin Courasche (the latter via Brecht's dramatic treatment) continue to shape the way we see the Thirty Years' War.
  • Salomon (Salomo) Franck (1659 - 1725) — Scientist, lawyer, and poet. Best known for writing the librettos for some of J.S. Bach's greatest cantatas.
  • Barthold Hinrich Brockes (1680 - 1747) — Senator of the Free City of Hamburg and poet. Writing on the turn from Baroque to The Enlightenment, Brockes sang the praises of God in his magnum opus Irdisches Vergnügen in Gott ("Earthly delight in God") - as a hobby gardener, he saw the beauty of nature as a manifestation and proof of God's greatness - and in a passion that was set to music by four great composers of the day, Keiser, Telemann, Händel, and Mattheson.
  • Christian Friedrich Henrici (1700 - 1764) — Also known as Picander. Civil servant and poet; like Salomon Franck, best known for writing some of J.S. Bach's cantata librettos. Writer of the librettos for the great St. Matthew Passion and the quirky Coffee Cantata.
  • Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock (1724 - 1803) — Today mainly familiar to literary historians, he was one of the most famous poets of his day, especially for his magnum opus, the epic poem Der Messias. An exponent of the Enlightenment and a freemason, he was made an honorary French citizen during The French Revolution, which he continued to support long after most of his colleagues had turned away from it. His funeral in Ottensen near Hamburg was attended by about 20,000 people and is still reckoned to be the greatest any German poet ever got. The use of his hymn "Die Auferstehung" (The Resurrection) at the funeral of conductor Hans von Bulow inspired Gustav Mahler to write his Second Symphony.
  • Gotthold Ephraim Lessing (1729 - 1781) — Poet, dramatist, critic and journalist. One of the most important writers of The Enlightenment in Germany. A pioneer of German drama, he wrote, among others, the bürgerliches Trauerspiel (bourgeois tragedy) Emilia Galotti, the comedy Minna von Barnhelm, and the "dramatic poem" Nathan the Wise, the title character of which is a thinly-veiled portrait of his friend, the Jewish philosopher Moses Mendelssohn (1729-1786). His criticism and works in artistical theory had a great influence, making Shakespearean drama more important than Classic French drama as the model to emulate.
  • Christoph Martin Wieland (1733 - 1813) — Together with Herder, Goethe and Schiller forms the tetralogy of the Weimarer Klassik, as he and the other three lived together for a time in that small town, the residence of the Duke of Saxe-Weimar. Notable enough as a writer in his own right that Napoleon invited him to see him in 1808, Wieland is also important as a translator of Shakespeare's works. Heinrich Heine still preferred Wieland's prose translations over the blank verse versions of Schlegel and Tieck.
  • Matthias Claudius (1740 - 1815) — As a writer and journalist he also called himself Asmus. He left a relatively small oeuvre, but it includes some of the most beloved poems in German literature, e. g. the Abendlied ("Der Mond ist aufgegangen") and Der Tod und das Mädchen (scored by Schubert). His Kriegslied ("War Song") with its line "Sadly it's war, and I desire that it isn't through my fault" was originally written in 1778 at the beginning of the now-forgotten War of the Bavarian Succession, but has been quoted a much more urgently with reference to more recent military conflicts.
  • Georg Christoph Lichtenberg (1742 - 1799) — A mathematician and first German professor for experimental physics, he is still considered the greatest writer of aphorisms in the German tongue.
  • Johann Gottfried Herder (1744 - 1803) — Theologian and writer. Best known for his theories on the origin of language, his historic writings and for his translations of folk songs and ballads from all over Europe. Born in East Prussia, he was a bit of a Slavophile, which accounts for his popularity in Eastern Europe. For the conspiracy-minded: He was both a freemason and a member of the Illuminati.
  • Gottfried August Bürger (1747 - 1794) — A member of the Hain group of poets in the university town of Göttingen, he is remembered primarily for his version of Baron von Münchhausen's adventures and for his ballads, especially the seminal Lenore.
  • Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749 - 1832) — Often claimed to be most important German language author. Wrote many poems, The Sorrows of Young Werther and Faust. Many phrases originating in his works found their way into everyday German language. Because he dabbled a bit in botany, anatomy, colour theory, and geology, he could technically also be listed under Scientists here. Appeared on the East German 20-Mark banknote.
  • Friedrich Schiller (1759 - 1805) — Best buddy of Goethe. Wrote plays like William Tell, Mary Stuart, Wallenstein and The Robbers. Also you can eat his hair. The lyrics to Ludwig van Beethoven's Ode to Joy were lifted almost word-for-word from one of his poems.
  • Jean Paul (1763 – 1825) — Born Johann Paul Friedrich Richter. He was noted for his humorous novels and stories, as well as for essays expounding the spirit of German romanticism. Known to his admirers as Der Einzige ("the unique" or "the one and only") because he was so hard to categorize. His works were translated and popularized in English by Thomas Carlyle. Jean Paul provides the page quote.
  • Friedrich Hölderlin (1770 - 1843) — One of the greatest lyric poets in the German language. Hölderlin went to school with Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel and Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling. His verse celebrated Ancient Greek and Roman culture, and he translated Greek tragedy into German. Several of his lyrics were set to music. His personal life was colourful, having fallen in love with a married woman, spending time in a sanatorium and then spending the final, peaceful, years of his life in the house of a kindly carpenter. On his death, neither his family and friends attended his Lonely Funeral but later poets have paid tribute to his influence.
  • E. T. A. Hoffmann (1776 - 1822) — Born Ernst Theodor Wilhelm Hoffmann, he changed his third name to Amadeus out of admiration for Mozart. A writer, music critic and composer whose tales epitomized "Dark Romanticism" and had a huge influence in and outside Germany that his life and works were turned into an opera by Jacques Offenbach. Well-known works include the early crime novella Das Fräulein von Scudery, The Nutcracker and the Mouse King, and The Sandman (1816).
  • Heinrich Von Kleist (1777 - 1811) — Kleist was a highly popular playwright, whose characters taken from classical and medieval world nonetheless had a modern, psychological contemporary spirit. His short stories were much loved by Franz Kafka, who cited Michael Kohlhaas as one of his favorites. His writings are still shocking for their violence and sexuality, which makes him a major Romantic writer even if he was highly ironic in spirit. He died with his friend, Henriette Vogel, in a murder-suicide pact first by shooting her and then himself. No one who had read his works was surprised in the least.
  • Adelbert von Chamisso (1781 - 1838) — Born Louis-Charles-Adélaïde de Chamissot de Boncourt, he came from an aristocratic family that fled to Prussia during The French Revolution. He became fluent in German and wrote several well-known ballads as well as the influential novel Peter Schlemihl, about a man who sells his shadow, which became a European best-seller. Chamisso was also a naturalist of note - he accompanied a Russian circumnavigation of the Globenote  and later became the director of Berlin's botanical garden - and wrote the first grammar of the Hawaiian language. A prize for writers who write in German but who learned German as a second language is named in his honour.
  • Bettina von Arnim (1785 - 1859) — Born Elisabeth Brentano; sister of one romantic poet (Clemens Brentano), she married his friend and colleague Achim von Arnim. As a writer in her own right she started as a Goethe fangirl and only really went public after her husband's death in 1831. She also took up social causes like Jews and women getting equal rights with Christian men, and though she remained a monarchist she came close to early socialism. Her face appeared on the 1990 5-Mark banknote.
  • Jacob (1785 - 1863) and Wilhelm (1786 - 1859) Grimm, AKA The Brothers Grimm — The Grimm Bros. are famous for a number of things, among them: 1) Their collection of Fairy Tales, and 2) the Deutsches Wörterbuch, a reallllllly big German dictionary, begun in 1838 — the last volume of the first edition was published as late as 1961, with the addition of a source volume in '71.! (It isn't a 'simple' dictionary but, like the Oxford English Dictionary, one which contains detailed information about the etymology and history of the words and language. A 'simple' dictionary more likely to be known by people who speak or learn German would be the Duden.) The Brothers Grimm were portrayed on the '90s-version of the 1000 Deutsche Mark banknote. Also, Jacob Grimm was a famous linguist (the term was philologist at the time), who discovered Grimm's Law, which details the transformation from Proto-Indo-European to Proto-Germanic.
  • Heinrich Heine (1797 - 1856) — Among other writings, author of the poem Germany. A Winter's Tale, in which Heine describes satirically his tour through Germany (he emigrated to France in 1831). Centuries later, the title of Sönke Wortmann's movie Deutschland. Ein Sommermärchen (Germany. A Summer's Tale) is a Shout-Out. Quite ironic, if you think about it for a moment, given that Wortmann's movie is rather positive, while Heine portrays the political atmosphere in his contemporary Germany in rather a negative way.
  • Annette von Droste-Hülshoff (1797 - 1848) — One of Germany's most important female authors. Her most famous work is the murder mystery The Jew's Beech. Also authored the awesomely creepy poem The Lad on the Moor. Droste-Hülshoff was portrayed on the '90s-version of the 20 Deutsche Mark banknote.
  • Hoffmann von Fallersleben (1798 - 1874) — August Heinrich Hoffmann added the von Fallersleben (after his home town, now a part of Wolfsburg, home of VW) to his name, in order to distinguish himself from all the other people who had the rather common surname Hoffmann. He is known for writing the Deutschlandlied (Song of Germany). Only the third stanza is the National Anthem of Germany today, due to the rest of the song being prone to be misinterpreted in a very Unfortunate Implications way - especially the first stanza, the one containing the notorious phrase: "Deutschland über alles!" ("Germany above all!") Originally though, the song was supposed to promote the unification of All the Little Germanies, not expansionism. And if you want to hear some other works by Fallersleben? Then you should go e.g. to a German kindergarten. Because He Also Did a whole bunch of children's songs, many of them being still popular to this very day.
  • Georg Büchner (1813 - 1837) — Until Brecht in the 20th Century, Büchner was the bad-boy playwright and revolutionary writer. Seen as the last of the classic Weimar generation of Goethe and Schiller, Büchner, a scientist and political revolutionary, often wrote on political themes and subjects. He died young at 24, but his plays - Danton's Death, Leonce and Lena, Woyzeck and his short story Lenz are regarded as masterpieces of German literature. Danton's Death is performed across the world and generally considered the greatest play about The French Revolution. Despite his death at a young age He Also Did quite a bit of revolutionary agitating and managed to start studying medicine in Strasbourg, even though his early death prevented him from finishing that. Marc-Uwe Kling reflects on Büchners numerous achievements despite his early death - drawing the conclusion that it may have been due to less distractions being available then - before he and his Kangaroo roommate decide to check out Facebook.
  • Adalbert Stifter (1805-1868) — An Austrian by nationality but a master of German prose, immensely admired by Friedrich Nietzsche (who ranked him second only to Goethe), Thomas Mann, Milan Kundera, and Hannah Arendt. He's considered one of the most internationally neglected German writers despite attempts by poets W. H. Auden and Marianne Moore to try and bring him to a wider audience. He's best known for his novels, Der Nachsommer (translated in English as "Indian Summer"), Witiko and his short stories such as Brigitta and Rock Crystal. He's considered to be representative of the Bidermeier era and is known for his detailed landscape descriptions in his prose.
  • Theodor Fontane (1819 - 1898) — generally considered the greatest German novelist of the 19th century, mostly for books like Effi Briest and Der Stechlin. Also beloved for his ballads and his Wanderungen durch die Mark Brandenburg, a series of originally journalistic descriptions of the landscapes, historic buildings and places in Brandenburg collected into five volumes.
  • Wilhelm Busch (1832 - 1908) — Told his stories using a sequence of pictures. Thus he was one of the pioneers of comics, although he didn't use speech bubbles yet, and the accompanied text was still quite descriptive. His most well known work is the story Max and Moritz, which directly inspired The Katzenjammer Kids on the other site of the Big Pond.
  • Gerhart Hauptmann (1862 - 1946) — Naturalist dramatist, awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1912. His Die Weber, a drama about the weavers' revolt of 1844 in Hauptmann's native Silesia (which he first wrote in Silesian dialect), caused a major scandal at its first performance in 1893, and is still one of the most famous social dramas. A number of his other plays are still regularly performed, especially Die Ratten and the comedy Der Biberpelz. Hauptmann arranged himself too well with the Nazis, which is why despite entreaties from East Germany and the Soviet Union the new Polish authorities in Silesia insisted that he be buried in Germany after he died in his home in Agnetendorf (Agnieszków).
  • Christian Morgenstern (1871 - 1914) — often considered the German Lewis Carroll, he is most famous for his humorous nonsense poetry, in particular the Galgenlieder (Gallow Songs). He did also write serious works, but they never got as popular as his non-sense ones. Died shortly before WW1, with a lot of his work only published posthumously. The Nasobēm, a creature he described in a poem as walking on its noses, gave rise to the scientific joke of the order of the Rhinogradentia [1], or snouters, complete with descriptions of behavious, habitat, etc., which have been added to many serious scientific encyclopedias.
  • Heinrich Mann (1871 - 1950) — Elder brother of Thomas, went into exile in 1933 and died in Santa Monica. His most well-known works are his novels Professor Unrat (on which The Blue Angel is based), Der Untertan (a scathing indictment of authoritarian patterns in German bourgeoisie) and the Henri Quatre two-parter.
  • Rainer Maria Rilke (1875 - 1926) — Regarded as the greatest German language poet of the 20th Century, Rilke was actually born in the Austrian Empire and spent several years in Switzerland. His works are filled with visionary metonyms, references to antiquity as well as visions of angels. Some of his non-fiction works, Letters to a Young Poet are popular among readers of self-help books and he still ranks as one of the most widely read poets in the world. One of his verses Archaic Torso of Apollo was given a Shout-Out in Woody Allen's Another Woman and Wim Wenders' Wings of Desire borrows the angel motif from his Duino Elegies.
  • Thomas Mann (1875 - 1955) — Got a Nobel Prize in Literature for his epic novel Buddenbrooks, in which he tells the story of a family whose members are largely based on his own relatives, which left several of them rather displeased. He was bi-leaning-heavily-towards-gay, but fell hard for Katia Pringsheim, the daughter of a Jewish industrialist, with whom he had six children. Had to flee from the Nazis because of his political views and possibly his past dalliances with men. (Also because, you know, his loving wife was Jewish. That can't have helped.)note  He moved to the US, at first teaching at Princeton before moving to Los Angeles, was naturalized as a US citizen and then settled permanently in Switzerland after the war.
  • Alfred Döblin (1878 - 1957) — An important writer (Günter Grass names him as his main influence) who began as an expressionist and is best know for his stream-of-consciousness novel Berlin Alexanderplatz (1929), which was adapted several times into films, a radio play and a television series. Had to emigrate in 1933 (he came from a family of assimilated Jews, but eventually became a Catholic); he returned shortly after the end of the war as a cultural officer in the French occupation administration, but feeling disgusted by so many Germans going into denial over the Nazi regime that he emigrated (again) to France from 1953 to 1956.
  • Hermann Broch (1886 - 1951) — An Austrian writer, his most famous novels were set in Germany and Ancient Rome. Broch considered himself a modernist, a writer interested in the decline of values in the modern age, the emergence of new media and mass culture. His two most famous works are The Sleepwalkers, a trilogy of novellas set in Berlin, Cologne and Mosel before and after World War I. Being Jewish (albeit one who converted to Catholicism), he had to leave Austria when the Nazis arrived, and in exile he composed The Death of Virgil, a work considered by Michel Foucault, Don DeLillo and George Steiner to be one of the great masterpieces of 20th Century fiction.
  • Kurt Tucholsky (1890 - 1935) — Journalist, critic, poet and writer. The leading satirist of the Weimar Republic used no less than four regular pseudonyms - Peter Panter, Theobald Tiger, Kaspar Hauser, and Ignaz Wrobel - to disguise just how much of the contents of the magazine Die Weltbühne came from his pen. His novels Rheinsberg and Schloss Gripsholm, which are still very popular, made him a rich man. Tucholsky, a Jew with strong left-wing political sympathies, had to flee Germany after the Nazis came to power and committed suicide in his Swedish exile.
  • Bertolt Brecht (1898 - 1956) — Influential due to his plays and his theoretical works regarding theatre. Had to flee from the Nazis because of his pro-Communist political views and was brought up before the House Un-American Activities Committee for the same reason. Later he lived in the GDR. After the government there violently struck down the 1953 uprising, Brecht famously "suggested" that the government should dissolve the people and elect another one (See? Germans DO have a sense of humour!) and got away with it.
  • Erich Kästner (1899 - 1974) — Famed as a satirical poet during the Weimar Republic and for his children's novels, many of which were adapted into movies several times over, e. g. Emil and the Detectives, Das fliegende Klassenzimmer, and Das doppelte Lottchen (which in America became The Parent Trap). His "novel for adults", Fabian, has somewhat unjustly been largely forgotten.
  • Heinrich Böll (1917 - 1985) — Novelist from Cologne and winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1972.
  • Günter Grass (1927 - 2015) — Novelist, poet, sculptor and artist. Best known for his "Danzig trilogy", in particular for The Tin Drum. Awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1999.


  • Heinrich Schütz (1585 - 1672) — Early Baroque composer, known especially for his ecclesiastical music. Latinzed his name to Henricus Sagittarius.
  • Johann Pachelbel (1653 - 1706) — Baroque composer. Though he was quite prolific, writing some 500 pieces, today he is known almost entirely for his Canon in D.
  • Georg Philipp Telemann (1681 - 1767) — Baroque composer who towards the end of his long and productive life veered into early Classicism. Seen as particularly light-hearted and open to new ideas and folk music influences (e. g. from Slavic music) and was the most successful German composer of his day throughout Europe.
  • Georg Friedrich Händel (1685 - 1759), AKA George Frideric Handel — Baroque composer. Although born in Germany, he wrote his most important works while living in Britain (although from Saxony, he was employed by Georg, the Elector of Hanover, when fate decided to turn Elector Georg into George I of Great Britain; he came over with the newly-minted king, and unlike the King-Elector, he liked Britain enough to learn the language and stay). Most famous for composing Messiah.
  • Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 - 1750) — Baroque composer. Famous for his organ. Er, I mean organ compositions!
  • Christoph Willibald Gluck (1714 - 1787) — Classical composer, especially of operas. Was especially well-received in Paris, where opera buffs divided into Gluck and Piccini fans.
  • Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 - 1791) — Classical composer and Child Prodigy, who at the age of five was composing music and performing before European royalty. Please note that while Mozart's native city Salzburg nowadays belongs to Austria, it didn't at the time, and anyways everyone was considered to be a subset of the amorphous 'German group' during his time (since there was no united Germany).
  • Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 - 1827) — Ta ta ta taaa!! Classical composer. Wrote the Ode to Joy (lyrics: Friedrich Schiller, see above), nowadays the hymn of The European Union. Gradually went deaf, but that didn't stop him from composing more and more stuff.
  • Carl Maria von Weber (1786 - 1826) — Famous pianist and composer of the first "national" German opera, Der Freischütz. Had a huge influence on many romantic composers, most notably Wagner; died in London.
  • Giacomo Meyerbeer (1791 - 1864) — Born Jakob Liebmann Meyer Beer, he came from a Jewish family. He achieved his greatest success in Paris, where he largely defined grand opéra, but still was given the honorary post of director of opera in his native Berlin in 1842 and in accordance with his last will he was buried in a Jewish cemetary in Berlin. He gave some assistance to Wagner early in his career, for which he was repaid with anti-semitic invective.
  • Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy (1809 - 1847) — One of the most popular composers of his time and also the man who rediscovered Bach and made the Gewandhausorchster in Leipzig one of the leading orchestras in Europe. Best known for his "Scottish" and "Italian" Symphonies, the oratorio Elias and his incidental music to A Midsummer Night's Dream with the ever-popular Wedding March. Despite converting to Protestantism, he became the target of anti-semitic attacks which only intensified after his death. His sister Fanny Hensel (1805 - 1847) was also a highly talented musician and composer, but as a woman was not allowed to fully live out her potential.
  • Robert Schumann (1810 - 1856) — Romantic composer, known for his Lieder and his Third Symphony (Rheinische). His wife Clara née Wieck (1819-1896) was a famous pianist who would also become Johannes Brahms' muse; her face appeared on the 1990 100-Mark banknote.
  • Richard Wagner (1813 - 1883) — Yet another classical composer! This one is famous for his operas. Due to Adolf Hitler being a big fan of Wagner (and unfortunately also due to Wagner being virulently, if inconsistently, anti-Semitic himself), the first performance of a Wagner opera in Israel was as late as 2001!
  • Jacques Offenbach (1819 - 1880) — Born Jakob Eberstnote ; the son of a Jewish cantor he had his musical education in Cologne and Paris, where he stayed and started his own genre of operetta. Thus is usually seen as a French composer, even though the Franco-German War the French suspected him of being Bismarck's spy.
  • Johannes Brahms (1837 - 1897) — Romantic composer born in Hamburg and known for his four symphonies and his lullaby. Worked in Vienna mostly.
  • Richard Strauss (1864 - 1949) — Composer known for a number of operas, e. g. Der Rosenkavalier and various orchestral works, e. g. the "Alpine Symphony". His most familiar work is probably the opening to his tone poem Also sprach Zarathustra. No relation to Johann Strauss (of The Blue Danube fame), and in fact born in Munich.
  • Kurt Weill (1900 - 1950) — Wrote The Threepenny Opera, The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny and The Seven Deadly Sins in collaboration with Bert Brecht. Exiled when the Nazis came to power, he made his way to America where he composed musicals with Ira Gershwin.
  • Ralph Siegel (born 1945) — Or Mr. Eurovision Song Contest. A major composer of Schlager and music producer, he has so far written 19 compositions that were used as entries in the fromer Grand Prix de Chanson. The most successful were Ein bißchen Frieden (winner in 1982), Theater, Johnny Blue and Laß die Sonne in dein Herz (number 2 in 1980, 1981 and 1987, respectively), although you probably remember Dschinghis Khan (number 4 in 1975) best.

Painters and Sculptors

  • Albrecht Dürer (1471 - 1528) — Created many interesting pictures, showing such diverse things as the Horsemen of the Apocalypse, praying hands, a rhino, a hare, a piece of turf (such mundane motifs were still very uncommon in his time), and a self-portrait in which he points at the spot were it hurts (it was for his physician). Motifs by Dürer could be seen on the '60s-'80s-versions of the 5 and 20 Deutsche Mark banknotes.
  • Hans Holbein (the Younger) (ca. 1498 - 1543) — A great portrait-painter, perhaps most famous for his meticulously detailed paintings of a number of personalities from the Tudor court (including Henry VIII himself) in Pimped-Out Dress, which Holbein painted while in England.
  • Gottfried Schadow (1764 - 1850) — Sculptor and Berlin original, best known for his group of Princess (later Queen) Louise and her sister Friederike and for the quadriga that tops the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin.
  • Caspar David Friedrich (1774 - 1840) — A master of the Early Romantic period, which his mysterious, symbolic landscapes — sometimes featuring Gothic ruins and often featuring human figures turned away from the viewer — perfectly embody. His works seem to turn up frequently on the covers of Horror fictions.
  • Christian Daniel Rauch (1777 - 1857) — Schadow's prize pupil, sculptor of many monuments in Berlin, including the tomb of Queen Louise and the big equestrian statue of Frederick the Great on Unter den Linden. As Rauch (whose surname means "smoke") became more and more successful, his former master Schadow wrily commented: "Mein Ruhm verging in Rauch" (My fame went up in Smoke).
  • Carl Spitzweg (1808 - 1885) — Famous for his paintings showing humorous scenes, making good-natured fun of his contemporaries during the conservative Biedermeier-era (the time between the Congress of Vienna in 1815 and the European Revolutions in 1848).
  • Adolph von Menzel (1815 - 1905) — Considered the greatest German realist painter of the 19th century, he also produced some pictures that can be considered forerunners of Impressionism. A lot of his work deals with historic themes, in particular with Frederick the Great and his time, which led to Menzel being ennobled by being awarded the Order of the Black Eagle.
  • Max Liebermann (1847 - 1935) — One of the most important Impressionist painters in Germany. As the scion of a rich Jewish family he had a townhouse next to the Brandenburg Gate ("just take a left when you get into Berlin") and a villa with a beautiful garden that you still can visit today. His comment at the beginning of the Nazi era is well-known: "I can't eat as much as I'd like to vomit."
  • Ernst Barlach (1870 - 1938) — Also a writer and artist, but most famous as an sculptor between realism and expressionism. His works were regarded as "degenerate" by the Nazis.
  • Paula Modersohn-Becker (1876 - 1907) — Born Paula Becker, an early expressionist painter and member of the artists' colony in the village of Worpswede near Bremen. Probably the most important female painter of the modern era in Germany, she died young in childbed (her daughter lived until 1998).
  • Franz Marc (1880 - 1916) — Important member of the expressionist movement and co-founder (together with the Russian Wassily Kandinsky) of the artist group Der blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider). Most well known are probably his many paintings depicting horses. He sadly died relatively young during the Battle of Verdun.
  • Kurt Schwitters (1887 - 1948) — Probably Germany's most well-known artistic and literary exponent of Dadaism, or as he himself called his personal brand of it, Merzkunst. Had to flee from the Nazis and died in Britain.
  • Otto Dix (1891 - 1969) — Artist usually associated with the Neue Sachlichkeit, best known for his brutal pictures of World War I and big-city life.


  • Balthasar Neumann (1687 - 1753) — Baroque and Rococo builder. His most famous work, the episcopal Residence in Würzburg (on the UNESCO World Heritage list since 1981) features a huge vaulted hall (topped by a big Tiepolo fresco) that was considered "impossible" by many colleagues. As it turned out, it was built to last and even survived the air raid that flattened Würzburg at the end of World War II. Neumann appeared on the 1990 50-Mark banknote.
  • Karl Friedrich Schinkel (1781 - 1841) — If you visit Berlin and you see a building that looks sorta like a Greek temple (this style is called classicism), your chances are high that this building was designed by this guy.
  • Leo von Klenze (1784 - 1864) — Who also was a writer and a painter. Left his big footprint primarily in Munich, where he constructed e.g. the Ruhmeshalle beneath the Bavaria and the Glyptotheque. However, he also constructed the New Eremitage in St. Petersburg.
  • Peter Joseph Lenné (1789 - 1866) — Germany's most famous landscape gardener. He designed gardens in the English manner, his most famous achievement is the transformation of Potsdam and its environs into a giant ensemble of parks. As a good and dutiful Prussian official, he never got around to retiring, dying of a stroke at age 77.
  • Fritz Schumacher (1869 - 1947) — City-planner and architect. He designed everything from museums, public parks and office buildings to jails and public toiletsnote . That Hamburg by general consensus is one of the front-runners for the title of "most beautiful city in Germany" is due in no small part to his efforts as the city's public building authority from 1909 to 1933.
  • Fritz Höger (1877 - 1949) — An important example of expressionism in architecture, whose preferred material was dark red bricks. His most famous works are the ship-like Chilehaus and the Messberghof in Hamburg, the Anzeiger-Hochhaus in Hanover, and the church on the Hohenzollernplatz (nicknamed: "God's Power Station") in Berlin. He sympathized with the Nazis, but since they hated modern styles of architecture his career came to an end during their rule.
  • Bruno Taut (1880 - 1938) — Another representative of Neues Bauen. He is best known for two housing estates in Berlin — the Hufeisensiedlung and Onkel Toms Hütte. Driven from Germany by the Nazis as a "cultural Bolshevist'', he died in Istanbul.
  • Walter Gropius (1883 - 1969) — Founder of the Bauhaus movement. Had an affair with the wife of the Austrian composer Gustav Mahler, and even married her after Mahler's death. Had to flee from the Nazis, because they didn't like the Bauhaus-style. They considered modern art in general to be Entartete Kunst (Degenerate Art). Though another detractor of the Bauhaus design school was one Frank Lloyd Wright, who described Gropius' designs as "soulless".
  • Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1886 - 1969) — A disciple of Gropius, he didn't have much time to design anything in Germany before the Nazis forced him to leave; he was the last director of the Bauhaus. He brought the Bauhaus style to America and designed some very simple, elegant buildings across Chicago, where he settled down. To this day, Chicago has the nicest collection of International Style buildings in the United States. His minimalist style is neatly summed up by his three-word motto, "Less is more".



  • Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646 - 1716) — Very important philosopher, theorized that we live in the Best of All Possible Worlds. Like many of his contemporaries, he dabbled in many fields nowadays categorized under "science". Notorious is his dispute with none other than his English colleague Isaac Newton over the question of who of them invented calculus. (You know that elongated S used in calculus notation? Leibniz invented this symbol.) His philosophical view that we live in the "best of all possible worlds" made him the enemy of Voltaire, who wrote his novel Candide in response. Also important was his pioneer work in computer science. Oh, and there exists a German brand of biscuit named after him. (Nur echt mit 52 Zähnen!)
  • Immanuel Kant (1724 - 1804) — Formulated the categorical imperative as part of his writings on morality. ( Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law.note ) Also, spent his whole life in Königsberg (nowadays Kaliningrad).
  • Johann Gottlieb Fichte (1762 - 1814) — Along with Hegel and Schelling is considered a main exponent of "German Idealism" and the first Rektor of Berlin University. Remembered most for his "Speeches to the German Nation" to awaken patriotism during French occupation.
  • Wilhelm von Humboldt (1767 - 1835) — Diplomat and scholar. One of the reformers of the educational system in Prussia and Germany, one of the founders of Berlin University (which is now named after him and his brother Alexander, see "Scientists"). After retiring, he became a pioneer of comparative linguistics, especially of non-Indo-European languages, having discovered that the Basque language is not related to any other language in Europe.
  • Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770 - 1831) — Developed a system of thought which encompassed politics, religion, history and logic, much of it in terms that are famously awful to translate. Critic of Kant. Notably, he theorized that the whole of human history is leading up to a grand awakening of spiritual unity and absolute knowledge. For a while, followers clashed on whether or not we were already there.
  • Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling (1775 - 1854) — Another one of those impenetrable German philosophers. According to Heinrich Heine his last words were: "Only one man understood me. And he didn't understand me either." His wife and muse Caroline (1763-1809, she got divorced in 1803 to marry him) was a writer in her own right; during her previous marriage to August Wilhelm Schlegel participated in the "standard" Schlegel-Tieck translation of the works of William Shakespeare.
  • Carl von Clausewitz (1780 - 1831) — The "Philosopher of War". As a Prussian and (from 1812 to 1814) Russian officer he fought during the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars and was the top student of military reformer Gerhard von Scharnhorst. Clausewitz was also well-read in the writings of Kant and Hegel. Dying of cholera at the age of 51, he did not get around to finishing his massive On War - that had to be done by his widow, the learned Marie née Countess von Brühl (1779-1836).
  • Karl Marx (1818 - 1883) — Father of Marxism (although he went on record to say that he wasn't a Marxist), which shaped socialism, social democracy and communism. Because of this, some people see him in a negative light, others in a positive light. Not related to Groucho, Chico, Harpo, Zeppo or Gummo. Appeared on the East German 100-Mark banknote because of course he did.
  • Friedrich Engels (1820 - 1895) — A good friend of Karl Marx and co-wrote the Manifesto with him. He also edited the 2nd and 3rd editions of Das Kapital after Marx died. Appeared on the East German 50-Mark banknote.
  • Friedrich Nietzsche (1844 - 1900) — (Dah dah dah... Tadah! Bom-bom, bom-bom...) Not a Nietzsche Wannabe, because he was the real one. His concept of the Übermensch was abused by the Nazis and also may have inspired two certain young American comic authors. über (over, above) has even found its way into contemporary English slang. Nietzsche also was of the opinion that the supreme Judeo-Christian entity has passed away. Henote  died in a madhouse.
  • Max Weber (1864 - 1920) — One of the pioneers of sociology and anthropology, Max Weber wrote several influential works on the socio-political structures that create and enable the development of religion. His most famous work, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism argued, contra Marx, that the religious values of Protestantism with its emphasis on "hard work" was a major influence for the development of capitalism and Germanic Efficiency.
  • Oswald Spengler (1880-1936) — Philosopher of history and a bit of Renaissance Man. Strongly influenced by both Goethe and Nietzsche. Best known for his book The Decline of the West, which proposes that all the great human cultures go through a thousand-year cycle, after which they either stagnate or wilt and die. Very critical of the Weimar Republic, but didn't like The Nazis that much either - after meeting Hitler in 1933, he stated that [Germany doesn't need a] "heroic tenor but a real hero." Egon Spengler is named after him.
  • Martin Heidegger (1889-1976) — Building off of the works of Nietzsche, he ended up with a unique—and impossible to describe—philosophy of his own. During the Nazi period, he actually became a Nazi, which he repented after the war. Despite the Nazism, he was a Gentile Jew-Chaser, having stormy affairs with his Jewish students Hannah Arendt and Elisabeth Blochmann.
  • Herbert Marcuse (1898-1979) — One of the founders of the influential Frankfurt School, Herbert Marcuse left Germany in 1933 for America, on account of the rise of the Nazis and Jewish ancestry. During the Second World War, he worked for the Office of War Information as an analyst. As a theorist, he was famous for reconciling Freud and Marx. Like many Frankfurt philosophers he was critical of Conspicuous Consumption, conservatism in art and sexual repression in both capitalist and communist states. He was a big influence on America's New Left, and Angela Davis of the Black Panthers was one of his students.
  • Hannah Arendt (1906-1975) — A self-described political philosopher, the German-Jewish author Hannah Arendt had a complicated personal life. As a student, she had an affair with the aforementioned Heidegger only to discover his Nazi sympathies. She became an exile from Germany to France, and then from France to America. Her books The Origins of Totalitarianism and On Revolution discussed how personal ethics get warped in political structures. Her reportage of Adolf Eichmann's trial, Eichmann on Jerusalem was a key book of The '60s and remains controversial to this day for its description of "the banality of evil". She's also the sujbject of a 2013 Anglo-German biopic by Margarethe von Trotta, starring actress Barbara Sukowa.

Theologians and Clerics

  • St. Hildegard of Bingen (1098 - 1179) — Called the Sybil of the Rhine and Germany's First Woman Scientist, was a Catholic mystic, Benedictine abbess, author, linguist, naturalist, scientist, philosopher, physician, herbalist, poet, and composer. She wrote theological, botanical and medicinal texts, letters, poems, dramas, and liturgical music which has had a resurgence in popularity in recent years. Long treated as a saint by the Benedictine order, this was expanded in 2012, when she (with St. John of Avila) was made the 34th Doctor of the Church.
  • St. Albertus Magnus (ca. 1200 - 1280) — AKA Albert the Great, Albert of Cologne, and "The Universal Doctor", was a Dominican friar, bishop of Regensburg, scholar, philosopher, and reputed magician, in which capacity he or his spell-books tend to show up in fiction. Albert was canonized and proclaimed a Doctor of the Church in 1931 by Pope Pius XI.
  • Jan Hus (ca. 1369 - 1415) — In his day Bohemia was part of the Holy Roman Empire, so even though Hus was a Czech nationalist (insofar that term is applicable in the 14th century), this proto-reformator was considered one of their own by German Protestants for a long time. He was burned at the stake at the Concile of Constance. A Hussite sect - known as the Moravian church in English - had an early center in Herrnhut, Saxony and is known in German as Herrnhuter Brüdergemeinde - arguably they are the direct theological descendants of the original movement of Jan Hus.
  • Nikolaus von Kues (1401 - 1464) — AKA Nicholas Cusanus, was a Catholic cardinal, as well as a philosopher, theologian, jurist, mathematician, and an astronomer (in which capacity, he was an early advocate for heliocentrism and the elliptical orbits of the planets). He is noted as a profound writer on mysticism.
  • Erasmus of Rotterdam (1466/69 - 1536) — The great Humanist theologist, philosopher and philologist lived in the Netherlands, which in his day still unequivocally were a part of the Holy Roman Empire. Writing in Latin and Greek, he was an enemy of abuses in the church, he nevertheless refused to go as far as his contemporary Luther. His scholarly edition of the Greek text of the New Testament formed the base for both Luther's translation and that of the King James Bible.
  • Martin Luther (1483 - 1546) — His criticisms regarding the Catholic Church triggered the founding of Protestantism. Also, together with his buddy Philipp Melanchthon, he translated the Bible into German. Unfortunately, some of his own writings are unambiguously anti-Semitic. His Bible translation, pamphlets, fables and chorales reshaped the German language, so he would also deserve to be listed under writers. He also set some of his own chorales to music. Not to be confused with this other historically important Protestant minister!
  • Thomas Müntzer (1489 - 1525) — Originally a follower of Luther, he became much more radical and joined the popular rising that resulted in the Great Peasants' War. He was captured, tortured and executed after the battle of Frankenhausen. His face appeared on the East German 5-Mark banknote from 1971 onwards.
  • Philipp Melanchthon (1497 - 1560) — Born Philipp Schwarzerdt (he translated his German surname into Greek). Luther's most important collaborator, he sort of acted as the "good reformator" to Brother Martin's "bad reformator". Where Luther would rage and throw invective, Melanchthon would make peace and endeavour to build compromises. Due to his crucial role in setting up the Protestant schooling system he was known as the Praeceptor Germaniae ("teacher of Germany").
  • Friedrich Spee (1591 - 1635) — A Jesuit priest who wrote several hymns but is best remembered for the Cautio criminalis, a strong-worded indictment (in Latin) of the methods used in witch-hunts, specifically the use of torture to gain "confessions".
  • Paul Gerhardt (1607 - 1676) — A Lutheran pastor and one of the most important writers of chorales, some of which are now used even by Catholics outside Germany.
  • Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906 - 1945) — Lutheran pastor and German Resistance member during the time of Nazi Germany and double-agent of the Abwehr. Considered by some to be a Nietzsche Wannabe because of his ''unconventional'' views on Christian religion. He was executed in Flossenbürg concentration camp on 9 April, 1945, a month before the German surrender. Was an important inspiration for Dr. King.
  • Joseph Alois Ratzinger (1927 - ) — A well established theologian, Ratzinger taught matters of Catholic theology at the University of Tübingen for years as a reformist. It's said he acquired a 'slight' conservative bent while on the job. He left after a series of promotions. He was known as Pope Benedict XVI from 2005 to 2013, when he became the first Pope to retire from the job (as opposing to dying in office) in almost six hundred years.


  • Johannes Kepler (1571 - 1630) — Astronomer and writer. Framed the three Keplerian Laws that describe the orbits of planets and moons, invented a more advanced form of telescope and wrote the early "science-fiction" novel, Somnium ("The Dream"), which describes a trip to the moon. To make a living he also worked as an astrologer, writing horoscopes e. g. for General Albrecht von Wallenstein.
  • Otto von Guericke (1602 - 1686) — Burgomaster of Magdeburg, famed for his experiments with vaccuum pumps, especially the "Magdeburg hemispheres", which could not be pulled apart by sixteen horses.
  • Maria Sibylla Merian (1647 - 1717) — Female naturalist during a time when this was still very unusual. Did an expedition to Surinam and was the first to research the metamorphosis of caterpillars into butterflies in great detail. Also showed artistic talent by drawing her objects of study. Was portrayed on the '90s-version of the 500 Deutsche Mark banknote.
  • Alexander von Humboldt (1769 -1859) — Naturalist, famous for his scientific expeditions, mainly to South America. He's the guy they named the Humboldt Current after. Like Goethe, he was quite omnidisciplinary.
  • Carl Friedrich Gauß (1777 - 1855) — Nicknamed Prince of Mathematicians, most famous for the Gaussian Distribution (also called Normal Distribution — the one with the characteristic bell-shape).A lot of other mathematics-related stuff is named after him too. Was portrayed (with a picture of the graph of the distribution) on the '90s-version of the 10 Deutsche Mark banknote.
  • Justus Liebig (1803 - 1873) — One of the first professors of chemistry in Germany, also one of the first to achieve worldwide fame. Known among other things for his artificial fertilizers and his meat extract. Became a baron (Justus Freiherr von Liebig). The university of Gießen is named after him.
  • Robert Koch (1843 - 1910) — Discovered the bacteria that cause Anthrax and Tuberculosis, was awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1905, and together with his French rival Louis Pasteur founded bacteriology.
  • Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen (1845 - 1923) — Physicist, discovered x-rays, which in German are named after him (Röntgenstrahlen). He refused to patent the machine so it would be produced and used more frequently. He was awarded the very first Nobel Prize for Physics in 1901.
  • Emil von Behring (1854 - 1917) — Developed the serum to cure Diphtheria, for which he was awarded the first Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1901.
  • Paul Ehrlich (1854 - 1915) — Behring's collaborator in the development of the anti-diphtheria serum, he later developed a cure for Syphilis and started chemotherapy. Awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1908, he was portrayed by Edward G. Robinson in the biopic Dr. Ehrlich's Magic Bullet (1940). Appeared on the 200-Mark note of the 1990 German series (as the only Jew and only non-Christian in that series).
  • Heinrich Hertz (1857 - 1894) — Physicist, famous for his work on the experimental proof of electromagnetic waves. Because he came from a family of Jews who had converted to Lutheranism, the Nazis for a time considered changing the unit for frequency from "Hertz" to "Helmholtz" (so they could use the same abbreviation, Hz). His nephew Gustav Hertz (1887-1975) was awarded a Nobel Prize for Physics in 1925 and worked on the Soviet and GDR nuclear programs after 1945.
  • Max Planck (1858 - 1947) — The father of quantum physics. Named after him are the Planck Constant and the Planck Units. Also didn't like how the Nazis treated Jewish physicists, and tried to help out Fritz Haber and others. Appeared on the West German 2-Mark coin from 1958 to 1973.
  • David Hilbert (1862 - 1943) — The heir apparent to the Prince of Mathematicians throne Gauß left vacant. Widely seen by the international mathematics community to be one of the most important mathematicians of the late 19th/early 20th centuries. Known for the Hilbert space, Hilbert's axioms, mathematical logic and many other nifty things.
  • Fritz Haber (1868 - 1934) — Haber is a primary reason the 20th and 21st centuries have so many people and so many interesting ways to kill them: A chemist, Haber discovered the revolutionary Haber process for synthesizing ammonia from nothing more than hydrogen (which can be obtained easily from natural gas and less easily, but still fairly cost-effectively, from the electrolysis of water) and atmospheric nitrogen (no prizes for guessing where that comes from). Ammonia can then be used to make nitrates and nitrites (ingredients in fertilizer) as well as nitric acid (a key ingredient in explosives, which is what Haber was mostly after), sparing countries the embarrassment of literally fighting wars over bird poopnote  to make these vital products. He also did serious research into the military applications of chemistry, particularly during World War I, leading to the unfortunate nickname Father of Chemical Warfare (although in fairness, he also helped develop the gas mask). A patriotic German decorated by the Kaiser, he was (being Jewish—although he converted to Lutheranism in his 20s and spent most of his life running away from his Jewish roots) nevertheless run out of Germany when the Nazis took over (leaving with Planck's help), and died in 1934 in Switzerland—on his way assume the directorship of a Jewish research institute in Palestine—never living to see Zyklon-B (a product of his laboratory underlings) be used to kill thousands of Jews, including most of his extended family. SciShow encapsulates everything in 9 minutes.
  • Otto Hahn (1879 - 1968) — Discovered nuclear fission, together with Lise Meitner and Fritz Straßmann, and later became a vigorous opponent of nuclear weapons. He later caught a lot of flack for claiming more of the discovery than some said was his due; he got a particularly bad reputation with the Jewish community, as (unlike Straßmann), he did little to protect Jewish scientists (including Meitner) when the Nazis went after them (Straßmann, for the record, is considered among the Righteous Among the Nations, so Jews, feel free to say, "Screw Otto Hahn").
  • Albert Einstein (1879 - 1955) — Did have a cool hair style. His Theory of Relativity revolutionized physics. Had to flee from the Nazis because he was a Jew. The Nazis even denounced modern physics as "Jewish physics" and tried to replace it with their own "Aryan physics". Needless to say, this approach didn't lead anywhere.
  • Alfred Wegener (1880 - 1930) — Developed the theory of Continental Drift. Sadly, Wegener's theory wasn't widely accepted until after his death (during an expedition to Greenland, by the way).
  • Werner Heisenberg (1901 - 1976) — Quantum physicist. Because he was a proponent of Einsteinian physics (Why did the Nazis consider that bad? See above!), some Nazis considered him a "white Jew". Nevertheless, he stayed in Germany, where he had to research nuclear physics and was the leading scientist in the Nazi atomic bomb program. How close he really came to discovering the principles of a working atomic bomb is often debated, although it is generally agreed that he did not come really close.note  His Uncertainty Principle has become a stock element of nerd humour, right up there next to Schrödinger's Cat. Also, the Heisenberg compensator is named after him... but these days, most people just think of Walter White.


  • Johannes Gutenberg, born as Johannes Gensfleisch (1398 - 1468) — Invented movable type printingnote  and the mechanical printing press. From now on, mass-production of books and other writings was possible.
  • Alois Senefelder (1771 - 1834) — Inventor of another printing process, lithography, that became very important for the quick mass production of pictures in the 19th and 20th century. He also was a writer and musician.
  • Werner von Siemens (1816 - 1892). Inventor and one of the founders of electrical engineering and the electro-engineering industry in Germany. A neighborhood in Berlin - where he built a huge factory - and the SI unit of electric conductance are named after him.
  • Philipp Reis (1834 - 1874) — Inventor of the telephone! Well, actually, the answer to the question "Who exactly invented the telephone?" is a bit complicated. Reiss' device was the first to be actually called Telephon.
  • Ferdinand, Graf von Zeppelin (1838 - 1917) — An actual count (which is what Graf means) who invented the type of airship named after him. Although the popularity of airships did considerably shrink for some reason, the company founded by Graf von Zeppelin (after decades of producing airship-unrelated stuff) has started to construct new Zeppelins since the 1990s.
  • Karl Benz (1844 - 1929) — Added a combustion engine to a carriage and thus invented the car as it is known today, (or at least was the first to patent this contraption). The Daimler-Benz company (Gottlieb Daimler being another German automobile pioneer, and one of the competitors regarding the "Who exactly invented the car?"-issue) as well as the trademark Mercedes Benz bear his name.
  • Rudolf Diesel (1858-1913) — Although born in Paris, his parents were Bavarians, and the family was forced to flee back to their native country when the Franco-Prussian War broke out. He developed the compression-ignition engine that bears his name, which turned out to be much more powerful and efficient than gasoline engines, and can now be found powering ships, locomotives, trucks, tractors, and generators worldwide. It first used heavy fuel oil, but he also experimented with using vegetable oils, and found they worked perfectly, a precursor to today's biodiesel. He disappeared off a ship crossing the English Channel, and his body was later found in the sea; it's still not clear if his death was accident, suicide, or murder.
  • Willy Messerschmitt (1898 - 1978) — Built airplanes for the Nazis. The fact that his planes (along with Ferdinand Porsche's ground vehicles) were (in their time!) considered high-tech, probably gave rise to this trope. After the war, Messerschmitt was in prison for two years (put on trial for using slave labour and convicted as "fellow traveller"). After his release it was not allowed to produce airplanes, so instead his company produced sewing machines, pressing irons, prefabricated buildings — and little cars that looked like airplane cockpits! He did eventually get back into airplane business and his firm was building F-4 Phantoms for the reborn Luftwaffe by the time he died.
  • Konrad Zuse (1910 - 1995) — Inventor of the computer! Well, actually, the answer to the question "Who exactly invented the computer?" is a bit complicated, but Zuse's Z3 is a serious competitor for the title World's First Computer. The original Z3 was destroyed during an Allied air raid, but a fully functioning replica was built in the 1960's for the Deutsches Museum, by a company founded by Zuse himself after the war. And it is definitely true that his computers used the binary system, the floating point system and the clear separation of RAM and hard disk before American computers did.
  • Wernher "Not My Department" von Braun (1912 — 1977) — Rocket pioneer who is very controversial due to his cooperating with the Nazis and even entering the NSDAP (the Nazi Party) and the SS. His lifelong dream was human space exploration, and apparently was of the opinion that the end justifies the means. The result was that instead of transporting people into space, his rockets were used to bombard London. More people died building the V-2 rockets than were killed by them as weapons. After the war, he and other scientists were brought to the United States and became a key figure in its space program (as part of Operation Paperclip, in which America sought to get as many Nazi scientists as they could before the Soviets did). The "Program Head" in the film The Right Stuff is based loosely on him, as is Dr. Strangelove.

Alternative Title(s): Dichter Und Denker