Biographies of people from the German-speaking countries who have played a significant role in German and world history in the areas of politics, science, the arts, and technology.
Gabriel Daniel Fahrenheit (1686-1736)
The German physicist who invented the temperature scale named for him. Although born in Danzig, he lived most of his life in England and the Netherlands.
Lyonel Feininger (1871-1956)
Born in New York City but spent 50 years of his life in Germany. His father, Carl, came from Germany and fought as a Confederate in the War Between the States. Lyonel was an artistic leader in Expressionism and worked for a time at the Bauhaus.
Theodor Fontane (1819-1898)
German poet and novelist of French Huguenot descent. Considered the leading exponent of “poetic realism” in 19th Century German literature, two of Fontane’s best-known novels are Effie Briest (1896) and L’Adultera (1882), both based on real-life episodes in Prussian Berlin and Brandenburg.
Fontane’s grave in Famous Graves
Gert Fröbe (Karl Gerhart Fröbe, 1913-1988)
German film actor best known for his iconic role as Auric Goldfinger in the 1964 James Bond movie Goldfinger. Because of Fröbe’s thick German accent, his voice was dubbed by British actor Michael Collins in that film. Fröbe (Froebe) also appeared in other German and English-language films (with his own voice), including Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines (1965), Is Paris Burning? (1966), Triple Cross (1966), Rocket to the Moon (1967), Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968), and Bloodline (1979). Fröbe was born in Planitz (now part of the city of Zwickau) in the eastern German state of Saxony (Sachsen) on Feb. 25, 1913.
Friedrich Fröbel (Froebel, 1782-1852)
German educator best known as the inventor of the kindergarten (German for “children’s garden”) in 1840. Fröbel was a student of the Swiss Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi, the father of modern educational techniques. He was born in Oberweißbach (then in the Principality of Schwarzburg-Rudolstadt, now in Thuringia). He began his teaching career in 1805 at a secondary school in Frankfurt am Main. Later he worked with Pestalozzi in Switzerland. Die Menschenerziehung (On the Education of Man, 1826) was his main pedagogical work. Baroness Bertha Marie von Marenholtz-Bülow became one of his greatest supporters and helped spread his ideas. German immigrants, particularly Margarethe Schurz, founded kindergartens in the US beginning in 1856. Also see Education for more.
Friedrich Fröbel on Wikipedia (English)
Friedrich Fröbel on Wikipedia (German)
Anton Fugger (1493-1560)
Presided over the Fugger dynasty and fortune at the height of its wealth and power. In 1546 the Fugger empire was worth 5,100,000 gulden. Anton’s uncle and predecessor, Jakob Fugger II (“the Rich,” 1459-1525), built the “Fuggerei” – 52 low-rent houses in Augsburg – between 1516 and 1523. The Fuggerei (FOO-gehr-eye) foundation operates to this day. During the 15th and 16th centuries the Fuggers developed their great wealth through world-wide enterprises in banking, trading, and mining.
More in Banks and Money
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Famous Graves in Germany
Where are they buried?
and other famous FILM PEOPLE: Germans in Hollywood
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832)
The “Gothic Shakespeare” — with contemporaries Schiller and von Kleist – began the German literature movement known as Romanticism. This giant of German culture wrote the famous two-part drama, Faust, many classic poetic works, and an international best selling novel, The Sorrows of Young Werther, that precipitated a rash of youth suicides across Europe. Goethe was also interested in science.
Featured Bio | J.W. von Goethe
Thomas Gottschalk (1950- )
A TV game host and film actor who is as famous in Germany as Jimmy Kimmel or Stephen Colbert are in the USA. Gottschalk also has a second home in California.
Featured Bio | Thomas Gottschalk
Steffi Graf (1969- )
German tennis star Stefanie Maria Graf shared the world tennis stage with fellow German Boris Becker until they both retired in 1999. Graf is now married to former American tennis champion Andre Agassi.
Featured Bio | Steffi Graf
Günter Grass (1927-2015)
Born in the seaport city of Danzig (Gdansk), Grass became famous after writing the Tin Drum (1959). That book, the novella Cat and Mouse (1961), and The Dog Years (1963), known as the “Danzig trilogy,” became world-wide bestsellers. The Nobel Prize-winning author continued to produce novels and other works up until his death in April 2015. Known for his leftist views, he took an active role in German politics, and was often critical of his own country, even opposing total German unity following the collapse of East Germany in 1989. Grass drew sharp criticism in 2006 after revealing his membership in the Waffen-SS during the Hitler era.
Walter Gropius (1883-1969)
Founded the famous German Bauhaus school of architecture and design in 1919. He came to America after the Nazis came to power, taught at Harvard, and designed buildings such as the Pan Am building in New York City. (Also see Peter Behrens.)
Featured Bio | Walter Gropius and the Bauhaus
Herbert Grönemeyer (1956- )
One of Germany’s top pop music stars, Grönemeyer was born in Göttingen in 1956. He started his first band at the age of 12. But his talents aren’t restricted to music alone. He played the wet-behind-the-ears war correspondent on board Das Boot (The Boat), the German submarine film epic of 1981. After that, “Herbie” concentrated almost exclusively on music. He is now one of Germany’s top-selling musical artists. He also composed the score for a Hollywood film starring George Clooney (The American).
WEB > Grönemeyer Song Lyrics (in German and English; About.com)
Johannes Gensfleisch zum Gutenberg (ca. 1397-1468)
Working in Mainz, he started printing the Bible in Latin in 1450. It took five years for Gutenberg and his assistants to produce just 200 copies. Today his 42-line Bible is the most valuable book in the world, but Gutenberg lost money on the deal. Only 48 Gutenberg Bibles are known to still exist. Gutenberg revolutionized the world with his printing press using metal moveable type.
Gunther von Hagens (Gunther Liebchen, 1945- )
German anatomist and artist whose international “Body Worlds” (Körperwelten) exhibits have stirred up controversy (in Los Angeles at the California Science Center in 2005). Von Hagens was born in Poland, but his family moved to East Germany at the end of WWII. From 1965 to 1968 he studied medicine at the university in Jena, but he was arrested for protesting the Russian (Warsaw Pact) invasion of Czechoslovakia and his failed attempt to escape to West Germany. After West Germany paid to free von Hagens and other political prisoners in 1970 he continued his medical studies in Lübeck. In 1993 von Hagens founded the Institut für Plastination in Heidelberg. He holds several patents for the “plastination” process he uses to preserve human and animal cadavers in clear plastic. Today von Hagens lives primarily in China, where he has been a guest professor at the medical university in Dalian since 1996. See the Body Worlds Web site (in English and German) for current exhibits and more about his controversial art exhibits featuring real human bodies.
Peter Handke (1942- )
Austrian novelist and playwright. The work that probably did the most to bring him into the limelight was his 1966 play Publikumsbeschimpfung (Insulting the Audience). One of his best novels is Die linkshändige Frau (The Left-Handed Woman, 1980). Handke uses an unconventional dead-pan style of writing that some have compared to Kafka or even Chandler. Handke caused a stir by supporting the Bosnian Serbs against the Croats in his book, Gerechtigkeit für Serbien (“Justice for Serbia”). In 1997 Handke published a novel, loosely set in Santa Fe, entitled In einer dunklen Nacht ging ich aus meinem stillen Haus (lit., “In a dark night I left my quiet house”). More recently, in 2012, Handke published Die schönen Tage von Aranjuez. Ein Sommerdialog. Many of his works have also been published in English translations. Handke now lives in Chaville near Paris.
Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)
Considered one of the greatest composers who ever lived. Born in Lower Austria, Haydn’s genius spanned 50 years of creativity in the service of the Esterhazy court in Eisenstadt and Vienna. Although he traveled little, his time in London was important to his career and his musical work. By the time of his death in Vienna in 1809, Haydn had composed over 100 symphonies, 84 string quartets, and numerous other works, some of which have been lost.
Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831)
A German philosopher whose “dialectical method” greatly influenced Karl Marx and his Communist Manifesto (1848). But Marx held many views that were opposed to Hegel’s philosophy: “My dialectical method is not only distinct from Hegelian method … but is absolutely opposed to it.” Hegel said that thought creates reality. Marx claimed that it was the other way around: ideas are matter absorbed and transformed by human thought.
Werner Karl Heisenberg (1901-1976)
German physicist best known for his “uncertainty principle.” Heisenberg was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1932 for his work in quantam mechanics. He was a professor at Leipzig University from 1927 to 1941. Heisenberg also led the unsuccessful German effort to develop an atomic bomb during WWII.
Hermann der Cherusker (Arminius in Latin, ca. 18 B.C.-19 A.D.)
A Roman-trained chief of the Cherusci, defeated the Romans at the battle of the Teutoburger Wald (Forest) in 9 A.D. The Romans had difficulties bringing the Germanic tribes under control, and the Rhine remained the northeastern border of the Roman empire for 300 years. Hermann was slain by his own tribesmen in 19 A.D. Although the Roman historian Tacitus labeled him “the liberator of Germany,” the concept of a unified Germany was not even imagined in Arminius’ time. But that did not prevent German nationalists from adopting Arminius as a German hero in the 19th century. They erected a huge, rather ugly monument to Hermann (and his defeat of P. Quintilius Varus’ three legions) that still stands near the German city of Detmold today.
Heinrich Rudolf Hertz (1857-1894)
German physicist who did pioneering research related to electricity and electromagnetic waves, which were first known as “hertzian waves.” His name also became the term used for radio and electrical frequencies: hertz (Hz), as in kilohertz (KHz) or megahertz (MHz). The hertz designation has been an official part of the international metric system since 1933. Before Hertz gained professorships in Karlsruhe and Bonn, he had studied under the famous scientist Hermann von Helmholtz in Bonn, and it was Helmholtz who encouraged Hertz to attempt to win the science prize that led to some of Hertz’s most important discoveries. From 1885 to 1889 Hertz became the first person to broadcast and receive radio waves, and to establish the fact that light was a form of electromagnetic radiation. (The Italian Marconi didn’t begin his own wireless experiments until 1894, based on the earlier work of Hertz, Maxwell, and others.) Hertz probably would have gone on to make many more scientific contributions, but he died quite young, less than a month before his 37th birthday.
Roman Herzog (1934- )
Succeeded Richard von Weizsäcker as president of Germany in July 1994. A law professor and former judge on Germany’s highest court, Herzog held the largely ceremonial post of Bundespräsident (German federal president) for the term of five years (1994-1999). Herzog, as did Weizsäcker before him, set a high standard for his fellow Germans and occasionally took them to task for their tendency to dwell on the past and fear the future. He was succeeded by Johannes Rau (1931-2006; president from 1999 to 2004).
Werner Herzog (Werner H. Stipetic, 1942- )
German film director active in both Germany and Hollywood. See Germans in Hollywood
See Sports in Germany for links to Swiss tennis champ Hingis and other sports people.
Andreas Hofer (1767-1810)
Tyrolean popular hero and martyr. Hofer’s birthplace was near St. Leonard in what is today South Tyrol (Südtirol) in the German-speaking part of northern Italy. The former innkeeper (reflected in his nickname, der Sandwirt) gained fame as a patriot in the struggle between Bavaria and Austria over Tyrol (Tirol). After Tyrol was ceded to Bavaria in 1805, Hofer led the rebellion to return his homeland to Austria. Despite his several military victories over Bavarian forces, most notably in the battle of Berg Isel (1809), Hofer was later betrayed and taken prisoner. On Napoleon’s orders, Hofer was executed on Feb. 20, 1810. Since then, many poems and songs have been written in tribute to Hofer. The “Andreas-Hofer-Lied” is still the Tyrolean anthem. Hofer’s bones lie with those of other Tyrolean patriots in a church in Innsbruck, Austria.
E.T.A. Hoffmann (1776-1822)
Full name: Ernst Theodor Amadeus Hoffmann. (He replaced his original “Wilhelm” with the name “Amadeus” in honor of Mozart ca. 1813.) Hoffmann was one of the first science fiction/fantasy writers, who wrote about Mesmer and mesmerism in Das öde Haus (1817) and Der unheimliche Gast (1818). Jacques Offenbach later immortalized some of his stories operatically in The Tales of Hoffmann (1881). The versatile Hoffmann was also a lawyer, composer, and painter.
Erich Honecker (1912-1994)
Took over the reigns of the GDR in 1971 and stayed in power until the Wall came tumbling down—an ironic fact, as he had been put in charge of building the Wall by Walter Ulbricht, and just months before the fall, had predicted it would stand for another 100 years. After attempting to put him on trial for Wall crimes (shoot-to-kill orders), a German court let him off for health reasons. After 14 months of self-imposed exile in Chile, he died there of liver cancer on May 29, 1994.
Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859)
German naturalist and explorer who traveled in the Americas, meeting President Jefferson in 1804 during a brief visit to the United States. His extensive work researching everything from magnetism to ocean currents made him one of the first environmental scientists. The Humboldt Current west of South America is named for him, as are the Mare Humboldtianum and the Humboldt Crater on the moon, and various counties, communities, mountain ranges, and a river in the US state of Nevada. His older brother, Wilhelm von Humboldt (1767-1835) was a distinguished linguist, diplomat, and founder of the Humboldt University in Berlin. – See this book review and bio: The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt’s New World by Andrea Wulf
Humboldt’s Grave in Famous Graves
Friedensreich Hundertwasser (1928-2000)
Austrian artist and architect whose colorful, playful works seem to be either loved or hated. Born on 15 December 1928 in Vienna as Friedrich Stowasser, Hundertwasser provoked controversy beginning with his first art exhibition in 1952. His adventurous, non-traditional approach to art and architecture, which blurred the distinction between the two, won him awards as well as condemnation. His works ranged from postage stamps to major architectural projects, including his Hundertwasser Haus apartment complex in Vienna (completed in 1986), the redesign of a Danube cruise ship (1996), a winery in Napa, California (1990), and a ceramic mural in Lisbon (1998). Web: www.hundertwasser.de.
Jörg Immendorf (1945-2007)
German painter, sculptor, stage designer and art professor. Immendorf was born in Bleckede, Lower Saxony (Niedersachsen). His parents divorced when he was eleven. He later studied at the Art Academy in Düsseldorf under Joseph Beuys. Immenhof’s paintings and sculptures often included a whimsical icon that became his trademark: the so-called “painter monkeys” (Maleraffen). Even his official portrait of former German chancellor Gerhard Schröder features them. Immendorf died of ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) at the age of 61. He was first diagnosed with the disease in 1997. Some of his later works were completed by assistants because he had lost the use of his hands to ALS.
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