Speech by Ambassador Heimsoeth on 7 December 2017 at the luncheon in honour of Nobel prizewinners Professor Rainer Weiss and Professor Joachim Frank

Botschafter Heimsoeth Bild vergrößern Botschafter Dr. Hans-Jürgen Heimsoeth (© Auswärtiges Amt)

Professor Weiss, Mrs Weiss,

Professor Frank, Mrs Frank,


Today, as a German born in India, I am privileged to honour two Americans born in Germany. This is a special and very moving day for me, as the German Ambassador to Sweden, and I am particularly delighted that you, Professor Weiss, and you, Professor Frank, have been able to accept my invitation.

Our paths could have crossed at other times and in other places, if fortune would have had it. I started school at the PS 81 in the Bronx, New York, and went on to study at the university of  Freiburg after my school years. Later, I was able to return to New York as Consul General for a period and had three GermanAmerican Nobel prizewinners in my administrative district.

You, Professor Weiss, were born in Berlin in life-threatening, ominous times and spent your early years in exile in Czechoslovakia. Fortuitous circumstances subsequently allowed your family to emigrate to the United States. Like me, you attended school in New York, but just a few years earlier than I did, before you laid the foundations for your academic career at MIT. You, Professor Frank, come from the Rhineland, you, too, studied at the Albert-Ludwigs University of Freiburg and, following various stations in Germany, Britain and California, have now been living in New York for many years.

What does this tell us? Firstly – and this is nothing new – nowadays more and more people feel at home all over the globe. In the world of academia particularly, national borders have lost much of their significance. The research of gravitational waves to which you, Professor Weiss, have dedicated your professional life, is indeed a shining example of international academic cooperation. This highly complex project you developed was only possible through the joint efforts of entire groups of researchers on several continents.

I am particularly delighted that Albrecht Rüdiger from the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics is also here today, representing the numerous scientists involved. I could cite many more names – I will have to refrain from doing so –but we can be grateful that you and others (Heinz Billing) have been granted a long life, allowing you to live and see this mark of recognition for your research.

It is no coincidence that you have both spent your research careers in the United States. The American research institutions offer an excellent environment for creative souls, as I was able to see for myself on many occasions during my time as Consul General in New York. Here, scope is even provided for what is seemingly impossible. The United States has given you, Professor Frank, the opportunity to implement your ideas, despite the fact that, initially, even colleagues in California might have had their doubts about whether you would be able to overcome the massive obstacles along the way to achieving a threedimensional electron microscope representation of individual molecules. Admittedly, I believe the early support you received from the Studienstiftung and the sound, comprehensive academic education you enjoyed in Freiburg and Munich did not stand in the way of your subsequent academic success. I am pleased that a Dean of the University of Freiburg, Professor Warscheid, Professor for biochemistry and proteomics, is able to be here with us today as also Prof. Ernst Joseph Nordgren, one of our Alexander von Humboldt scholars from Sweden.

In spite of all the differences, your careers illustrate the crucial importance of the United States for modern science. “Die Luft der Freiheit weht ” This quotation from humanist Ulrich von Hutten can be found – in German – on the emblem of Stanford University. It refers to a legacy that has made the United States a haven of freedom and western values. The openness towards people of diverse backgrounds and very different mindsets that has characterised the United States for many years was also a crucial factor in the outstanding academic achievements we are celebrating today and which constitute an honour for your entire country. It is to be hoped that all nations will continue to appreciate the value of this freedom of science without stateimposed regulations – whatever motivation lies behind them – and without state coercion.

Minister, ladies and gentlemen from the Nobel Committee and the Nobel Foundation, I am pleased that we have been able to gather here in Stockholm. The reputation of the Nobel Prize is unparalleled. We also owe this to Sweden’s globally minded attitude and to the seriousness and dignity with which you bestow these honours. For this we would like to thank you.

Allow me now to raise my glass to Professors Weiss and Frank, to their spouses, their families and to the freedom of science!