It was in the 19th century, when the famous Russian Botanic and Plant Psychologist Kliment Timirjazev called Heidelberg “the Mecca of the Russian Natural Science”. After 1840 – such he wrote – there existed two important magnets in Eastern Europe for all Russians: London as center for revolutionary propaganda or “the residence of hearts in political sight” and Heidelberg as “the Town of Science”.
Such one may well understand, that for the young girl Sofia Korwin-Kurkovskaja, living at the deepest Russian province near Witebsk, it was the dream of her life to study at the University of Heidelberg. She had to experience a lot, had to cross many borders, before she could come to Heidelberg and matriculate at the mathematics’ faculty of the university. But she was refused, because at that time no woman was accepted to study. The Russian Heidelberg citizen Vladimir Kowalevskij, professor of zoology and paleontology at the Heidelberg University, was enthusiastic by her firm will and offered her his assistance. He contracted with her a fictive marriage, because unmarried woman also would not be accepted at the university. With the consent of her husband and thanks to his splendid relations with the management of the university, Sofia Kovalevskaja received the permission to study mathematics at the Heidelberg University as the first woman in the world. She finished her exciting but very successful life as professor at the University of Stockholm.
But here in Heidelberg she spent the best years of her life. “When I think about modesty, I am immediately overwhelmed by the memories of Heidelberg. My small very moderate room - I am sitting there and think about the very complicated and very serious work. I prepare my exams, I write a dissertation”. Such this marvelous lady with iron will later-on described her life in Heidelberg like this: “When I compare our life in Berlin with that in Heidelberg, in Berlin the horrible home, the miserable food, the unhealthy air and the work till break down, without any variety, without any pleasure, then our life in Heidelberg seems to me like the lost paradise.”
But the history of the Russian science in Heidelberg started long before the time of Timirjazev and Kovalevskaja. Already in 1833 it is reported of the chemistry and medicine professor Nikolaj Pirogov, who later became famous as military chirurgic doctor during the Crimean war against the Turks. He was nominated by the Russian Czar as attendance of the Russian students in Heidelberg.
Pirogov installed a Russian reading hall in the attics of his house at the Maerzgasse, which very quickly became the center of the Russian social life in Heidelberg. One of the prominent visitors of this reading hall was the writer Ivan Turgenev.
The prime time of the Russian science in Heidelberg is closely connected with the name of the chemist Dmitri Mendeleev, who invented the periodical system of the elements. His collegue, the physiologist Ivan Sechenov was as well involved in those Heidelberg experiments. Later on Sechenov worked with experiments which showed, how important vitamins and particle elements are for the human body. He is considered to be the founder of psychology in Russia. Furthermore Sechenovs merit was the support of the women’s education.
Another well known Russian personality participated in the experiments in Mendeleevs laboratory: Alexander Borodin, a very talented chemist, who but today is much more known as opera composer.
Amongst the famous Russians who studied and worked in Heidelberg, we should not forget Jevgeny Botkin. In his later life he became the private physician of the last Russian Czar Nikolai II and his family and was loyal to his master and monarch as long as he lived. Together with all members of the Czars’ family he was shot in Tobolsk. His corps together with the Czars family corpses was buried hurriedly by the Bolsheviks in a mine mass grave.
“Heidelberg has a high leisure time value – that means that you easily may travel to France, Italy and Switzerland” – wrote Ivan Sechenov. For many Russians the town with its mild climate was the kind of a spa with a very rich frame program of science and art.
Peter Sliferovich, who studied medicine in Heidelberg and later on run an own medical praxis in Mannheim, described the arrival of the Russian Czar Alexander I. and the connected festivities with fireworks: “Who but once has seen the castle illumination from the bottom of the mountain, who ever recognised the wonderful sound of the wave, of the river and the ships driving on it, and in addition the colored Chinese lanterns, the music and the students songs, he had the impression, that the waves full of pleasure about this festival of sounds and of enthusiasm start to murmur and to buzz, and when then suddenly immense red fire rackets with their enchanting light illuminate the castle, the river and the bridge in a mysterious temptation light, then this experience is deeply impressed into the soul, that you cannot forget it as you cannot forget the shine of spring and the splendor of our youth”.
The list of the Russians whose life is connected with Heidelberg is very voluminous. An extract you will find here. In case you find a name, which sounds especially interesting to you, do not hesitate to contact me. I will then give you with pleasure further information.
Russians at the Heidelberg University
Alexander Semenovich Alexeev, advocate and later professor for state law at the University of Moscow;
Dmitri Nikolaevich Anychin, Scientist for Nature and Publisher;
Michail Petrovich Avenarius, Physician;
Friedrich Beilstein, Chemist;
Sergey Natanovich Bernstein, Mathematic;
Nikolai Michailovich Blagoweshenskij, Professor of Classic Philology
Nikolay Pavlovich Blagolepov, Advocate, from 1898 till 1901 Russian Minister for Peoples Education
Ivan Ivanovich Borgmann, Physician
Nikolai Nikolaevich Bubnov, Philosopher
Wladimir Eduardovich Den, Economist, Geographer and Statistician
Alexei Pavlovich Fedchenko, Geographer
Wladimir Ivanovich Ger’e, Historian
Leonard Leopoldovich Girshmann, Ophthalmologist
Valentin Vladislavovich Gorinevski, Hygienic Investigator and Expert for Schoolmedicin
Andrej Alexandrovich Grigor‘ev, Geographer
Pavel Pavlovich Gronski, Jurist, Member of the Russian Parliament Duma
Pavel Ivanovich Jakobi, Medical Practitioner and Psychiatrist
Eduard Andrejevich Junge, Ophthalmologist
Lev Aristidovich Kasso, von 1911 till 1914 Russian Minister for Education
Vladimir Onyfrievich Kovalevski, Zoologist and Palaeontologist
Michail Semenovich Kutorga, Historian
Alexander Nikolaevich Lebedev, Biochemist
Ivan Fedorovich Levakovski, Geologist
Konon Ivanovich Lisenko, Chemist
Nikolai Nikolajevich Ljubavin, Chemist
Wladimir Fedorovich Luginin, Chemist
Alexander Apollonovich Manujlov, National Economist, Minister for Education of the Provisional Government in 1917
Sergej Sergejevich Medvedev, Physician and Chemist
Nikolaj Nikolajevich Miklycho-Maklai, Geographer and Ethnologist
Lev Nikolajevich Mosdalevski, Pedagogue
Boris Emmanyilovich Nol’de, Diplomat and State Lawyer, Vice minister for Exterior in the Provisional Government in 1917
Karl Romanovich von der Osten-Sacken, Diplomat and People Law Expert,
Vladimir Ivanovich Palladin, Botanic and Biochemist
Nikolaj Nikolajevich Pirogov, Physician, Son of Nikolaj Ivanovich Pirogov
Ivan Ivanovich Puzanov, Zoologist and Biologist
Piotr Georgievich Redkin, Advocate
Dmitri Pavlovich Rjabushkinskij, Nature Scientist
Wladimir Pavlovich Rjabushkinskij, Industry Manager
Evgueni Valentinovich de Roberti, Sociologist and Philosopher
Sergej Matveevich Rozanov, Botanic
Sergej Michaijlovich Solov‘ev, Historic
Fedor Stepun, Philosoph und Sociologist
Alexander Grigor‘evich Stoletov, Physician
Sergej Grigor‘evich Svjatikov, Advocate and Historic
Nikolaj Stepanovich Taganzev, Criminologist
Sergej Jakovlevich Tereshin, Physician
Alexander Andrejevich Tichomirov, Zoologist
Trifon Georgievich Trapesnikov, Historic, Anthropologist and Historic of Art
Nikolaj Stepanovich Taganzev, Criminologist
Vladimir Timofejevich Shevjakov, Zoologist
Nikolaj Alexandrovich Shilov, Physician and Chemist
Evgueni Ivanovich Shpitalskij, Physician and Chemist
Piotr Nikolajevich Tshervinskij, Geologist
Ivan Vasilevich Vernardskij, Economist
Michail Stepanovich Voronin, Botanic
Alexander Ivanovich Voejkov, Climatologist und Geographer
Alexei Alexeievich Zavarsin, Medical Practitioner for Histology