Nevertheless the science of the stars is justly called the queen
of the sciences, and who once looked deeply into the eyes of
the goddess Urania, he never will be released again, he is
addicted to her until the end of his days, even if the general
conditions don't allow to serve her practically.

(Bruno H. Bürgel, in "Aus fernen Welten", Ullstein 1910)

Bruno H. Bürgel

From a Worker to an Astronomer

Bruno H. Bürgel portrait

Bruno H. Bürgel (1875-1948), Writer and Astronomer

Bruno Hans Bürgel was born at November 14, 1875 nearly nine months after the death of F.W.A. Argelanders in Berlin under illegitimated and poor circumstances as the step son of a shoemaker. His first glance on astronomy he got at the total solar eclipse at the early morning of the 19th of August 1887 in Berlin (which was hidden by clouds, though).

After school he began to work in a factory and earn the money for life, but in its small free time he read books about astronomy and after sparing some of his earnings he bought a small telescopic telescope. With this he made some observations which he presented Wilhelm M. Meyer (1853-1910), who was called in popular Berlin slang "Urania-Meyer" - because with Wilhelm Foerster he was co-founder of the first public observatory Urania in 1889, holding popular science lectures there. Meyer was educated in astronomy in Göttingen and former first astronomer of the observatory in Geneva. He became mentor of Bürgel and gave him a job at the Urania observatory.

Mars drawing by Bruno H. Bürgel
Mars according to Bruno H. Bürgel
From 1894 until 1899 Bürgel worked as an observer at the Urania observatory. At a public observatory this means that also public guidances were included in that job. 1897 his mentor resigned from the Urania and became a free writer. Bürgel followed him only two years later, earning money with lectures and first publishings.

His probably most famous and most selling book was written until 1908: "Aus fernen Welten - Eine volkstümliche Himmelskunde" (from distant worlds - a popular science of the sky). In this he collected the contemporary astronomical knowledge, describing it in a basic popular way and in a somewhat conversational tone, added with (according to that time) many illustrations. Besides of a journey through the solar system, the stars, and the milkyway he included chapters like "women as astronomers", "of superstition and astrology", "stones falling from the sky", and "comets and the fear for comets", which were possibly supporting the spreading of the book to common people. In 1910 - the year of the impressive appearance of Halley's comet and after the death of Wilhelm M. Meyer - the book was published by Ullstein for the first time.

Bürgel was "outing himself" as an advocate for the living worlds: (cite from "Aus fernen Welten", translated) There is probably no educated man nowadays hiding from the insight that the number of earthen stars will count in millions. Millions of inhabitated worlds may exist within the starry space. A totally different question is whether we might succeed to identify such a world. Especially Mars with the newly "discovered" "Canali" by Schiaparelli, even drawn into photographies of Mars by Lowell, was presented as a possible inhabitated planet, although Bürgel stayed cautious: (cite from "Aus fernen Welten", translated) We see that everything is controversial, everything is full of questionmarks, and only one thing remains: This planet is in many aspects similar to the Earth and one cannot doubt the possibility of its habitableness, even if it is human and foolish to believe that the beings of other stars might be equally to ourselves in their physique, their needs, their willing and doing!

With the age of fourty Bürgel joined the army. He survived the first world war on the west front as a dispatcher. After this he began to write and hold popular lectures, again. Some of his most successful books besides of "Aus fernen Welten" were the 1919 published autobiographic work "Vom Arbeiter zum Astronomen" (from a worker to an astronomer), the astronomical popular scientific travel into the space with the title "Der Stern von Afrika" (the star of Africa), the novel "Gespenster" (ghosts), the novels - maybe inspired by Kurt Laßwitz (1848-1910) - "Die seltsamen Geschichten des Dr. Ulebuhle" (the strange stories of Dr. Ulebuhle), and maybe as a revision of "Aus fernen Welten" "Der Mensch und die Sterne" (man and the stars).

Aquarelle by Bruno H. Bürgel

The planet Saturn, as seen from one of his moons, at the moment of setting at the horizon

Bürgel survived also the second world war and died at July 8, 1948 in Potsdam at an age of seventytwo. Several public observatories in Germany and an award of the German astronomical society have his name, nowadays.

Joachim Herrmann (Ed.): Das große Lexikon der Astronomie, Orbis Verlag 1996
Bruno H. Bürgel: Vom Arbeiter zu Astronomen, Ullstein Verlag, 1924 (45. Tausend)
Bruno H. Bürgel: Aus fernen Welten, Ullstein Verlag, 1924 (64.-73. Tausend)

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created 2000-02-04 as Buergel.html
modified 2000-02-04 translated

To the Sky over Berlin...To the astronomy links...-- jd --