2. Student and Postdoctoral
3. The Development of Quantum
4. Professor in Leipzig
5. The War Years
6. The period of Reconstruction
and Renewal (1946-1958)
7. The Munich Years
Return to main menu
Werner Karl Heisenberg was born in Würzburg, Germany, on 5 December 1901. His father, August Heisenberg (1869-1930), stemmed from a family of master craftsmen in Osnabrück, and had studied classical philology in Munich; at the time of Werner’s birth he held the dual positions of teacher at the Altes Gymnasium in Würzburg and Privatdozent for Greek philology at the University of Würzburg. His mother was Anna Wecklein, the daughter of Nikolaus Wecklein (143-1926), a classical philologist and rector of the Maximilians-Gymnasium in Munich. They married in 1899 and their first son, Erwin, was born in Munich in 1900; he later became a chemist and worked in industry (he died in 1965)
The family returned to Munich in April 1910 when August Heisenberg was called (in January) to succeed his teacher Karl Krumbacher in the chair for medieval and modern Greek philology at the University. On 18 September 1911 Werner entered the Maximilians-Gymnasium, still under his grandfather’s rectorship and at the time the best humanistic gymnasium in the Bavarian capital. Werner studied diligently and rapidly and was regarded as an outstanding, ambitious, self-confident pupil. He excelled particularly in Mathematics; far exceeding the teaching program, he taught himself differential and integral calculus, worked with elliptical functions, and studied abstract number theory. Besides his academic achievements Heisenberg learned to play the piano and by age of 13 he was playing master compositions. He remained an excellent player throughout his life.
The first World War and its consequences intruded into Heisenberg’s boyhood life. His father, a reserve infantry officer, was immediately called to duty and remained away from the family for nearly the entire war. An increasing shortage of food and fuel prevailed throughout Germany and forced the occasional closing of schools. Because his family’s lack of food, Werner signed up for the war assistance service in the summer of 1918 and helped to bring in the harvest with schoolmates on a farm near Miesbach in Upper Bavaria.
The loss of the war and the abdication of the monarchy generated revoluyionary unrest throughout Germany. In Bavaria a socialist republic came to power on 7 November 1918; it developed into a Soviet Republic (Räterepublik) on 7 April 1919 that was crushed in early May 1919 by troops dispatched by Reich Government. During the fighting in Munich and ensuing restoration of moderate socialist rule, Heisenberg, along with many of his schoolmates, voluntarily served in support of one of the republican units, Cavalry Rifle Command No. 11 (Kavallerie-Schützen-Kommando No. 11). He carried messages, guarded the street from the roof of the Catholic seminary across from the university, and read Plato’s Timaeus in Greek. Shortly afterwards Heisenberg became associated, as elected leader of a small group of younger boys, with the New Boy Scouts (Bund deutscher Neupfadfinder), a representative of the postwar German youth movement that strove for renewal of personal and social life in Germany. Until the prohibition of independent youth groups in 1933 Heisenberg spent nearly all of his leisure time with his group, hiking and camping within Germany and on trips to neighboring countries (e.g. to Finland in summer 1923). He loved hiking, skiing, mountain climbing, and enjoyed the beauty of nature all his life.
David C. Cassidy and Helmut Rechenberg