Marburg, The Brothers Grimm, and Ludwik Bruner

Photo taken from this site

I`ve just returned from a conference in Germany. The event took place at the Herder Institute for Historical Research on East Central Europe, located in the picturesque, mediæval town of Marburg (*).

All presentations were on a high level, certainly not only because of the fact that the institute is located high over the town, just beside the castle, on a steep hill. I had an excellent opportunity to learn more about the entangled, intricate network of international scientific contacts throughout many centuries in which people from Germany and Poland played a vital role. This net formed the very basis for the “fabric” – I mean the intellectual and spiritual culture – on which the contemporary western civilization has been “embroidered”.

I made a short presentation about life and work of Ludwik Bruner (1871-1913) – one of the pioneers of physicochemical studies within the Polish territories, a professor of chemistry at the Jagiellonian University in Cracow. Bruner was not only a scientist, but also a poet, prosaist, and renowned literary critic (he used pen name: Jan Sten). Once he gave a great, ironic characteristics of a “mad” scientist:

“the whole life spent on one thought, devoted to the discovery of one law, one explanation, the whole work of the brain feverished by the blood flow, of the eyes, sparkling with the hope of a discovery – [the work] enchanted in long rows of digits […] which would be later read by a similar maniac, only to call the laws of the former – errors, his calculations – false, his expectations – delusion. And after a few years the powerfully pressing roller of time will run over both of them; perhaps someone would even recall them, but for him there would not be any life in their works. A few more years will pass, and their names will be overgrow with the eternal oblivion, just like a path which is not traveled any more. This is the fate of the one who appeared to be illuminated by the ray of immortality.” (**)

I had also enough time for an evening stroll through the streets of the town:


 The Castle of Landgrafs


The author


The building on the right was called the witches` tower (Hexenturm).

Photo by prof. Michał Kokowski.


This famous building type is known as Fachwerkhaus

The Brothers Grimm: Jacob (1785-1863) and Wilhelm (1786-1859), studied in Marburg. They were depicted on the 1000 Mark banknote:

Source: Wikimedia Commons

No wonder then that in my hotel room I found an envelope containing one of their fairy tales, namely Sweet Porridge.

This is a story about a poor girl who once met a witch. The old woman gave her a self-cooking pot which produced sweet porridge. Henceforth the girl and her mother could eat whenever they wanted. This freely given happiness didn`t last long… One day the girl was not at home, and her mother didn`t know how to stop the pot, so eventually the enchanted porridge filled her house, and then almost the whole town drowned in it. Maybe the witch was wicked, and she desired to take revenge on the people from the town. One never knows. Fortunately, the girl managed to return and just gave an order: “little pot, stop”. And it worked. Nonetheless, people eager to visit the town had to eat all their way throught the streams of porridge.

(*) Entangled Science? Relocating German-Polish Scientific Relations. 

International Conference of the Cooperation Initiative of the Leibniz Association and the Polish Academy of Sciences: “Cross-border Scientific Dialogue. Potentials and Challenges for the Human and the Social Sciences”,

in cooperation with Ludwik and Alexander Birkenmajer Institute for the History of Science.

(**) J. Sten, Hamlet, p. 71–72 [in:] Jeden miesiąc życia. Utwory prozą, Kraków 1900. The translation from Polish is mine.

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