The Bernese "Akademie Olympia":

"To you is aimed our truth and devotion until the last erudite breath!"

Albert Einstein, 1953

"AKADEMIE OLYMPIA"

Through the negotiation of his former fellow student Marcel Grossmann (1878-1936) Einstein applied for a post at the Bern Patent Office in December 1901 to which he then at first was ordered on trial. But to earn a living until a possible beginning of his job he placed the following ad in the Anzeiger der Stadt Bern (Newspaper of the city of Bern) in the column miscellaneous:

Private lessons in
mathematics and physics
for students and pupils gives
thoroughly
Albert Einstein, owner of the
Swiss polyt. subject teacher diploma,
Gerechtigkeitsgasse 32, 1. floor.
Trial lessons for free.

The Rumanian Maurice Solovine (1875-1958), a young student of philosophy who wanted to take lessons with Einstein in physics, applied to the ad. Solovine doubted whether he preferred to devote himself more to the sciences than to the study of philosophy. After their first longer talk in which they exchanged their thoughts and ideas, they arranged to meet on the next day. In their new meeting they continued their talk from the day before; the planned lesson in physics was almost totally forgotten. Einstein and Solovine took an immediate liking to each other and Einstein said to Solovine on one of the following days: "It is not necessary to give you lessons in physics, the discussion about the problems which we face in physics today is much more interesting; simply come to me when you wish, I am pleased to be able to talk to you." And Solovine returned. Einstein had found someone to talk to but no paying student!

It was Solovine who one day suggested to read the works of great authors and debate them. Einstein agreed enthusiastically. A few weeks later the mathematician Conrad Habicht (1876-1958) who Einstein got to know in Schaffhausen, came to Bern and took part in the lectures and the following debates. These men gave the name "Akademie Olympia" (Olympia Academy) to their meetings which lasted until the evenings and partly until the early morning hours. Einstein in whose flat in Bern the meetings were usually held functioned as "president", "Albert Ritter von Steißbein, Präsident der Akademie Olympia". The name and title were given to Einstein by Conrad Habicht.

The founding members of the "Akademie Olympia"

The founding members of the "Akademie Olympia"
Conrad Habicht, Maurice Solovine and Albert Einstein

Einstein wanted the meetings to begin with a joint evening dinner. As the three of them had only few money the meal was Spartan, but this had no influence on the good mood. After dinner they read and debated about their actual work. Therefore it could happen that they read only one page or even less on one evening but this page was then discussed in much more detail and sometimes for several days. So it was the rule that the reading of a work could last weeks, or even months. Together they read and debated Ernst Mach’s Analyse der Empfindungen (Analysis of the Sensations) and Die Mechanik in ihrer Entwicklung (Mechanics and its development), Karl Pearson’s Grammatik der Wissenschaft (Grammar of Science), Henri Poincarés Wissenschaft und Hypothese (Science and Hypothesis), John Stuart Mill’s Logik (Logic), David Hume’s Traktat über die menschliche Natur (Treatise of Human Nature) and Spinoza’s Ethik (Ethics) - to only mention a few. Of course they debated also Einstein’s works lively. But also belles-lettres was read, such as Don Quijote by Cervantes Saavedra. Apart from all the work pleasure wasn’t lost out and from time to time Einstein enriched the meetings with a little violin concert.

But in the "Akademie" a severe discipline was demanded. Thus it happened that Solovine stayed away from a meeting to listen to a concert in the city. But he had prepared a meal for the friends and had left a note: "Amicis carissimis ova dura et salutem." (To the beloved friends hard-boiled eggs and greetings). But he had to pay hard for his skipping the meeting. As the meeting was to take place at his house this evening Einstein and Habicht turned his flat upside down after they had eaten the meal prepared by Solovine. Thus no piece of furniture stayed in its pace. Plates, cups, forks, knifes and books were scattered all over the flat and last but not least the rooms were covered in smoke by Einstein’s pipe and Habicht’s cigar. Before the two men left the flat they fixed a "worthy warning" on the wall. There you could read: "Amico carissimo fumum spissum et salutem." (To the dearest friend thick smoke and greetings). On the next evening Einstein is said to have greeted Solovine loudly with the following words: "You lousy guy, how, you were cheeky enough to stay away from a meeting of the Akademie to listen to the violin? Barbarian, idiot, stupid one, if you ever let us down this way again you’ll be expelled from the Akademie with shame." The following meeting lasted until the morning because the time lost had to be made up for.

Later the brother of Conrad Habicht, Paul (1884-1948) and Lucien Chavan (1868-1942) who worked as technician for the Swiss post and telegraph office took sporadically part in the meetings of the "Akademie". Solovine later reported that Mileva Maric, Einstein’s former fellow student and first wife sometimes had listened attentively to the talks of the friends but never began to speak.

Though the "Akademie Olympia" only existed for a short time - Conrad Habicht left Bern in 1904, Maurice Solovine in 1905 - Einstein remembered it often and it has, according to his own words, promoted his scientific career. The three founding members whose strong friendship was established by the Academy stayed all their life in touch with each other and the "Akademie Olympia" lived on in their mind.

In a letter to Maurice Solovine Einstein commemorated in 1953 the "Akademie Olympia" which was founded in Bern in 1902.

"To the immortal Akademie Olympia.

In your short active life you have amused yourself about all in childish joy what was clear and clever. Your members have created you to laugh about your big, old and arrogant sisters. How much they have hit bull’s eye with this I have learnt through many years of thorough watching.

All three of us members have proved at least as lasting. Even if they are already a bit doddery something of your happy and lively light shines on our lonely path of life; because you haven’t grown old with them and you’ve grown up like a salad plant going to seed.

To you is aimed our truth and devotion until the last erudite breath! The now only corresponding member

Einstein signature, 1953

Princeton 3. IV. 53."

The original letter was written in German.

Illustrations Credits:
Courtesy of the Schweizerisches Literaturarchiv (SLA), Bern.

Bibliography:

   
Max Flückiger Albert Einstein in Bern Bern 1974
Armin Hermann Einstein. Der Weltweise und sein Jahrhundert Munich 1994
Dr. Adolf W. Meichle Albert Einsteins Berner Jahre 1902-1909 Bern 1992
     
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