Berlin Observatory


The 150th. anniversary of the discovery of Neptune in 1996 brought a certain amount of attention to Berlin Observatory. In reality, the history of astronomy in Berlin encompasses more than the Neptune discovery, and even today there is much of interest there for the visitor who is also an amateur astronomer.

The Observatory

The Observatory where Neptune was discovered exists no more. It lay in the Kreuzberg area just south of present-day Checkpoint Charlie and was moved to the Potsdam suburb of Babelsberg, a district better known for the UFA (now DEFA) film studios, where films like The Blue Angel, Metropolis and Baron von Munchhausen were made. Close by is the Potsdam Astrophysical Laboratory, home of the Einstein Tower, this observatory being more accessible for public viewing. Since 1991, the two insitutions have been united as the Astrophysical Institute Potsdam.

The Observatory building in Kreuzberg was actually the Observatory's second home. The Observatory, as an organization, was originally inaugurated in 1700 in connection with the founding of the Brandenburg Society under the direction of the famous mathematician Leibniz, and has the distinction of being the oldest-existing observatory ( i.e. as an institution ) in "Germany". The first Observatory building came into service in 1711 and was based in present-day Dorotheenstraße .

In 1700 Germany did not actually exist as an entity and Berlin was a much less important town than it became later. The founding of the society was possibly all part of the first indications of Berlin's new confidence in itself as a city. In 1700 it was the capital of the state of Brandenburg, part of the Holy Roman Empire. By 1763 Brandenburg had become Prussia, a fully independent and enlarged state which continued to expand and became the state around which German unification was achieved in 1871. Leibnitz's society had, along the way, become the renowned Prussian Academy of Sciences.


After the Second World War, the Observatory came again under the control of the (now DDR) Academy of Sciences after being, since 1919, under the full control of the University. However many of its instruments were shipped off to the Soviet Observatories of Pulkovo and Simeis to compensate for damage caused to these observatories by the Nazis (including the 120 cm. reflecting telescope).


The external view of the Observatory, in An der Sternwarte (Rosa Luxembourg Strasse), is fairly constricted, although it could be combined with a visit to the adjacent Babelsberg Park, on the banks of the Havel river.

University Research

There is a Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics at the Technical University of Berlin. Apart from their main observatory in Dahlem, they have a satellite station based in the Wilhelm-Foerster-Observatory.

Other Research

The eastern suburb of Adlershof is one of the two bases ( the other is in Stuttgart) of the DLR Institute of Planetary Research (DLR being the national aviation and space research body). This Institute has responsibility for the cameras on the Mars 96 mission.