Famous People | J-K-L-M-N-O
Brief bios of famous and not-so-famous people from the German-speaking countries who have played a significant role in world history in the areas of politics, science, the arts, and technology.
Helmut Jahn (1940- ) | German-American architect with offices in Chicago, Frankfurt, and Munich. Born Jan. 4, 1940 in Nuremberg, Germany, Jahn studied architecture in Munich and at the Illinois Institute of Technology. In 1981 he became a principal in the architectural firm of Murphy/Jahn. In 1991 Jahn was chosen as one of the Ten Most Influential Living American Architects. In addition to teaching, Jahn has designed the following notable projects: Sony Center, Berlin; Messeturm (trade fair tower), Frankfurt; State of Illinois Center, Chicago; United Airlines Terminal, O'Hare Airport, Chicago; The Tower, 10940 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles; Kempinski Airport Hotel, Munich. (For architecture, also see Walter Gropius and the Bauhaus, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Richard Neutra.)
Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1961) | Swiss psychologist, psychiatrist and inventor of analytical psychology. Born near Basel, Jung was at one time an important collaborator with Sigmund Freud, but he broke with Freud in 1912 in a disagreement over the causes of certain psychological disorders. Jung also placed heavy emphasis on the psychological meaning of dreams.
Franz Kafka (1883-1924) | He did not even want his "kafkaesque" works published, but the Prague-born author who wrote in German became posthumously famous for his stories of people fighting to survive in a bizarre, inhumane world, as in Der Prozess (The Trial) and Die Verwandlung (Metamorphosis), the tale of a man who wakes up one day to discover he is a giant bug.
Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) | One of the greatest philosophers of all time, he was born in Königsberg, East Prussia (now Kaliningrad, Russia). A teacher and professor (of logic and metaphysics at the Univ. of Königsberg) for most of his life, Kant’s best known work, Critique of Pure Reason (Kritik der reinen Vernunft), was first published in 1781. A second revised edition appeared in 1787. In Critique, Kant criticized the assumptions of Leibniz and other earlier philosophers that man was capable of understanding "truths" through pure reason and thought. The idea of the “thing in itself” (“das Ding an sich”), existing independent of any human subjective view, stems from Kant.
Karl der Große | (See Charlemagne.)
Martin Kaymer (1984- ) | German golf pro and briefly the world’s No. 1 ranked golfer (Feb.-April 2011).
Johannes Kepler (1571-1630) | German astronomer and mathematician, most famous for his work on planetary motion.
Henry A. Kissinger (1923- ) | Born in Fürth, Germany, Kissinger came to the US at the age of 15. After graduating from Harvard, he went on to become Richard Nixon’s Secretary of State in 1973. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize that same year for his Vietnam war negotiations. His memoirs are entitled Years of Renewal.
Famous Graves in Germany
Where are they buried?
Paul Klee (1879-1940) | Klee became one of the most famous artists of the 20th century. Born near Bern, Switzerland to a German father and a Swiss mother, Klee produced an astounding number of paintings, graphics, and sculptures in his lifetime – some 9,000 works, almost all of which he personally cataloged. Although considered Swiss, Klee was never granted Swiss citizenship until after his death – despite the fact that he was born, died, and spent half his life in Switzerland. Between 1898 and 1933, Klee worked in Germany, primarily in Munich and Düsseldorf. He was associated for a time with the Bauhaus design school and the Blaue Reiter artists’ group in Germany. But, although he was also claimed by the Dadaists and the Surrealists, Klee is not so easily classified. Klee lived and worked in his own universe. Best known for whimsical works such as “Twittering Machine,” colorful abstract designs, and his naive/primitive paintings that often resemble cave drawings or petroglyphs, Klee was also a talented musician and writer. He wrote prolifically about his own theory of art.
The German-Hollywood Connection
Austrians, Germans, and Swiss in Hollywood
Robert Koch (1843-1910) | German bacteriologist who won the Nobel Prize in 1905 for his work on tuberculosis. Koch also made discoveries related to anthrax, diphtheria, cholera, and other diseases. (More: Robert Koch and Anthrax from About.com.)
Helmut Kohl (1930- ) | The former German Kanzler (1982-1998, CDU) presided over German reunification and proved to be more clever a politician than some had thought, weathering considerable difficulties in bringing east and west Germans together. He won re-election in 1994 and broke Konrad Adenauer’s old record for length of time in office. Gerhard Schröder succeeded Kohl as chancellor in September 1998. Kohl’s former protégé, Angela Merkel beat Schröder to become Germany’s first female chancellor in 2005.
Oskar Kokoschka (1886-1980) | Austrian artistic pioneer. Also a writer, his major work was in painting, and his impressionistic portraits and landscapes never took on the cubist, expressionist style of his time, but had a splashy style that was Kokoschka’s alone. He later took up the cause of children’s education and welfare, dedicating much of his art to that end. He published an autobiography, My Life, in 1974.
Karl Lagerfeld (Karl Otto Lagerfeldt, 1933- ) | The noted German fashion designer, photographer, and trendsetter was born in Hamburg, but Lagerfeld now lives and works primarily in Paris and other world fashion capitals. (His official year of birth has always been given as 1938, but Lagerfeld was actually born on September 10, 1933.) He has apartments in Monte Carlo, Rome and New York, as well as a house in Hamburg. During the early days of his career (in the 1950s), Lagerfeld went by the name of Roland Karl. After working for various French fashion houses, Lagerfeld turned to freelance design in 1962, collaborating with various other designers and houses. By the early 1980s he had gained international fame for his stylish costume design, fashion work and creative photography.
Bernhard Langer (1957- ) | Langer is the only other German golfer, besides Martin Kaymer, to be ranked number one in the world. The Bavarian Langer turned professional in 1976 and was the inaugural world number one when the Official World Golf Rankings first came into being in 1986. He won the Masters twice, something Kaymer has been unable to do in four tries so far. More…
Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646-1716) | German philosopher and mathematician born in Leipzig. Leibniz, later recognized as a vital pioneer in developing a philosophy of pure logic based on mathematical concepts, died virtually forgotten in Hannover.
Otto Lilienthal (1848-1896) | German aviation pioneer and inventor of the first practical glider (1877). Lilienthal demonstrated the advantages of curved surfaces for wings, and his designs were studied by the American Wright brothers prior to their first motorized flight (1903). Beginning in 1891, Lilienthal made some 2500 successful glider flights, most from an artificial hill near Lichterfelde, before he was killed in a crash on Aug. 9, 1896 in the Stollerier mountains. He published Der Vogelflug als Grundlage der Fliegekunst in 1889 (Birdflight as the Basis of Aviation, 1911).
“Mad” Ludwig II (Louis II of Bavaria, 1845-1886; King of Bavaria, 1864-1886) | Was Mad King Ludwig really mad? In any case, the ”Swan King” has become a legendary figure in Bavarian history. Find out more about the man and his fairy-tale castles on our Ludwig II page.
Martin Luther (1483-1546) | Started the Protestant Reformation with his “Ninety-Five Theses.” After his excommunication, at his heresy trial in Worms, he defiantly refused to recant his Protestant beliefs. Luther also had an impact on standardizing the German language through his translation of the Bible into German. More...
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Ernst Mach (1838-1916) | Gave his name to the air speed system that measures the speed of an aircraft in relation to the speed of sound, Mach 1 being the local speed of sound. Mach was an Austrian scientist and philosopher who served as a professor in Graz, Vienna, and Prague. He wrote many scholarly works, some of which are credited with helping to pave the way for Einstein’s departure from Newtonian physics.
Thomas Mann (1875-1955) | Buddenbrooks (1900), Death in Venice (1912), The Magic Mountain (1924), and Felix Krull (1954) are the most famous works of this Nobel Prize-winning writer (1929). His older brother Heinrich Mann (1871-1950) was also a noted novelist and writer (Professor Unrat, 1905 - the basis for the famous film, The Blue Angel with Marlene Dietrich). Both brothers spent the years after 1933 living in exile, most of that time in Santa Monica, California.
Karl Marx (1818-1883) | German philosopher and writer whose enormous impact on the world — for good or bad — continues today. The “co-inventor” of communism was born Karl Heinrich Marx in the city of Trier (then in Prussia) to a Jewish family whose members were all Lutherans. Marx studied at the universities of Bonn, Berlin, and Jena. He was greatly influenced by the writings of the German philosopher Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831). Because of his rebellious tendencies, Marx spent most of his adult life in exile. More...
Kurt Masur (1927- ) | East German orchestra conductor (Gewandhausorchester, Leipzig) who also headed the New York Philharmonic from 1991 to 2002. Masur supported anti-government demonstrators in the period leading up to the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Karl May (1842-1912) | German writer who wrote some of his books about the American West in prison. Before writing his tales of the “Wild West,” he had never seen the US. He made a brief visit to America shortly before his death, but he never saw the western United States he had written about. Like most Germans today, he preferred the Indians over the cowboys. Generations of German-speaking youth have grown up with the May-created characters of Old Shatterhand and Winnetou in books and movies. His numerous adventure books, including Durch die Wüste (1892), Winnetou (1893), and Im Lande des Mahdi (1896), are well-known in the German-speaking world. Only a few of May’s works have ever been translated into English.
Ulrike Marie Meinhof (1934-1976) | Of the infamous Baader-Meinhof gang.
Lise Meitner (1878-1968) | Austrian physicist, born in Vienna, who did important work in beta and gamma radiation. In 1905 Meitner became only the second Austrian woman to receive a doctorate in physics from the University of Vienna. Two years later she went to Berlin to work with the chemist Otto Hahn, an association that lasted some 30 years. The Jewish Meitner became a professor of physics at the University of Berlin in 1926. After the Nazis came to power, Meitner was forced to leave Germany and continued her scientific work in Stockholm. It was during her work in Scandinavia (while still in contact with Hahn) that she discovered and coined the term “nuclear fission.” However, she refused to work on the atomic bomb, and later retired to England. Hahn was awarded the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1944 without acknowledging the vital contribution of Meitner to his work.
Phillip Melanchthon (Phillip Schwartzerd, 1497-1560) | German scholar and religious reformer, who worked with Luther (above) and wrote or helped draft several important Protestant works, including the Augsburg Confession (1530), the key document of the Lutheran faith. Melanchthon helped temper Luther’s views and was a force for reconcilation between Protestants and Catholics.
H.L. Mencken (1880-1956) | Henry Lewis Mencken was the son of German-Americans in Baltimore. He became a famous and controversial journalist and literary critic. His authoritative multivolume work, The American Language, was published between 1919 and 1948. In the Smart Set, the American Mercury, and the Baltimore Sun, Mencken wrote his unflinching, politically incorrect criticisms of American life, to the point of being called “the most hated man in America.” He also wrote about the Germans in America, lamenting the fading of their native language and literature. Among his last written words: “After all these years, I remain a foreigner.”
Ottmar Mergenthaler (1854-1899) | Invented the famous Linotype typesetting machine, first used in 1886 for the New York Tribune. His invention required ten years of hard work and revolutionized the printing of books and newspapers. Mergenthaler was born in Hachtel, Germany. He died in Baltimore, Maryland.
Franz Johann Mesmer (1734-1815) | Austrian physician who gave us the word mesmerize. After being accused of practicing magic rather than medicine, Mesmer was forced to leave Austria in 1778. His technique of mesmerism was an early form of hypnotism, misunderstood both by the medical community and Mesmer himself. A French commission, of which Benjamin Franklin was a member, rendered an unfavorable judgment against Mesmer in 1784, claiming his cures were not due to “animal magnetism” as he claimed.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) | Began his musical career at the age of four. His musical creations in opera, chamber music, symphonies, and piano concertos are considered by many to be some of the most superb of all time. Mozart was born in Salzburg, Austria but spent most of his working life in Vienna.
“In heaven all the interesting people
are missing.” - Friedrich Nietzsche
Thomas Nast (1840-1902) | Born in Landau, Germany, Nast later went to America and became the creator of the Democratic and Republican party mascots and the “American” image of Santa Claus. He is famous for his biting political cartoons. More...
WEB > Nena Song Lyrics (in German and English; About.com)
Richard Josef Neutra (1892-1970) | The Austrian-American architect came to the US in 1923 to work in Chicago with Frank Lloyd Wright and other American architects. He became known for his own unique designs in steel and concrete after his earlier work with houses, using natural materials.
Helmut Newton (1920-2004) | Noted German fashion photographer. Newton, who hailed from Berlin, helped revolutionize fashion photography in the 1970s by foregoing the studio in favor of natural outdoor settings. He was infamous for his stylish photos of leggy women (often in the nude) and erotic, kinky fashion photos. Newton died following an auto accident in Los Angeles.
Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) | The German philosopher and writer, born in Saxony in eastern Germany, became famous for his Übermensch (superman) and the wisdom of his Zarathustra. His philosophy, expounded in works like Die Geburt der Tragödie (The Birth of Tragedy, 1872), Also sprach Zarathustra (Thus Spoke Zarathustra, 1883), and Der Wille zur Macht (The Will to Power, 1888), was falsely adopted by the Nazis (aided by Nietzsche’s sister), but only by corrupting and editing Nietzsche’s true ideas, which rejected anti-Semitism, as well as German nationalistic and racist tendencies. Nietzsche suffered from physical and mental illness in his last years. (See Nietzsche quotation above.) - View Nietzsche’s grave in Germany.
Dirk Werner Nowitzki (1978- ) | German-born NBA basketball star with the Dallas Mavericks. Born and raised in Würzburg, Dirk Nowitzki (“Dirkules”) is the first German/European player to be voted MVP in the NBA (2007 and 2011). The 7-foot-tall German (2.13 m) has a mother who played pro basketball in Germany, but he started out with handball and tennis before switching to basketball. Nowitzki has played for the Mavericks since 1998. He is only the fourth German to play in the NBA, following Uwe Blab, Christian Welp and Detlef Schrempf (who also played for Dallas in the 1980s).
WEB > Studentin in der BRD (Der Spiegel, in German)
Georg Simon Ohm (1789-1854) | German physicist for whom the ohm, a unit of electrical resistance, is named. As a professor of physics at the Polytechnische Schule in Nürnberg and later in Munich, Ohm made important discoveries about electrical properties that came to be formulated as Ohm's Law (1827).
Jesse Owens (1913-1980) | Four gold medals at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Did Hitler snub him? Or was it someone else?
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