Using the house today in Einstein´s interests
Not long after his general theory of relativity was confirmed by British scientists in 1919, Einstein achieved a fame unmatched by most celebrities, let alone scientists. Indeed, it bordered on sanctification. William Carlos Williams wrote the poem „St. Francis Einstein of the Daffodils“ and Einstein´s effigy was placed among statues of saints and kings at a Protestant church in New York. Einstein never felt at ease with what he jokingly referred to as his Jewish sainthood. Not only did he not understand why it was conferred on him, his democratic convictions were at odds with the idea that a few individuals should be singled out for purported superhuman ability. For Einstein, celebrity meant idolatry and he did what he could to discourage a cult. In his will, Einstein requested that he be cremated without funeral, that his ashes be scattered unmarked, and that his residence did not become a museum.
Einstein´s principled iconoclasm posed a problem for the house in Caputh in particular. How should Einstein´s home be preserved without turning it into a reliquary?
One way was to get rid of the relics. The renovations to the house for the Einstein Year are designed to conserve its structure, reveal the purity of the building materials, and restore the original colors. They are not designed to erect a place of worship. The interior, save for a 1979 replica of Einstein´s desk, does not recreate the atmosphere of Einstein´s days. The new furnishings, designed by Jörg Hundertpfund especially for the house, are self-effacingly simple and functional.
Another way is to make sure that the house fosters a new present, one where the intellectual community can follow Einstein´s example of socially engaged and interdisciplinary thought. The house will host smaller workshops, seminars, and retreats, and serve as a gathering place for the Einstein Forum Board of Advisors, Nobel prize laureates, and other distinguished thinkers. In the summers, the garden house, and a modest stipendium, will be provided to young scholars who want to pursue projects outside their area of specialization.
The objective is not to exclude the general public, of course. The Caputh house is the only home Einstein ever built and his only residence left in Germany. Many local and international visitors are expected, and excluding them would undercut the open and informal spirit that Einstein created in Caputh. However distasteful he found sainthood, Einstein knew that fame could bring with it more than a cult of personality. A consolation of celebrity, he wrote in 1921, was that in our supposedly materialist time it makes heroes of men whose goals lie exclusively in the spiritual and moral domain. One of the aims of the Einstein house will be to help uphold that domain.