It sounds like an unusual pairing, for science and Christmas to come together in a place called Anatomiegarten, or Anatomy Garden, in the German university town of Heidelberg.
During the Christmas season, the Anatomiegarten is host to one of the key Christmas market locations along Heidelberg’s main street (Hauptstrasse). Prominent are two names from a historical and scientific perspective: Bunsen and Kirchhoff.
That above is a bronze statue of Robert Bunsen. Who is he? Remember those “bunsen burners” to which you were introduced and learned how to use in high school chemistry?
German chemist Robert Bunsen (1811-1899) in collaboration with Gustav Kirchhoff pioneered the field of spectroscopy1, detecting new chemical elements (cesium, rubidium), and determining the composition of many substances, including the chemical composition of the Sun and stars with the spectroscopic method. He also designed some equipment for the chemistry laboratory, including the Bunsen burner in 1855. Bunsen’s colleague, Gustav Kirchhoff2 (1824–1887), was a German physicist who was also well-known for developing electricity- and radiation-theory.
Anatomiegarten (Anatomy Garden)
By most appearances, Anatomiegarten is small and easy-to-miss by most visiting Heidelberg; even long-time residents miss out as well.
Why is this square called “Anatomy Garden”? The buildings immediately surrounding the square provide some insight.
The Bunsen statue marks the location of Anatomy Garden on the north side of the Hauptstrasse. Behind the statue is the Friedrichsbau. Built initially as a monastery, the building was purchased by (and named after) Baden’s Grand Duke Karl Friedrich the First in 1804. By 1864, the building was converted into a science complex, once home to Heidelberg University’s various science departments including mathematics, physics, physiology. The building is now home to the university’s institute of psychology (Psychologisches Institut der Universität Heidelberg). Behind the Friedrichsbau is a 19th-century university building built to house the departments of anatomy and zoology.
Haus zum Riesen
Across from the Bunsen statue on the south side of the Hauptstrasse is the Haus zum Riesen, made famous with the scientific work by Bunsen and Kirchhoff.
Once occupied by a hotel destroyed in 1693, a Baroque palace was built in its place in 1707 using stones from one of the collapsed structures at the nearby Castle. By the turn of the 19th-century, the building housed the hotel “Zum Riesen”, a brewery, and a distillery. By the middle of the 19th-century, the university began to use space in the building, accommodating the departments of anatomy, physics, and zoology. Today, the building is used by various companies for commercial and office space.
Near the southeast corner of Hauptstrasse and Akademistrasse, the plaque on the wall of “Zum Riesen” reads:
“In diesem Hause hat Kirchhoff 1859 seine mit Bunsen begründete Spektralanalyse auf Sonne und Gestirne gewandt und damit die Chemie des Weltalls erschlossen.”
(Within this building in 1859, Kirchhoff and Bunsen determined a spectral analysis of the sun and nearby stars, opening the study of the chemical composition of the universe.)
Anatomiegarten is also home to one of Heidelberg’s Christmas markets along the Hauptstrasse. While you admire the lights and sip on a Glühwein, consider for a moment the square’s backstory, including the university’s history and study of physics, chemistry, physiology, and anatomy.
Towards the western end of Heidelberg’s Hauptstrasse, Anatomiegarten is a 10-minute walk from the city’s central tram and bus hub at Bismarckplatz.
1 Spectroscopy is the process and study of obtaining a spectrum with the separation of light into its components. For example, a rainbow is a naturally-occurring spectrum of “visible colours” as sunlight is refracted by water droplets acting as prisms. Work by Kirchhoff and Bunsen led directly to the study of the chemical properties of objects in the universe by comparing their spectra with the spectra of known chemical elements found on Earth.
2 I found Kirchhoff’s grave in a visit to a cemetery in Berlin’s Schöneberg, where the Brothers Grimm are also laid to rest.
I made all of the photos above on 23 November 2012 and 22 May 2016. This post appears on Fotoeins Fotografie at fotoeins.com as http://wp.me/p1BIdT-3TI; edited 23 May 2019.