The History of the Public Observatory Rothwesten
In order to comprehend the purpose and the mandate of this public observatory, to understand the inspiration of the founder and finally to realize the motivations of today's operators, it is imperative to learn something of the origin of this observatory which is so tightly bound to the life of Georg Spitzer, the Father of the Rothwesten "Peoples' Observatory". To do this, we must take a deep breath and reach back "far" into the past. "Far" of course only for those of us who were born in the '50s, '60s, and '70s, time is relative.
We will go back to the year 1925, in which Georg Spitzer was born in Bad Charlottenbrunn (Lower Silesia). After his years in boarding school, he was snatched from the classroom and sent to war. He was never able to complete his schooling. During the war, he was wounded in an air attack near Schlüchtern, so he was in a military hospital at the capitulation. From there he entered captivity with the American army. After the war, he worked as a fireman and translator for the American occupation forces, which were stationed in Rothwesten until the '70s. Later he got a position, first as a laborer, and then as a sales associate, with the Kassel branch of a large German Electronics firm. During this time, which was bereft of any satisfactory professional future; and after the post war fight for subsistence had been allayed, came a need for the creative spirit to pursue higher, nobler interests. The stars in the heavens, which were among the few things that one could afford during this time, rekindled old fascinations. So he began to study astronomy for his own self education. An astronomy book, and later even a small telescope from the Kassel firm of Hertel and Reuss were affordable. The foundation was laid, and the idea of passing on this new found knowledge was born. This could only happen through a public institution, an observatory, a public observatory. The community of Simmershausen provided a small parcel of land, the City of Kassel 5000 bricks from bomb damaged buildings, the county Council of the County of Kassel; funded DM 680.00 for the acquisition of telescope optics. The construction of the cupola started slowly, first in thoughts, and then on paper. A concrete pedestal for the equatorial mount was poured. An observant walker can see this pedestal to this day next to the path near the Simmershausen Weidenberg-Stadium. Many will have wondered about its origins and purpose - out of context it shows no obvious utility. At times it looks to us like a monument from an ancient time.
The construction of the 210mm Newtonian telescope was undertaken in the basement workshop of his landlord, Johan Stangl. The first test took place in the yard of his house. (Illustration - 1).
Illustration - 1: Late '50s: Test of the 210mm telescope and the equitorial mount
in the yard of his then landlord Johann Stangl.
Notice the unusual astronomical accessories.
After the completion of this telescope, evening observations could be held in the temporary observatory two kilometers away.
Illustration - 2: Spitzer's first observatory in Simmershausen around 1960.
In the background, the Häuschensberg still without the tower.
Each night the telescope had to be loaded onto an old hand cart, with the Spitzers' children - Georg Spitzer had since married Friedel Spitzer, nee Bickhardt, from Simmershausen - and pulled from their home in Rothwesten to Simmershausen and back. Illustration - 2 and 3 give an impression of the first Spitzer "Observatory" in Simmershausen. Illustration - 4 the transport of the telescope.>
Illustration - 3: Georg Spitzer in the Simmershausen Observatory,
which was near what is today the Weidenberg-Stadium.
The wooden step is used in our observations to this day
Illustration - 4: The transport of the telescope from Rothwesten to the Observatory
in Simmershausen (around 1960).
Fritz Kranke, who was the mayor of Rothwesten at that time, suggested moving the entire observatory to Rothwesten; to place it on a tower on the Häuschensberg, which the community of Rothwesten would build expressly for that purpose. There had been a lookout tower at this location until 1912 when it suddenly collapsed and was never rebuilt. In 1959 construction began on the new tower upon which the observatory would sit. (Illustration - 5). The construction crew of the Firm Gerdum und Breuer was headed by Walter Opitz (Rothwesten). The construction plans for the tower were drawn up by the Architect Birkenfeld (Vellmar).
Illustration - 5: The tower under construction around 1962. In the foreground,
part of the old estate in Rothwesten.
Somewhat later, the community provided a grant of 450 Deutsch Marks for the acquisition of wood for the cupola. Gerhard Kiehl (Simmershausen) was instrumental in the building of the segments for the hemispherical dome which were constructed in the Buch cabinet shop in Simmershausen. Each individual siding board was hand fitted by Georg Spitzer. The equitorial mount, which was to carry the telescope, and which made possible the observation of all points of the heavens, designed and built with a budget of ZERO. Impossible to even think of today! None of this could have happened without the help of co-workers and the cooperation of some light industrial firms which provided labor and materials for free. 2000 DM were squeezed out of the budget for copper sheets with which to cover the cupola. In this point, they planned - not for an eternity, but at least for a generation or a lifetime to have very sturdy materials.
Illustration - 6: Start of the assembly of the cupola in the early sixties under a U.S.Army tent
in a field at the base of the Häuschensberg.
The cupola took shape and slowly transformed the angular tent, which had been furnished by the Americans, into a hemispherical shape. (Illustrations 6 and 7). The construction of the cupola took place in a meadow at the foot of the Häuschensberg. In 1962 this construction was completed. The completed cupola "just" needed to be lifted into place on top of the tower, which proved to be more difficult than anyone had imagined. The original plan, to place the cupola onto the tower using a helicopter provided by the U.S. Army, was cancelled due to the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Illustraton - 7: The narly completed cupola in 1962.
There was no other choice than to, once again, divide the dome into two halves. The Rothwestener farmers Peter Stach and Heinrich Kramer offered to use their tractors to carry the two halves of the cupola to the foot of the tower high on the side of the Häuschensberg. Those familiar with the area will realize what an undertaking this was. From there, the two halves were raised with pulleys and an a-frame (Illustration - 8) and set on the bearing ring, which had already been bolted in place.
Illustration - 8: One half of the cupola is raised into place (1963).
Everything worked, everything fit, and everything functioned as planned. Georg Spitzer once wrote: "It was a feeling of happiness and contentment: High over Rothwesten, the cupola shone copper golden in the sun." This feeling, after working for ten years and arriving at a goal is easily understood. On the 15th of September 1963 the observatory was ceremonially dedicated (Illustration - 9). The project had cost the "public coffers" 1130 DM for lumber and optics and 2000 DM for the copper sheathing for the cupola. A small sum indeed for a fully equipped observatory with a cupola of 5 meters diameter. (Note: At this time, US$1.00 equalled about 4.20 DM!)
In the ensuing years, the observatory gained in popularity and became known beyond the region of Kassel throughout the entire Federal Republic. Every Friday and Saturday, weather permitting, Georg Spitzer would conduct observatory tours and observation evenings. During the week, he would conduct special events for school classes and groups of every description. Many of the visitors then, and even now were enthralled by looking directly into space through the telescope. Additionally, Mr. Spitzer conducted half year course Introduction to Astronomy at the Kassel Volkshochschule.
Illustration - 9: Georg Spitzer speaking at the dedication
of the observatory on the 15th of September 1963.
In 1978 the community of Fuldatal provided a grant of 9,000 DM for the purchase of a high quality refractor objective lens from the firm of Lichtenknecker Optics in Belgium. This was also used to purchase additional equipment such as an ocular turret and a spectroscope. Georg Spitzer saw to the construction of the telescope personally. With this telescope, it became possible to conduct solar observations as well. Now, the observatory coluld be used, and toured, during the daylight hours too.
In 1982 Holger Bunge of Rothwesten and Stefan Schröder from Simmershausen provided a 30cm-Newtonian reflector on "permanent loan." This telescope, with its tremendous light gathering capability, allows excellent observation of Deep Sky Objects, distant galaxies, stellar clusters and nebulae. Holger Bunge, and later Alexander Gerlach of Espenau, assumed some Georg Spitzer's tour schedule. Another group, consisting of Stefan Schröder, Andreas Doerr and Frank Sohl (the last one from Kassel), were involved in astrophotography and produced some outstanding photographs.
In 1983 the 20th anniversary of the observatory was celebrated, and in 1988, the 25th. These were both occasions for speeches and exhibitions. Articles in the press and on the radio rounded out the public relations work.
In 1984, Georg Spitzer was awarded the Bundesverdienstkreuz for his work. (Illustration - 10).
Illustration - 10: The award of the Bundesverdienstkreuz
On the 28th of July, 1989, he died suddenly and unexpectedly. He left a feeling of emptiness - not just for his family and friends. There was also the question: How will the observatory continue? Fortunately his friends and acquaintances were able to get together and continue his work. This is all following his philosophy and tradition. The tours still take place each Friday and Saturday, weather permitting, and they are free. We all have only honorary positions here at the observatory. Our small donation jar provides a modest income from the tours. These donations are used exclusively for repairs, and should any surplus remain, it is used for new acquisitions. In 1991 the first repairs had to be made to the copper sheathing. Fortunately, we were able to use the same scaffolding that the community had put in place for a scheduled renovation on the tower. Also, the old record player motor, which had powered the declination drive for the equatorial mount was replaced by a new electronically controlled model. This increased precision greatly aided astrophotography.
The solid concept and construction of the observatory keeps the repair and maintenance costs down even after these thirty or so years. But time is beginning to show that the observatory has been sitting exposed on the side of the Häuschensberg challenging the forces of nature for three decades. At the moment, the objective lens of the refractor is being repaired. After 14 years, it began to show some damage, most likely from the temperature fluctuations in the cupola. The community of Fuldatal has declared itself ready to assume the cost of these repairs. At this point, we would like to express our thanks to them, for this, and for all of the excellent cooperation in the past.
So much for the history of the Volkssternwarte Rothwesten. But we don't want to miss this opportunity to introduce today's observatory team. The team consists of:
Andreas Dörr, Helsa,
Dr. Alexander Gerlach, Physicist, Oxford
Britta Hentschel, Teacher, Hildesheim,
Stefan Schröder, Engineer, Simmershausen,
Sebastian Schmidt, Student, Kassel,
Dr. Frank Sohl, Geophysicist, Münster,
Robert Schwebel, Engineer, Hildesheim,
Holger Mai, Physicist, Göttingen,
Dr. Jens Kube, Physicist, Berlin,
and Prof. Dr. Klaus Spitzer, Physicist, Freiberg.
Mrs. Friedel Spitzer has taken over the scheduling duties at the published phone number, and contributes immeasurably to our cohesion. Sadly, it is not possible to mention each and every person by name who had a part in the creation of the Volkssternwarte. This is purely unintentional. It is because the memory among the second generation of operators is not nearly so detailed as could be hoped. We most certainly extend our heartfelt thanks to all of those, named and unnamed who had a part in this endeavor.
Finally, it must be said that our functions at the observatory provide us a lot of fun. Our compensation is not of a material nature. It is the satisfaction of seeing that people can still be awed when, with the help of our observatory, they can see their place in the universe a little clearer. It is the gratification of helping someone toward self found knowledge, and the feeling of continuing the life's work of a great human being like Georg Spitzer.
A person only dies when no one thinks of him anymore.
Back to the Public Observatory Rothwesten Homepage