Magdeburg calls itself the Otto City. The name comes not only from the most famous Otto in German history, Otto I, but also from a “second Otto” who was born and worked in the city.
The “second Otto”‘s full name is Otto von Guericke and he became known primarily in scientific circles.
Who was Otto von Guericke?
Otto von Guericke lived from 1602 to 1686. He was a politician, lawyer, physicist and inventor.
After his studies and a longer educational trip, von Guericke returned to Magdeburg. He was elected to the city council and initially took on the function of a builder and, in the case of defence, a patron. From 1632 he was employed as a fortress engineer in Magdeburg in the service of the Swedes. This was later followed by offices as mayor of the Old City of Magdeburg, participation in the negotiations for the Peace of Westphalia and the Imperial Diet in Regensburg.
In addition to all his political activities, Otto von Guericke was very interested in science and made investigations into pneumatics that made him famous. For example, he invented the piston vacuum pump in 1649 and the air balance in 1650. In experiments, he was able to prove that light can penetrate an airless space, but sound cannot.
Today, Otto von Guericke is also one of the pioneers of meteorology. He built a 10-metre-high water barometer at Magdeburg’s town hall, with the help of which weather forecasts could be made.
One of his most spectacular experiments, with which he wanted to demonstrate the power of the vacuum, he performed for the first time in Magdeburg in 1657.
Otto von Guericke had two large copper hemispheres made, the so-called Magdeburg hemispheres. Both hemispheres had a diameter of about 42 cm and fitted together perfectly.
Between the two hemispheres he placed a leather strip that he had previously soaked in wax and turpentine. The leather strip served as a kind of seal.
He then pumped the air out of the inside of the sphere using the piston pump he had invented. The air pressure acting on the hemispheres from the outside held them firmly together.
It became really spectacular when he harnessed eight horses in front of each hemisphere. These horses pulled hard, but tried in vain to separate the hemispheres from each other. When von Guericke filled air between the spheres again, they fell apart.
Otto von Guericke had several sets of spheres made after his Magdeburg hemispheres were demonstrated. A pair was given to the Great Elector Friedrich Wilhelm (Brandenburg), for example, after he had the experiment shown to him. Today they can be seen in the Deutsches Museum in Munich.
Searching for clues in Magdeburg
We went in search of clues about Otto von Guericke in Magdeburg. His monument is not far from the town hall, in the street b.d.Hauptwache. The monument has been there since 1907.
At Julius-Bremer-Straße 10 in the city centre, there has been a large monument since 2002 that impressively depicts the experiment with the Magdeburg hemispheres. The sculptor Thomas Virnich created the five-metre high and eight-metre long bronze sculpture.
In the millennium tower in the Elbauenpark, there is a very interesting area devoted to the scientist and his experiments. Here you can also try out some experiments yourself and of course admire the Magdeburg hemispheres.
Today, the Lukasklause houses the Otto von Guericke Centre with a museum about Otto’s life and works. Historical replicas of equipment impressively show the experiments.
Do you know the Buddy Bears from Berlin or the elephants in Hamm? In Magdeburg there are the Magdeburg hemispheres. On the occasion of its 400th birthday, artistically designed hemispheres were erected in the city, which can still be seen there today.
Fancy some sweet Magdeburg hemispheres. The chocolates are certainly quicker to open than the original Magdeburg hemispheres.