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German characters: Alexander von Humboldt Posted by on Dec 1, 2011 in Culture, History, People, Travel

Friedrich Wilhelm Heinrich Alexander von Humboldt was a German Naturwissenschaftler (naturaly scientist) and his fields reached far over European borders. With his complete works, that took more than seven Jahrzehnte (decades), he created a new level of knowledge and reflection regarding the whole world and became a cofounder of geography as a empiric science.
Alexander von Humboldt  was born on September 14th 1769 in Berlin. Alexander and his older brother Wilhelm were raised and taught on the castle of Tegel which was Familienbesitz (family property) by that time.

At the age of 18, the boys were send to Frankfurt an der Oder to study laws (Wilhelm) and cameralistics (Alexander). Alexander also listened to ancient sciences, medicine, physics and mathematics. 1789 he followed his brother to Göttingen where he studied physics and chemistry.
With the goal to become an Forschungsreisender (explorer), he studied economy and foreign languages in Hamburg, geology in Freiberg and anatomy and astronomy in Jena. But in 1792 he enforcedly first worked in the mines of Prussia.

Principally the heritage of his mother, who died in 1796, let his dreams come true. Actually he wanted to go to Egypt but in fact he went to Madrid with the French doctor and botanist Aimé Bonpland.

The Spanish Minister helped them getting aboard the „Pizarro“ to cross the Atlantic Ocean. A Zwischenstopp (stopover) in Tenerife encouraged them to climb „Pico de Teide“ (3718 m).

On July 16th 1799 they reached Cumaná, Venzuela. On November 12th, Alexander observed a meteor shower. In 1800, Alexander von Humboldt and Aimé Bonpland started a four month expedition to explore the river of Orinoko. On their 2775 km journey, they discovered a Verbindung (connection) from Orinoko to Amazonas.

After crossing the Andes, they reached Quito, Ecuador in 1802. They reached the two Gipfel (summits) of Pichincha (4690 and 4794 m) as the first ones from Europe. Their attempt to climb Chimborazo (6310 m) had to be aborted at an altitude of 5700 m. But anyway this was a world record for several decades and by the way, they described the symptoms of Höhenkrankheit (altitude sickness) for the first time.

On November 9th 1802, Alexander witnessed the transit of mercury in Callao, Peru.

After this, Alexander and Aimé stayed for almost a year in Mexico.

After a meeting with the President of the United States in Washington, they returned to Europe. They reached Bordeaux, France in 1804.

On their 9650 km expedition in South America, they not only collected countless geographical and geological discoveries, they also defined 60 000 plants, 6 300 of them have been unbekannt (unknown) until then. According to his measurements, Alexander claimed, that the power of the magnetic field decreases from the poles to the equator. His criticism on Sklaverei (slavery)  remained unheard but the mentioning of silver mines in Mexico encouraged European speculators to involve.

Alexander stayed in Paris for 20 years and spent almost all of his money in the Auswertung (evaluation) of his results of the expedition in South America and to prepare their publication. Between 1807 and 1833 they were published in 34 issues.

In 1805 he received a doctor’s degree in Frankfurt an der Oder, became a royal chamberlain in Prussia and was included the Academy of sciences. But not until 1827 he returned to Berlin to hold his famous Vorlesungen (lectures) at the Humboldt University which was founded by his brother Wilhelm.

1829 he followed the invitation of the Russion Tsar Nikolaus I and together with other explorers he travelled eastern areas of Ural and Siberia to the Chinese border. Within half a year, Alexander von Humboldt (together with mineralogist Gustav Rose) travelled 15 000 km in Kutschen (horse buggies) on bumpy roads.  The result of the expedition were countless geological, geographical and biological findings.

For years he worked for his main scientific creation in Berlin: „Kosmos. Entwurf einer physikalischen Weltbeschreibung“ (1845-1862).

At the age of almost 90 years, Alexander von Humboldt died an May 6th 1859 in Berlin.

What a fascinating life! Don’t you think?

Some vocabulary to this post:

der Naturwissenschaftler – natural scientist
das Jahrzehnt – decade
der Familienbesitz – family property
der Forscher / der Forschungsreisende – explorer
der Zwischenstopp – stopover
die Verbindung – connection
der Gipfel – summit
die Höhenkrankheit – altitude sickness
unbekannt – unknown
die Sklaverei – slavery
die Auswertung – evaluation
die Vorlesung – lecture
die Kutsche – horse buggy

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About the Author:jan

My name is Jan and I live in the south west of Germany. My profession is being a project manager at a company that creates digital media (first of all internet related things). This is my job since over a decade so I´m quite familiar with the web and its tools. Whereat today almost every school kid does. But that´s one of the main reasons why nowadays there are quasi no more limits in the internet and so it can be used for all imaginable types of things. For example learning languages! And that´s where we are at the moment. I first got in touch with Transparent Language when my family and I used to live in France a couple of years ago. I just had a break from work and by coincidence I produced some cultural videos in French. A few months later the whole blogging thing came up and I was lucky to be a part of it. So now my (second) job is to feed you with information, exercises, vocabulary, grammar and stories about Germany and German language. For being a passionate videographer I´m trying to do this more and more by videos. If you have any wishes or needs of topics that should be treated here, please don´t hesitate to contact me via a comment field. I´m open to your suggestions (as long as they are not too individual) and will try to satisfy your needs.


  1. Biggie:

    Typo: Zischenstopp

  2. jan:

    Thank you Biggie!