It’s hard to deny that the German speaking world has over the centuries made some rather important scientific and technological contributions. From Rudolf Diesel and his Dieselmotor, Karl Benz and das Auto or the Haber-Bosch process for the production of fertilizer which allows literally billions more people to be fed than ever before. That’s of course without mentioning the pioneering German rocket scientists of the Second World War who went on to work on Nasa’s Apollo program, or Einstein. The list really does go on. Vorsprung durch Technik as the saying goes.
Take the example of the Haber-Bosch process. Fritz Haber and Karl Bosch developed a way of turning the components that make up the air into ammonia which can be used to make fertilizer that to this day keep billions of people fed. It is predicted that had crop yields stayed at the average levels of 1900 by the year 2000 the amount of land needed to feed the population would have claimed almost half of the worlds ice free surface, rather than the 15% it does today. Perhaps even more dramatically is that they made this discovery on the eve of the First World War and the ammonia they helped produce could also be used in the production of explosives to be used in the hundreds of millions of shells fired in that war. There perhaps isn’t another invention that has played such a significant role in the lives and deaths of so many people as the Haber-Bosch process.
A more day to day example however would probably be of Karl Benz or Rudolf Diesel and their contributions to science and engineering without which life would not be the same. Rudolf Diesel, as the name perhaps suggests, was the inventor of the diesel engine which can be found everywhere from cars and trucks to tractors and ships. It was an engine much more efficient than a steam engine and with the fuel for the engine being in a liquid rather than a solid form it was also much easier to store. Which of course is where Karl Benz comes in, and if the name sounds familiar than that’s because it is. Karl Benz of Mercedes Benz fame was responsible for the very first commercially available car which went on sale in 1888, a full 20 years before the perhaps more famous American Ford Model T. Whilst the Benz Patent-Motorwagen, as Benz’s invention was somewhat awkwardly named, wasn’t a particularly good vehicle to drive around in with one even crashing into a wall during a public test drive it showed the world that there was an alternative to the cumbersome steam engine or having an animal pull a vehicle around and it laid the foundations for Germany’s reputation as an automotive giant. This reputation really does still hold true to this day with many car brands boasting German roots, from high performance machines to low carbon and low cost cars when it comes to cars Germany’s attitude really is das Best oder nichts.
Now from down on earth to up in space. Whilst NASA and the moon landings aren’t the first thing that comes to mind when you think of technology in Germany, scientists from Germany played a crucial role. Over 1,600 scientists, engineers and technicians were recruited by American research programs in the immediate aftermath of Germany’s defeat in the Second World War. Many of these scientists proved controversial because of their wartime activity but were also crucial to the American space program because of their knowledge and wartime research, none proved to be more so than scientist Wernher von Braun. He was both a member of the Nazi party during the war and according to the director of the American Apollo program somebody who America would not have got to the moon without. It was his work in 1961 that allowed NASA to launch an astronaut into space shortly after the Soviet Union did, and it was his work on the Saturn V rocket that eventually led to the first moon missions and the Apollo 11 mission that landed the first two humans on the moon. Whilst his wartime past is a topic still debated by historians to this day, his influence and knowledge were critically important to NASA’s lunar missions, some of the most incredible technological feats in human history.
Even if you were to look at a modern example Germany’s role in cutting edge technology is impressive. In terms of renewable energy Germany is a world leader, with on average around 36% of all energy being provided by renewable energy every day. In fact on Sunday May 15 at 14:00 nearly 100% of all electricity demand in the country was provided by renewable energy, leading to some to call Germany the worlds first major renewable energy economy. In addition renewable energy technology isn’t just limited to wind farms and solar energy farms, around 50% of all renewable energy capacity is citizen owned and nearly 20 million Germans live in 100% renewable energy regions. Perhaps even more ambitious is the governments commitment to shut down all nuclear power plants in Germany by 2022 and to have the majority of the energy to be replaced with clean renewable energy as a result of the Energiewende, or energy transition to cleaner sources of energy.
All of this then makes Germany a very important country when it comes to technology both past and present, new and old. Whether it be the cars we drive in or the food we eat German technology is everywhere, and with some of the worlds leading universities and research institutes it’s also a great place to study and a great language to learn for a career in science or technology. With Germany also being one of the largest economies in the world this trend is likely to continue. Learn German, what’s to lose?