Archenhold Observatory ("Die Himmelskanone")

This has just celebrated its centenary having been established in 1896 in Treptower Park by Friedrich Archenhold, although originally he had envisaged a more scientific institution.

He had been involved in a dispute over a nebula he had discovered in Perseus, which some astronomers were reluctant to consider as a separate object from a nearby nebula discovered by Barnard. Therefore he had commissioned a new form of telescope, Archenhold Observatory - the old building with a length of 21 meters, exclusively for the photographic investigation of cosmic nebulae.

Attempts to receive government funding were in direct competition to Potsdam's Great Refractor, in which Archenhold eventually lost out and it seems that the telescope was set up "temporarily" in Treptower Park for the great Berlin Industrial Exhibition of 1896 with the express aim of attracting finance. However, it seems that the telescope proved so popular with visitors that the authorities decided to give it a permanent home in Treptower Park as a People's Observatory (Volkssternwarte) - the largest and oldest Volkssternwarte in Germany.

The original building was wooden but it was moved to a new building in 1909. Archenhold remained director until 1931 and was succeeded by his son, Günter. Because they were Jewish, both were relieved of any connection with the Observatory by the Nazis but the observatory officially received its present name on its 50th. anniversary.

Before 1989, the sights of East Berlin were not well publicized (i.e. not well-publicized in western publications), and on the first two occasions that I visited Berlin (when I was less informed about its astronomical heritage), I had twice visited the Zenner cafe on the edge of Treptower Park, unaware that the Observatory was directly opposite, set back a bit from the road. I realised my omission when I came across the East German book Observatories of the World by Siegfried Marx and Werner Pfau (Blandford Press).

Archenhold Observatory - present day The Archenhold Observatory had not changed much from the DDR time (on my last visit in 1993) although I did notice the absence of a former exhibit describing the US Apollo program as a "politically-inspired program" which basically never led anywhere - probably the most accurate assessment of the Apollo program I have ever read. During the DDR-time, there was a room which was used as a public cinema (the Great Hall) - this service has been discontinued but a plaque near the door to the former cinema still reminds us that it was here that Einstein gave his first public lecture on the General Theory of Relativity in 1915. (Note - I believe the observatory has undergone a major re-furbishment recently, so these comments might not still be valid)

The Observatory is open about five afternoons a week for viewing of the museum section, and you can also access the roof and view the main telescope (referred to by a colleague as the "Iraqi Super-Gun" and still the longest refractor in the world) from close quarters. Evening sessions on this telescope are held about once a month, but observing sessions using other telescopes are held once or twice a week. Address Alt-Treptow, 12435 Berlin.