Oksana Miroshnichenko-Braun, Official City and Castle guide and translator,
Member of German Tourist Guide Association and Tourist Guide Association in City of Heidelberg
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A small story on real mens friendship and true love: Mendeleev, Borodin and Sechenov
From the encyclopaedia: «Dimitrij Ivanovich Mendeleev, Russian Chemist, born 1834 in Tobolsk/Siberia, put up in 1869 the Periodical System of the Elements independent from Lothar Meyer. He called it “periodical conformity”. It allowed a tabular order: And such Mendeleev completed preliminary the 50-year search for a connection between the atomic weights and the chemical characteristic of the chemical elements.

Alexander Porfirevich Borodin, 1833 – 1887, Russian chemist, medical man, composer and main representative of the “Young School”, expressed the national element, composed a.o.sinfonics and songs. His main work was the opera “Fuerst Igor”.

Ivan Mikhaylovich Sechenov, 1829-1905, Russian composer, chemist and father of the Russian physiology. He entered electrophysiology and neophysiology into the medical laboratories.»

The natural science decennium was opened in Heidelberg by the chemist Dimitrij Ivanovich Mendeleev, composer and chemist Aleksandr Porfirevich Borodin and the physiologist Ivan Michajlivich Sechenov.
At the beginning of the nineteenth century many Russian scientists and students came to Heidelberg. The town seemed to them exclusively cheap.

Such Sechenov wrote: “In Heidelberg I settled in the modest but solid hotel “Zum Ritter” at the church square. Heidelberg has a big leisure time value – that means you may very easily travel to France, Italy or Switzerland”.

Mendeleev came to Heidelberg to work with Bunsen in his chemical institute. But soon he found out, that “there was no clean and quiet little corner, where one could carry out critical tests such as capillarity with exact instruments f.e. as cathetometer”.

At Schulgasse no. 2 he found his “quiet little corner”. Here Mendeleev worked till his departure in February 1861. “Imagine, for two tall and quite big rooms with mobiles and with service I pay 10 guilds – that is about 5 rubles and 50 kopeks. Accordingly everything else here in Heidelberg is such cheap”, Mendeleev wrote in a letter.

Following the invitation of Mendeleev, Aleksandr Porfirevich Borodin – nowadays worldwide known as opera composer - came to Heidelberg. In chemistry he was not less talented than in music. “We took a room at the Hotel “Badischer Hof” and just came to the place where all the Russians living in Heidelberg took their dinner”. These were the words which he put in his diary. At the first evening he dined with Mendeleev and Sechenov. This was the begin of a real mens friendship, which proved to be very valuable for science.

But then destiny interfered. At a social evening at the boarding-house of Hoffmann he met his future woman, the talented pianist Ekaterina Protopopova. It was the music which brought them together. Borodin was such in love, that he completely neglected his research in Mendeleev’s laboratory. Soon Mendeleev could not tolerize this anymore: He encountered his friend and colleague. Borodin should decide between music and chemistry, between work and love.
Love won: Borodin married his beloved “Katuescha” and devoted himself completely to music. But Heidelberg remained in his remembrance forever. 17 years later he again came to Heidelberg and writes to his wife: “And here again is the “Badischer Hof”, the same hall, the same stair. I took a room and when I was alone I immediately started to cry like a child. The emotions which overwhelmed me are hard to describe”.

Such direct and stern the position of Mendeleev was against his friend, to himself Dmitri Ivanovich was very much less severe! Despite the fact that he was married and had in Russia not only his wife but as well a crowd of children, Mendeleev began a romance with an actress of the Heidelberg theatre and had with her an illegitimate child – a girl. To his defense I want to say, that he supported this daughter till her marriage despite he had returned to his family in the meantime. Together with his wife and numerous children he moved to Kiev and worked there at the Polytechnical Institute of the University as professor of chemistry. There he completed his work of life – the periodical system of the elements. Later he returned to St. Petersburg, where he died in 1907 on influenza.

85 years after his departure to St. Petersburg I myself started my apprenticeship in a small printing shop which was situated just in the cellar exactly under his cabinet. Later I met my husband and followed him to Heidelberg. And now I told you this story of a men’s friendship, which was defeated by love!

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Oksana Miroshnichenko-Braun