Dr. Sabine Spehn
Dr. Sabine Spehn
Press and Public Relation Officer
Phone: +49 8157 932-421
Mobil: +49 173 7155753

Location Seewiesen

Seewiesen is a small area in Upper Bavaria, situated between the lakes Starnberger See and Ammersee. From 1954 to 1999, it was the site of the Max Planck Institute for Behavioural Physiology and was the workplace of Nobel Prize winner Konrad Lorenz for many decades. Back in 1937, Lorenz and Erich von Holst had suggested establishing a Max Planck Institute for Behavioural Physiology. But the war saw their plans put on hold. It was only on April 1, 1954 that a resolution of the Senate of the Max Planck Society allowed the realisation of a Max Planck Institute for Behavioural Physiology and appointed von Holst and Lorenz as Directors at the Institute.

To build the new institute, the team sought out an area that would allow them to observe freely moving animals undisturbed and in conditions that were as natural as possible. Water was essential, as Lorenz and his team worked primarily with geese and ducks. The area around lake Ess-See met all the conditions. In June 1955, the Society successfully purchased a sufficient area of land and the right to use the lake. Two laboratory buildings, a residential house and the necessary work stations and service areas were erected on the northern bank of the Ess-See. The Directors came up with up the name Seewiesen to describe the area. The facility was inaugurated on September 16, 1958 in the presence of Otto Hahn, the then President of the Max Planck Society.

While the facility was still being built, two additional departments were added to the Institute: the department headed by Gustav Kramer, who had long been studying animals’ sense of orientation, particularly that of birds, and the department headed by Jürgen Aschoff, whose work focused on biological clocks. In Erling-Andechs, six kilometres from Seewiesen, the Institute acquired a larger area with two buildings, which Aschoff’s department moved into. In 1959, Kramer was involved in a fatal accident and Horst Mittelstaedt was appointed head of the department on December 1, 1960. Mittelstaedt was a long-standing member of von Holst’s team, who worked on analysing the control systems of complicated orientation patterns and instinctive movements.

Erich von Holst died on May 26, 1962. A new department moved in to replace his, headed by Dietrich Schneider (July 1, 1964). His research area was chemical communication, particularly the physiology, biochemistry and biophysics of insects’ sense of smell, along with the biosynthesis of pheromones, orientation with the help of chemical sensory organs and their fine structure. The department was expanded in 1972 through the appointment of Karl-Ernst Kaißling as a Scientific Member, who worked primarily on stimulus/arousal transformation in the olfactory cell.

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