Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel


Famous scholars from Kiel:

Karl August Möbius


The first Professor of Zoology in Kiel taught at CAU from 1868 to 1888. He founded the Zoological Museum in Hegewischstrasse and was Vice Chancellor of the university.


"What was particularly striking about Karl August Möbius was the way in which he made teaching come alive", recounts Dr Wolfgang Dreyer. Even as a primary school teacher, he always went outside with the children, as he said they could only learn through looking. According to Dreyer, current director of the Zoological Museum, Kiel University owes this museum to the foresighted scientist. Möbius wanted it to present science using new methods, which American historian Dr Lynn Nyhart from the University of Wisconsin described with the words "biology takes form". In her work on the understanding of nature and presentation of natural sciences in the nineteenth century, she describes Möbius as a crucial driving force, and his scientific discoveries are still valid today. Möbius was the first to recognise that an ecological system must be taken as a whole and coined the term "biocenosis" for a living community. His biocenosis theory established itself as the basis of general ecology.

Karl August Möbius was born in Eilenburg near Leipzig on 7 February 1825 and started attending its primary school at only four years of age. When he was 12, he was sent away to train as a teacher. In 1844, he passed his teaching exams with distinction in Weissenfels and began working at a secondary school in Seesen am Harz. In 1849, he went to Berlin to study natural sciences and philosophy. After graduating, he taught natural sciences (zoology, botany, mineralogy, geography, physics and chemistry) at a secondary school in Hamburg from 1853. "From there he made regular weekend trips to Kiel and began studying the mussel beds in Kiel Fjord", reports Dreyer. He set up the first German saltwater aquarium in Hamburg in 1863 and the University of Halle made him an Honorary Doctor.

In 1868, Möbius accepted the newly created Chair of Zoology in Kiel. Under his leadership, and in collaboration with well-known Berlin architects Martin Gropius and Heino Schmieden, the Zoological Museum was created, where he spent a lot of time studying marine animals. Both Möbius, with his research in the Bay of Kiel, and physiologist Victor Hensen were pioneers of the marine science undertaken in Kiel. In collaboration with Heinrich Adolph Meyer, Möbius published the two-volume work "Die Fauna der Kieler Bucht" (The Fauna of the Bay of Kiel) (1865/1872), which foretells aspects of modern ecology and its methods.

He was commissioned by the Prussian Government and Fisheries Society to survey oyster farming and travelled to the French and English coasts for this purpose. In his 1877 work "Die Auster und die Austernwirtschaft" (The Oyster and Oyster Farming), he gave a detailed description of the interaction between oysters and other plants and animals in an oyster bank. Möbius had recognised the interdependence of the oysters and surrounding life forms, and coined the term "biocenosis" or "living community" "for a group of mutually dependent species and individuals, the variety and number of which are determined by the average external living conditions and sustained in an appropriate area by means of reproduction". As a zoologist, he took part in an expedition to Mauritius and the Seychelles in 1874 and 1875.

When Möbius became Rector of Kiel University in 1879, he used his influence to demand greater understanding and complexity in the teaching of natural history in Germany. "Anyone whose writing is difficult to follow does not have a clear understanding of what he wants to say."

In 1888, Möbius became Director of the Berlin Museum of Natural History and Professor of Systematic and Geographical Zoology at at Humboldt University. In the museum, he separated the main scientific collection from the collection for public viewing in order to make the material suitably accessible to a wider public. He became a member of Berlin Academy of Sciences. He retired from scientific work on 30 December 1905 at the age of 80 and died in Berlin on 26 April 1908.


Kerstin Nees



History of the Zoological Museum


When Karl August Möbius accepted the first Chair of Zoology in Northern Germany in 1868, he also committed himself to a museum that was to exhibit as many animals as possible. "At that point, the Kaiser sent him two leading architects in Martin Gropius – the great-uncle of future Bauhaus founder Walter Gropius – and Heino Schmieden", reports current museum director Dr Wolfgang Dreyer. "They did not just design a building. They also developed the first design concept for a scientific museum, and it sold well. There are several museums with the same design in other parts of the world today, for instance in Madrid and Bamberg."

The collections arrived in Hegewischstrasse in 1880 and the museum was opened to the public on 30 July 1881. Public relations were important to Möbius. "Scholars have a duty of gratitude to increase and spread the pleasures of science" was his motto for the programme. When arranging the exhibits, for example, he spent time on the lighting and colouring of their backgrounds in order to show them to their best advantage. Möbius taught at the Naval Academy, lectured at the association for the education of the general public Kieler Volksbildungsverein and published articles in daily newspapers. The aim of these "advertising efforts" was to awaken interest in nature and the life within it.

The museum's current director also abides by Möbius's principles. "My aim is to pass on zoological and biological discoveries in a clear and comprehensible way, in the footsteps of Karl August Möbius so to speak."


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