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Einstein in Brussels

I work here at the heart of the EU district in Brussels; I tend to conceive of the geography of the area in terms of international politics - my own office building is home to Belgium's permanent representation to the EU at the bottom, and Scotland's EU office at the top. If you pull out a bit, you can see the distinctive four-pointed star of the European Commission's headquarters, the Berlaymont, building on the northwestern side of the roundabout, and (less clearly, though it is pretty unmissable in real life) the EU Council Secretariat, complete with helipad, across the Rue de la Loi.

Move southwest a bit and you can see the green space of the Parc Leopold, intruded on by the oval shape of part of the European Parliament's complex (the "Caprice des Dieux" building). But look for a moment at the three buildings between the Parliament and the ponds in the park. The southernmost of the three I know well - the former Solvay library, it is now a conference centre where I have attended many events (and even organised one). The other two are typical Art Nouveau buildings, rather beautiful to look at but not part of my daily life.

Well, I shall look more closely at the northernmost of the three buildings next time I go through the park. Now a school, it was built as the Institut Solvay by the Belgian industrialist and philanthropist in 1895, and from 1912 hosted the Solvay Conferences. It was in this building in 1927 that Einstein, mocking Bohr's attachment to randomness in quantum mechanics, asked him sardonically "...ob der liebe Gott würfelt?" (usually translated as the flat statement, "God does not play dice"). Bohr's reply, that it was not up to Einstein to tell God what to do, tends to get lost in standard accounts of the exchange.

See pictures and a home movie of the conference, here.

Comments

( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
pgmcc
Feb. 8th, 2007 07:42 am (UTC)
Great post. I loved the movie clip. All those famous physicists in one place and captured on film.

It's interesting to note that people 80 years later still behave in the same self-conscious manner when someone produces a video camera. It would have been all the more unusual in 1927.
uitlander
Feb. 8th, 2007 08:05 am (UTC)
Hmm
I watched them build the European Parliament complex :-)

Move a little further south in Parc Leopold and you encounter a sprawling set of buildings which also open up into the park. These are perched up the steep slope (note the zig-zag path) and they are the Institute Royale des Sciences Naturelles de Belgique. Here I spent 9 months of my life rummaging around the dusty store rooms and re-locating the faunal assemblages of late Ice Age Belgium which had apparently been lost during the war.

Zooming out, you can see the inter-relationship between The EU Commission and Parc Leopold. Additionally you also see Jubelpark/Parc du Cinquantenaire which houses the Musée Royaux d'Art et d' Histoire (inside the southern arc of the building) where I spent the remainder of my time in Belgium in a windowless basement.

Does the 'Residence' continue to exist? From memory is was a weird 1920s Art Deco hotel that had been taken over by the Belgian government and was used as a conference hall, dining hall and leisure centre for Belgian civil servants. Thee included the museum staff I worked with, and we would regularly grab lunch there. I think it was
here - Somewhere in or close to the Berlaymont building you mentioned. The outside was a building site when I was there and my memory is blurred after 15 years.

nwhyte
Feb. 8th, 2007 08:15 am (UTC)
Re: Hmm
Yeah, the Residence Palace does indeed still exist - shaped like two uncomfortable parentheses, [<

The < bit is still full of civil servants (and I think even some private apartments), but the [ is now stuffed with offices of EU satellite organisations and has a lot of conference rooms. I find myself going there several times a week, for one thing or another.

The building site shown on the other side of the railway in the satellite picture has now been completed as a shining glassy new EU building. Not sure what it will be for.
uitlander
Feb. 8th, 2007 08:24 am (UTC)
Re: Hmm
Ah yes. We would go in through a side door at the bottom left of the [. Have you nosed around it? It had a surreal 1930s Egyptian themed swimming pool which left me fairly speechless when I was shown it.

Its odd when cognitive geographies intersect :-)
redfiona99
Feb. 8th, 2007 10:31 am (UTC)
Is it okay if I link to this as part of a post about German?
nwhyte
Feb. 8th, 2007 12:52 pm (UTC)
Sure! In general if it's a public post, it's fair game.
surliminal
Feb. 8th, 2007 04:25 pm (UTC)
Scotland has an EU office????
nwhyte
Feb. 8th, 2007 04:31 pm (UTC)
Yep. Heck, Lancashire has an EU office. And so does Luxembourg.
( 8 comments — Leave a comment )

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