Hamburger Sternwarte - Overview
The observatory in Hamburg is located in Bergedorf since 1909.
The original observatory was founded in the center of Hamburg, at
on the grounds where today a Musuem of Hamburg's History is located.
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
(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.
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
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.
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
a refractor with 27cm opening still exists and resides in Bergedorf today.
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.
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
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,
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
copy the observatory in Hamburg
as a whole, scaling it with a factor of 1½. Finally, a student from
Hamburg, Jürgen Stock,
works after long struggles in the seventies. Today the area in Merida, the final
site, hosts the
Centro de Investigaciones de Astronomia
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