Prof. Dr. M. Malyusz

from: PHYSIOLOGIE - Forschung, Lehre, Öffentlichkeit, Heft 9, Oktober 1997

The history of the Institute of Physiology reflects the history of Schleswig-Holstein and its university with all its ups and downs. The “Christiana Albertina” is not a very old institution: it was founded in 1665 by Duke Christian Albrecht of Schleswig-Holstein-Gottorf with the aim to train capable priests and officials for his sovereign duchy. The university was represented by all four faculties regarded as necessary to form a complete university in those days: Theology, Law, Medicine and Philosophy. Its first location was a Franciscan monarchy that had been secularised during the Reformation. The university’s motto: "Pax optima rerum" (Peace is the highest of all goods) is a reminder of the recent end of the Thirty Years’ War. However, the highest of all goods did not last for long: barely thirty years later the Great Northern War broke out; it lasted until 1721. The duchy was on the losing side. According to the peace treaty it lost the region of Schleswig to Denmark. Duke Karl-Friedrich went to St. Petersburg to call on his war ally, the tsar Peter the Great, to seek help. In fact, the tsar did not help, but let him marry one of his daughters. As a result of this marriage Prince Karl Peter Ulrich was born in Kiel, thus the city became a residence town. The prince was educated in St. Petersburg, following a call by his aunt, the Empress Elizabeth, who named him Peter Fedorovich, heir to the throne of the Russian Empire. At the request of the tsarin, Peter soon married the young princess Sophie Auguste Friederike von Anhalt-Zerbst, who was nemed Grand princess Katharina after her conversion to the orthodox faith. In history she was later known as Catharine the Great. This is why the administration of Holstein and Kiel University was run from St. Petersburg in the first half of the XVIII Century. Catherine took ideal care of Holstein and Kiel; also the university received a new building. Today it doesn’t exist anymore; only the university colors founded by Catharine, violet and silver (an unusual combination of colors in heraldry), are a reminder of her. Holstein didn’t remain Russian for long: in 1773 it was handed over to Denmark for political reasons. Henceforth, the King of Denmark was Duke of Schleswig and Holstein in personal union.

The Institute of Physiology was founded in this Danish period. The first professor of physiology in Kiel, Peter Ludwig Panum (Fig. 1), was appointed in 1853. He himself was Danish, the son of a military doctor, who had been transferred to Schleswig-Holstein. Of course the subject of physiology had been taught in Kiel before: as early as in the founding year Johann Daniel Major, who had been appointed to the chair of “theoretical medicine and botany”, hold lectures in physiology. Also Christoph Heinrich Pfaff, who died the year of Panum’s appointment and who was known as one of the best university lecturers of his time, treated physiological topics in his lectures [Carstensen, 1967]. However, systematic teaching of physiology only started when Panum was appointed professor. His German was excellent; however, he was proud of his Danish nationality. Surely, this complicated his life in Kiel in a time of rising conflicts between Germans and Danes in the duchies. In this context it is interesting to know that it was regarded as a moral obligation by German scientists to always agree to an appointment to Kiel despite the conditions, only to assure that no Danes would be appointed to this northernmost German university. Panum always acted in a diplomatic way around this area of conflict which made him well-liked with his colleagues in Kiel. In addition, his expertise was acknowledged by everyone. He was the first modern physiologist in the North who had an orientation towards natural science, who rejected the growing ideas of vitalism and natural philosophy resolutely, and who enabled his students to conduct experiments. Additionally, he was the first to transfer the chair of physiology, formerly located in his private study at his apartment in Kehdenstraße, into an independent institute located at the Academic Hospital in Prüne. As a matter of fact, Panum regarded his position in Kiel as temporary: it is said that already on the occasion of the royal audience at his doctoral graduation he replied to the King’s question what he is planning to do in his future: “I want to become a professor, first in Kiel and later in Copenhagen.” Reportedly the King smiled [Carstensen, 1967].

After 11 years of occupation in Kiel, it finally happened in 1864, partly with the help of Bismarck: the Iron Chancellor made the first step towards the unification of Germany. On the pretext of the unresolved situation after a change of dynasties in Denmark and the attempts of danisation by the government in Copenhagen, which became more and more obvious, he induced the German Confederation to declare the “Bundesexekution” [meaning that military actions could be taken] on the Duke of Schleswig and Holstein (in reality on the new king of Denmark). In the course of events he brought the provinces of Schleswig and Holstein under German (meaning Austrian-Prussian) administration with the help of Austrian troops and troops from Hannover. It was in the battle of Översee that Hungarian hussars of the k.k. [imperial-royal] expedition corps beat the Danish army in the field. (This was the first certified action undertaken by Hungarians in Schleswig-Holstein, however not regarding the field of physiology.) The Prussian artillery ended it at the “Düppeler Schanzen”. According to the peace treaty of Vienna, Denmark lost Schleswig-Holstein. Panum didn’t see a future in Kiel anymore, although nobody actually requested him to leave the city, the University of Kiel rather tried to convince him to stay. Given that the chair in Copenhagen was vacant at the time, he left the duchies and became professor in Copenhagen the same year, where he founded the local institute of physiology under his name [Carstensen, 1967]. It is a given that our institute today maintains excellent relations with the institute in Copenhagen, henceforth in a completely relaxed atmosphere.

The exclusion of Denmark was only Bismarck’s first step. The second was undertaken in 1866: Austria was defeated at Königgrätz, also because the k.k. German General Staff drew the wrong conclusions from the mentioned hussars’ storm which had been victorious and high in loss. As a consequence the Austrian administration, highly regarded in Kiel, ended and Schleswig and Holstein became Prussian provinces.

The integration of Schleswig-Holstein into the Northern German Confederation and later into the German Empire caused an economic boom in Kiel, which became “Reichskriegshafen” [Imperial War Harbors]. Likewise, Kiel University evolved quickly. The new professor of physiology, who had been appointed internally, turned out to be a lucky choice: Prof. Viktor Hensen (Fig. 2) was not only an excellent physiologist and marine biologist (he introduced the technical term “plankton” and was the first planktologist), but also a great organiser. He succeeded to convince the Prussian ministry of education that a new building to host the institute of physiology was necessary. The institute moved to a new, generously designed building on the grounds of the “Schloßpark” [palace garden] close to the harbor in 1878 (Fig. 3).

As was usual at the time, the new building hosted laboratories, the auditorium, and the official residence of V. Hensen, the only assistant at the time, at the ground floor, whereas the official residence of the institute director occupied the entire first floor. Hensen was the first to make the participation at a practical course mandatory for his students. His scientific reputation was so high that foreign scientists felt honored if they were allowed to work with him, among them Dr. Török, a Hungarian marine scientist who stayed in Kiel as a guest researcher. Hensen retired, in compliance with his own wish, very late in 1911 when he was 77 years old [Porep, 1970].

His successor was A. Bethe who was, like his predecessor and his own successor, a passionate marine scientist and a frequent visitor of the Stazione Zoologica in Naples. Bethe’s stay in Kiel was short, he moved to the newly founded University of Frankfurt already in 1915 [Fischer, 1957]. Rudolf Höber, who was his fellow student and friend, became his successor (Fig. 4). He had been in Kiel already since 1909 being Höber’s first assistant. He didn’t appear as conservative and dignified as Hensen, but even more than his famous predecessor he was enthusiastic about the beauty of biology and marine science. He was able like nobody else at the time to impart his enthusiasm to his students; his lectures were brilliant. Led by him, one of the founders of modern biochemistry, the Institute of Physiology flourished anew. Unfortunately, this didn’t last: the fall into the abyss followed soon after. It was in autumn of 1933 when Höber, who also was the university’s prorector at the time, was forced to retire after months of harassment by members of the SS and students following national socialistic concepts. Being half a Jew he didn’t see any future in Germany. He emigrated via England, where he initially stayed with A.V. Hill, into the US and was able to build a new career in Philadelphia [Bethe, 1954, Prahl, 1995].

With Höber the university not only lost one major mind but also its moral standards: the newly elected successor E. Holzlöhner was lacking those. He was a convinced Nazi, who conducted experiments on concentration camp inmates without any moral constraints. By order of the German Air Force and the Navy he conducted experiments concerning the cooling of the human body in the cold waters of the North Sea. During those experiments he tolerated the death of his non-voluntary probands. He must have been aware of the damnability of his actions: it is said that already in summer 1943 he told his secretary that he was sure to be hanged in case of the Allies’ victory. He prevented this likely death sentence by committing suicide in 1945 [Prahl, 1995].

Recommencement after the war was very difficult: after four years of bombing nothing was left from the institute building on the grounds of the “Schlosspark”, the staff was lacking entirely. At first the university was shut down by the English occupying power. At the reopening with initially only 2000 students in November 1945 nobody could guarantee for the teaching program of many subjects including physiology. The situation only changed with the appointment of Erich Opitz, who represented the subject until his early death by accident in 1953. He re-established the institute in the dark, bleak (and unheated) rooms of house number 12 of the Elac-factory, formerly hosting a manufacturer of arms that had been assigned to the university by the occupation power. The institute was equipped with nothing more than two scales, a few measuring instruments left from the stocks of the Wehrmacht, and some leftovers of chemicals. However, as I have been told by my former supervisor Prof. Ochwadt in the 60ties, kind of a physiological congress took place in Kiel as early as in summer of 1946, where colleagues at least from the English occupation zone could get together.

Opitz was not only an excellent organiser, but also an enthusiastic scientist who continued his life’s work, the study of the human brain’s oxygen supply and causes for oxygen lack and its consequences, under conditions unimaginable today, and he achieved excellent results. His successor Hans Lullies (1953-1967, Fig. 5) is already a living memory for some of us: he fought for a new institute building being unbelievable tough and persistent. Planning and realising the new building took almost eleven years, also because the building inspection office, knowing everything better, rejected the original draft by Lullies, which was designed to meet solely the requirements of the Institute of Physiology, but didn’t fit the overall concept of the new university. Lullies still was in duty to see when the modified building was handed over (1966); the real advantage of the new building was taken by his successors. We can still be thankful for Hans Lullies’ accurate, elaborate and generous design of the new institute building at Olshausenstraße that was named “Rudolf-Höber-Haus” (Fig. 6). Today not 60 students are educated each semester as originally planned for, but 300, and likewise the staff numbers increased considerably soon after the moving, different from what the planners had expected – but there was and still is enough room in the building. Hans Lullies is not to blame for the many and increasingly severe structural defects of the building, appearing although much care went into planning, but the executing companies and the according construction inspection.

The new building created the conditions for the Institute of Physiology to gain its modern structure according to the relevance of the subject. Looking back one could say that it was during those years that the research at the institute met international standards again. Among the high number of scientific works that have been conducted at the Institute of Physiology in Kiel during this period especially the contributions by D. Lübbers concerning the tissue metabolism and the experimental and theoretical studies by G. Thews regarding oxygen diffusion in tissues should be emphasized here.

During the years of almost limitless expansion of universities also the staff structure of the institute changed. Contemporaneous with the appointment of Manfred Monjés a second chair of physiology was established (at first named “Applied Physiology” later “Chair II”). The position of “professor at a scientific university” was established and filled by W. Ulbricht (1969) and D. Trincker, later by the author of this text. The two chairs existed formally until the legal validity of the first university laws in Schleswig-Holstein since the end of the war and the accompanying transformation into a “Gruppenuniversität” [literally: group-university] (July 1974). Although the turbulent years between 1968 and 1976 caused some unsettledness in Kiel, the institute didn’t suffer much from the social-political experiments of those years. However, some long-term consequences still cause severe disturbance.
After the retirement of H. Lullies and M. Monjé, H. Meves and Ch. Weiss were appointed directors in Kiel. When Meves didn’t see a future in Kiel due to events caused by university politics, he left university and proceeded his scientific career in England. His successor was R.F. Schmidt. He established a large work group to conduct research on pain. A large part of the first issues of the journal “Schmidt-Thews” originated under his management. After his appointment to Würzburg M. Illert stepped into place (1985). The position of Ch. Weiss, who mainly conducted research on the renal mechanisms of autoregulation, remained vacant after he left for Lübeck (1980). The collegial executive committee running the institutes’ business since 1974 now consists of three directors (M. Illert, J.B. Nielsen – appointed 1955 from the Panum-institute in Copenhagen as successor of W. Ulbrich - and M. Mályusz), one of which is elected managing director (for the time being M. Illert).

When a new generation of students enters the building they first reach the auditorium or rather its generously designed vestibule. The vestibule represents the connection between two buildings designed in the same way, the right one of which (as seen from direction of the entrance) hosts the Institute of Physiology. Some well-attended institute parties already took place in the vestibule. The auditorium is large, in the opening year it must have appeared huge. Today its capacity of 240 seats is not entirely sufficient at times. All modern technical equipment for teaching is available; slide shows, episcopic projections, projections of overhead transparencies, videos and movies are possible; the facilities are largely automated allowing the lecturer to control the facilities including the lighting by himself. Recently the room has been equipped with a wireless public address system, although acoustics in the room, walls cased in light wood, are good also without using a microphone. The wooden tables and benches are varnished black and passed the long-time test of the past 30 years.

Starting a tour of the building in the basement one would thank the planners immediately, who apparently thought of all eventualities imaginable in physiological research at the time. This is why you can not only find the auditorium in the basement, but also a large room to prepare for lectures, closets for storage of visual aids as well as further storage rooms located close to the auditorium. In the front of the basement along the long corridor dividing the house at the middle of each floor into two symmetrical halves you can find a cooling chamber, locker rooms and showers for the staff, each a small workshop for woodwork and a soundproof room to conduct acoustic experiments. At the opposite side there is an isotope laboratory, a climatic chamber and a shockproof laboratory. Some of the smaller rooms host technical facilities like the ventilation system and even generators to produce stabilized electricity, the latter located below the vestibule.

The ground floor hosts solely practical course rooms. Six rooms, each of which is permitted to host a maximum of 24 people, equipped with large windows, a fixed sophisticated laboratory bench including gas, water and electric supply, provide sufficient room for students to work. Each room is equipped with energy saving ventilators; each laboratory bench is connected to the computer network of the institute. Computers play a central role in the physiological practical course; the course software developed by M. Illert and his colleagues won the “German university software prize”. The course program is under constant development and is adapted to new requirements. The readers could inform themselves about this topic already in an article published in the first issue of the journal “Physiology”.

The first floor of the institute hosts the mechanical as well as the electrical workshop, a room for doctoral candidates and a photo- and graphic laboratory. The workshops represent an important part of the shared workshops of “Vorklinik” [the first study section in medical education]. They provide all necessary work stations and appliances; however many of those are outdated by now – money for new purchases is lacking for years. The gas mixing device originally installed at this floor had to be removed already in the 80ties due to more strict safety regulations, although it always worked flawlessly, causing a great deal of annoyance among staff members. The photo-laboratory was originally planned for black-and-white photography. Since the merge of workshops of “Vorklink” photographs have been replaced by computer generated graphics.

The second floor hosts the secretariat, the library, which is close to bursting like any other institute’s library, as well as the laboratories of Profs. Illert and Jänig, including offices for their staff.

The third floor hosts the section of Prof. Nielsen. Here, mainly research on the voluntary movement system is conducted. Additionally, Prof. Koppenhöfer works here. Last but not least this is the heart of the institute where the computer servers are placed. The “Emirituszimmer” [room for retired professors] of W. Ulbricht is likewise to be found on this floor. Some of the equipment that shouldn’t be used in the general laboratories, such as ultracentrifuges and highly sensitive HPLC systems are stored in separated rooms.

The fourth floor is dedicated to the physiology of kidney functions. Next to the offices of the author and his staff two animal laboratories and a laboratory to conduct experiments on isolated organs/cells under the supervision of PD Dr. Gronow are found here as well as complete PCR-equipment. A second secretariat is located here, too.

The fifth floor hosts next to the rooms of the independent institutes of pathophysiology and medical climatology the newly equipped modern seminar room of the institute. Several rooms are provided for the research network “Functional restitution of brain damage in children” funded by the BMBF [Federal ministry of education and research]. This national network had been established in 1995. Apart from the Institute of Physiology several hospitals and rehabilitation centers are involved.

The scientific focuses at the Institute of Physiology are on the integrative membrane-physiological aspects of neurobiology as well as on the physiology and pathophysiology of kidney functions and the circulatory system. With the appointment of J.B. Nielsen this subjects were extended by the organization and central motor function of the human body. Here only some of the research fields treated at the institute shall be mentioned “pars pro toto”:

* The work group Illert conducts research on functional aspects of the organization of motor functions of animals with an intact central nervous system and after a hemisection of the spine, as well as the control of motor function of the arm of primates. * W. Jänig and his staff conduct research on the functional organization of the sympathic nervous system as well as the neuronal basics of pain (internal pain, venal pain, neuropathic pain after a lesion of the nerve) and the role played by the sympathic nervous system in hyperalgesia. * J. Schmidtmayer and E. Koppenhöfer deal with biophysics of the membrane of nerve cells, in particular with research on ion channels of sensitive membranes, the functional differentiation of microglia, and the axonal ion channels in combination with demyelinating diseases. * The role of renoprotective amino acids is one of the subjects of the field of Nephrology. Also the physiological relevance of the metabolism of hippuric acid under supervision of the author is treated.

Finally it should also be mentioned that the Institute of Physiology is one of the founders of the “Scientific Center Integrative Neurosciences” (spokesman: M. Illert) founded 1996 in Kiel. The center conducts research on the integrative functions of the human brain: from molecule to cognition, using a broad approach. It supports the education of students and doctoral candidates in neuroscience as well as the advanced training of medical doctors and scientists working in this field. The center represents a “crystallization point” of scientists who work on the above described research questions in Kiel.

Acknowledgement: The author would like thank A. Barth, T. Mályusz and W. Ulbricht for their critical revision of this manuscript.


  • Bethe, A (1954). Rudolf Höber. Pflügers Arch. 259: 1-3.
  • Carstensen, J (1957). Peter Ludwig Panum; in Herrlinger R Kudlien F Dann GE (Hrsg): Kieler Beiträge zur Geschichte der Medizin und Pharmazie, Heft 3, Neumünster, Wachholtz.
  • Fischer, E (1957) Albrecht Bethe. Ergebn. Physiol. 49: 1-22.
  • Porep, R (1970). Der Physiologe und Planktonforscher Victor Hensen; in Herrlinger R Kudlien F Dann GE (Hrsg): Kieler Beiträge zur Geschichte der Medizin und Pharmazie, Heft 9, Neumünster, Wachholtz.
  • Prahl, HW (1995). Die Hochschulen und der Nationalsozialismus; in Prahl, HW (Hrsg): Uni-Formierung des Geistes. Universität Kiel im Nationalsozialismus, Malik Regional, Band 1, pp 31-32, Kiel.
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