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“Unfortunately, no one here at the Technikum is up to date with regard to modern
physics, and I have already tapped all of them without success.”

Albert Einstein to Mileva Maric, May 1901

ASSISTANT TEACHER AT THE TECHNIKUM WINTERTHUR

Albert Einstein learned in April 1901 from his former fellow student Marcel Grossmann that he would probably get a position at the patent office in Bern. However, the precise time of a possible employment was still unknown. To bridge the waiting time, Einstein took over the representation of Professor Jakob Rebstein at the Technikum in Winterthur for two months. Rebstein, who had to perform his military service for two months, had asked Einstein in April 1901 whether he would be able to represent him. Pleased about this, Einstein wrote shortly thereafter to Mileva Maric: “You can imagine how gladly I´ll do that!“

Before his first day of work, Einstein and Mileva spent some holidays together in Como at the beginning of May 1901. Only a short time later, he also learned about Mileva‘s pregnancy. In January 1902, Lieserl, their joint daughter, was born in Hungary. (That Einstein had an illegitimate child only became known a few years ago after private letters became public which proved the existence of the child.)

1 Mileva Maric, ca. 1896

The small city of Winterthur is situated approximately 25 km north-east of Zurich at the exit of the upper Tösstal, and thus at the edge of the Zurich Highlands. In the north, there is the wine region which reaches until Schaffhausen. In 1901, approximately 40,000 people were living in Winterthur.

On May 8, 1901, Einstein was 22 years old, came to Winterthur, and met Dr. Rebstein, who informed him on-site on his future work in the Technikum. Some days later, Einstein registered with the local registration office. “Teacher Techn.- Assistant“ was entered as profession. In Winterthur he met Hans Wohlwend, a former schoolfriend from the Aargau canton school, and he rented a room from his landlady in Äußere Schaffhauserstrasse 38. With regard to the room, he wrote to Mileva on May 9: “You have no idea how charming and clean my room is! A large room with a double window, a veranda with a glass door, and a most friendly view, parquet floor, an unspeakably comfortable sofa, and beautiful carpets, a few nice pictures – in short, really ideal.“

In the evenings he often met with Hans Wohlwend for playing music together. Sometimes also with an “elderly damsel“. In a letter to Mileva he reported: “Yesterday I again played music at the place of the elderly damsel. It was great. If only you could have been there, too!“

During the week, Einstein and Mileva wrote letters to each other. On Sundays, they met in Zurich. Thus Einstein, who was in love, wrote in one of his letters: “Writing is stupid. On Sunday, I am going to kiss you.“

Einstein’s teaching position at the Technikum started on Thursday, May 16, 1901. In total, he had to teach 30 lessons per week in the classes 3 and 5 of the electrical engineers in Mathematics and Descriptive Geometry. He perceived his teaching position in Winterthur as a challenge.

2 Technikum Winterthur, ca. 1900

There is only little secure information concerning Einstein‘s teaching position in Winterthur. Thus, the Einstein biographer Carl Seelig wrote: “With regard to the tough and sometimes loutish tone of some of the students, he initially had a tough job. However, his intellectual superiority nevertheless slowly began to impress them. When at a time a student wanted to prove his manfulness through continuously moving his chair back and forth, Einstein asked him calmly: “Do you or the chair make such a noise?“ What Seelig wrote, is unfortunately without any reference.

At the beginning of July, but still during his stay in Winterthur, Einstein unsuccessfully applied “for the vacant teaching position in Mechanics and Strength of Materials at the Technikum Burgdorf” in the canton of Bern. At the end of July he applied, also unsuccessfully, at the canton school in Frauenfeld in the canton of Thurgau. The position in Frauenfeld was awarded to his friend Marcel Grossmann, whom he congratulated in a letter at the beginning of September: “I congratulate you cordially on this success, which offers you nice work and a secure future.”

Towards the end of his teaching position in Winterthur he wrote in a letter to “Daddy“ Jost Winteler on July 8: “I have been quite exceptionally pleased with my activities here. It had never occurred to me that I would enjoy teaching as much as it actually proved to be the case. After having taught 5 or 6 classes in the morning, I am still quite fresh, and work in the afternoon, either in the library on furthering my education, or at home on interesting problems. I cannot tell you how happy I would feel in such a job. I have completely given up my ambition to get a position at a university, since I see that even as it is, I have enough strength and desire left for scientific endeavor.” Thus, also during his 2-months stay in Winterthur, he again and again found enough time to work scientifically. Theoretical physics was already back then a great passion for the 22-year-old Einstein, and an essential part of his life.

Einstein‘s teaching position in Winterthur ended on Thursday, July 11, 1901.

After the end of his work at the Technikum Winterthur, the young physicist went to Schaffhausen where he worked for a few months as private tutor at a private school.

The Technikum Winterthur is now part of the School of Engineering of the “Züricher Hochschule für Angewandte Wissenschaften” (ZHAW) [Zurich University of Applied Sciences].

Illustrations Credits:
Courtesy of the Schweizerisches Literaturarchiv (SLA), Bern: 1
Archive of the author: 2

Bibliography:

Albrecht FölsingAlbert Einstein. Eine BiographieFrankfurt on the Main 1993
Dr. Adolf MeichleAlbert Einstein am Technikum
Winterthur
Bern 2014
John Stachel, a.o.The Collected Papers of Albert
Einstein, Volume 1
Princeton 1987
Carl SeeligAlbert Einstein. Eine
dokumentarische Biographie
Zurich 1954
Anna Beck,
Translator
The Collected Papers of Albert
Einstein, Volume 1
Princeton 1987
Peter Havas,
Consultant
English translation of selected texts