Werner Heisenberg, crouching, on an outing with his brother and parents, ca. 1910.

The Early Years: 1901-1920
Family Matters

Werner Karl Heisenberg was born on 5 December 1901 in the city of Würzburg in the southern German state of Bavaria. His parents, Dr. August Heisenberg and Anna (Annie) Heisenberg, married in 1899 after Anna converted from Catholicism to August's Lutheran faith. August was an expert on middle and modern Greek philology; Annie was the daughter of a Gymnasium principal and authority on Greek tragedy. Werner was their second son. Their first son, Erwin, was born in 1900 and later became a chemist.

He is more developed toward the side of rationality than of fantasy and imagination.

--A school teacher

The wedding of August Heisenberg and Anna Wecklein at a Lutheran church in Munich, May 1899.

At the time of Werner's birth Germany was in the last decades of the monarchy, which collapsed at the end of World War I. Teachers and professors enjoyed high social status in pre-war Germany, and the Heisenbergs, an academic family, could be considered well off financially. They participated in the cultural views and social graces of the German upper middle class.

The pupil is also extraordinarily self-confident and always wants to excel.

--A school teacher

An intent Werner (right) blowing bubbles with his brother, Erwin, ca. 1905.

Heisenberg entered elementary school in Würzburg at the age of five. He was rather shy and sensitive at first, but soon gained in confidence. At home his father, a teacher, fostered constant competition with his older brother. As the two boys grew up together, the competition continued. It is apparently one reason that Werner was always ahead of his classmates in school, especially in the subjects of math and science.

In 1910, when Werner was eight years old, his father was appointed professor of medieval and modern Greek studies at the University of Munich. Werner moved with his family to Munich, where they settled in the cultural and artistic section of Schwabing. Werner finished his last year of elementary school there. In September 1911 he entered the Maximilians-Gymnasium, where his maternal grandfather was principal. A Gymnasium was a nine-year school that prepared students to enter a university before going on to professional careers, such as medicine, law, or academics.


High School Student


Exhibit Introduction

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Education in Germany



About this Exhibit

1998 - American Institute of Physics and David Cassidy ()