Monday, January 10, 2011

Bad commute

I think I very briefly mentioned in class that a single person, Willi Hennig, is pretty much solely responsible for developing phylogenetic systematics, or what we now call cladistics.

You can read more about him at the Willi Hennig society pages. As well as having helped modern biology take a big leap forward he also seems to have suffered the commute from hell. From 1947 to 1961 he worked, and was in fact director, of the German Entomological Insititute in Berlin. However because of the post-war division of Berlin Hennig ended up living in the American sector and working at the Institute which was in the Soviet sector.

This required 4 hours duration for the way there and returning back home, each day! This situation persisted until 1961 when the Berlin wall was built and hermetically cut off both parts of Berlin from each other.


He had to quit his position when the Berlin wall was constructed though because his commute turned from bad to impossible. Moving to East Germany was not an option because of his anti-communist views and he settled in West Germany. This might have been a good move since the Hennig Society article reveals:

It has recently become known from documents of the East German Secret Service that an official operation of the DDR administration was initiated against WH in 1961 with the final aim to imprison him or take other comparable measures because of his attitudes against the communistic system.

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