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Hamburger Sternwarte - Overview

The observatory in Hamburg is located in Bergedorf since 1909. The original observatory was founded in the center of Hamburg, at Millerntor on the grounds where today a Musuem of Hamburg's History is located. (1.7 kB Johann Georg Repsold [22 kB]) This was located close to the border to formerly Danish Altona. On the initiative of the "Obersprützenmeister" (fireman) Johann Georg Repsold, the first official observatory of the city was built. Johann Georg Repsold (19. Sep. 1770 - 14. Jan. 1830) took lessons in mathematics, astronomy and surveying from Johann Theodor Reinke (10. Apr. 1749-30. Jan. 1825) and Reinhard Woltmann (Dec. 1757 - 20. Apr. 1837). In 1799 he joined the fire brigade of the city, where he was in charge of maintenance of the equipment and of the lighthouse systems in his own garage. In order to make a living he was allowed to use the equipment of the garage for purposes of additional business. During this time, Repsold took great interest in astronomical observing equipment.

In 1802 he made a proposal for building a privately owned observatory on the fortifications of the city. His instruments and his astronomical knowledge were anon praised by everyone. Christian Heinrich Schumacher, the founder of "Astronomische Nachrichten" (Astronomical News) and working at the Altona observatory, visited him very often for the purpose of observation. But this observatory was demolished in 1811 owing to the Napoleonian occupation of the city. In the same year he submitted, together with Reinke and J.C. von Hess, a proposal to build a municipal observatoy. The Senate finally accepted the proposal ten years later, on 22. Aug. 1821, provided that Repsold would supply the instrumentation at his own expense. End of 1825 the building was completed, and Repsold himself became the first director.

(13 kB The old observatory at Millerntor) The building consisted of two wings with wooden astrodomes, connected above the meridian hall, containing a passage instrument and a meridian circle. In the eastern wing the municipal navigation school moved in, in the western wing workspaces for the observatory were provided. In Januar 1830 Johann Georg Repsold died unexpectedly while extinguishing a fire. A final decision was due now, whether or not the city took charge of the instruments and the people. On 31. October 1833 the Senate decided to take over the observatory. Christian Karl Ludwig Rümker (18. May 1788 - 21. Dec. 1862) was nominated as the new director, who ran the first Australian observatory in Paramatta close to Sydney.

(2 kB Charles Rümker [8 KB]) The fine mechanical workshops from Repsold were expanded to a worlwide leading company by his sons and grandsons which had always good connections to the Hamburg observatory. (1.7 kB George Rümker [10 kB]) The company A. Repsold & Söhne was in operation until 1919. "Charles" Rümker retired in 1857 and his son George Rümker (31. Dec. 1832-3. Mar. 1900) took over. In the early years the tasks comprised astronomical measurements, watching unusual astronomical events like comets or eclipses by the moon and, later, the investigation of nebulae. The main task, however, was the measurement of exact time. The time facility of the observatory governed the normal clocks of the city, from 1876 on, the time ball in the harbor and, later, the speaking clock. 1867 the observatory was granted funding from the mercantilistic union for a new, powerful telescope with a new observation tower. The Equatorial, a refractor with 27cm opening still exists and resides in Bergedorf today.

(1.5 kB Richard Schorr [11 kB])) By the end of the 19th century observations became more and more unbearable because of dust emission, light contamination and vibrations. So, George Rümker, in collaboration with Richard Schorr (20. Aug. 1867-21. Sept. 1951), proposed to transfer the observatory to Bergedorf. Schorr became new director after Rümker died. (20 kB) The authorization by the Senate was granted 21. Febr. 1906 and construction works began immediately after. In 1909 most of the buildings and the first instruments were completed. The official inauguration took place in 1912.

The old observatory was demolished and the Museum for history of Hamburg was erected instead. This first instruments of the new observatory were the Meridian Circle from A. Repsold & Söhne, the Great Refractor, also from Repsold, with the optics from Steinheil, (2.4 kB Walter Baade with 1m-Reflector[31 kB]) the 1m-Reflector from Carl Zeiss, the Lippert Telescope from Zeiss, and the instrumentation from the old observatory (e.g. the Equatorial and the passage instrument). The Lippert telescope was purchased from a generous donation of the merchant Eduard Lippert.

(1.5 kB Historical photo of the great refractor [20 kB]) The major tasks of the observatory were still astrometric works. Large catalogues were developed, e.g. the AGK2-Katalog. But now astrophysical investigations became more and more important. Searching for astrophysical properties, Arnold Schwassmann and his assistant Arno Wachmann used the Lippert-telescope to systematically inspect Kapteyns calibration fields. Joung Walter Baade used the 1-m Reflector between 1919 and 1931. He investigated stellar populations and spiral nebulae particularily in the Milky Way.

(23 kB Commercial for
optics by B. Schmidt Special emphasis was taken on solar eclipse expeditions between 1905 and 1929, e.g. to Algeria, Mexico, northern Sweden and the Philippines. From 1916 on (1.7 kB Bernhard Schmidt, Portrait [28 kB]) Bernhard Schmidt (30. Mar. 1879-1. Dec. 1935) worked at the observatory as a freelancer. Richard Schorr recognized his great talents and offerd him a working place for his experiments. His independence was never put into question. In spite of his handicap, he had only one arm, he was an artist with optics. He designed several telescopes for the observatory and tested them succesfully. The climax of his career was the invention of the correktion-platte for spherical reflection telescopes for elemination of coma errors on photographic plates. His first Schmidtspiegel was a sensation for all of the world.

(1.4 kB Walter Baade [8 kB]) After the Nazis came into power in Germany in 1933 a successor for the aging Richard Schorr had to be found. At first Walter Baade was considered to succeed him. In 1937 he negociated to have a large Schmidt Telescope to be constructed and this was granted by the Senate. (1.8 kB Otto Heckmann [26 kB]) But, still, Baade rejected and Otto Heckmann (23. Jun. 1901-13. May 1983) was chosen. The Nazis, in their antisemitic philosophy, opposed him because of his cosmological research interests (Cosmology = Theory of Relativity = Albert Einstein). Only with great effort Schorr managed to make Heckmann the new director in 1941.

After the war the Senate came back to the promise made in 1937 and released funding for the Large Schmidt Telescope in 1951. The telecope was completed in 1954. Inside the building with the astrodome a facility for metallizing mirrors for telescopes was established, still in operation today. Because of better observing places elsewhere the great Schmidt Telescope was trensfered to the new Calar Alto Observatory in in Spain in 1976. The mounting was used for a new telescope financed by a donation from the teacher Nikolaus Lühning in 1975 (Oskar-Lühning-Telescope).

Between 1956 and 1964 the AGK3-Sternkatalog was observed and published similar to the AGK2-catalogue. In 1971 a new survey telescope was added, the Photographic Refractor by Carl Zeiss Oberkochen. High-accuracy positions of stars determined with the Photographic Refractor have been used for an input catalogue of the Hipparcos space astrometry mission. In 2003, the Hamburg Robotic Telescope (HRT) was tested in Hamburg. For this purpose the Photographic Refractor was disassembled and stored away in order use the dome.

In 1962 Bergedorf was the place where the European Southern Observatory (ESO) was founded with much participation of the Hamburg observatory. Otto Heckmann became the first ESO General Secretary (1962-1969).

In 1968 the national institute Hamburger Sternwarte became an institute in Fachbereich 12 (Physics) at the University Hamburg and astronomy is since then one of the four main research areas in physics.

In the early fifties Hamburg observatory played an important role in planning a new large observatory in Caracas, Venezuela. Eduardo Röhl decided to copy the observatory in Hamburg as a whole, scaling it with a factor of 1½. Finally, a student from Hamburg, Jürgen Stock, continued the works after long struggles in the seventies. Today the area in Merida, the final site, hosts the Centro de Investigaciones de Astronomia (CIDA).

Text and Photos: K.-J. Schramm
Translation by J.-U. Ness

An important source for this article is a report from R. Schorr from the year 1901, based on sources not available any more (also as a Postscript document; in German)
Another interesting source is the introduction of the annual report of the observatory for 1906 (also as Postscriptdocument in German available).

Postscript Version of this site

Jan-Uwe Ness

06-Nov-2008 16:43:04 | J.U.Ness