Sofia Vasilevna Kovalevskaja, born Korvin-Krukovskaja, 1850 – 1891, met her later husband, the Russian professor of zoology Vladimir Kovalevski, here in Heidelberg. Only by her marriage and the relations of her spouse she received the permission to study and such could attend the university lectures as the first woman ever. Then she graduated in mathematics also as first woman at the University of Goettingen and could work at the University of Stockholm as professor in this special branch.
Ivan Sergeevich Turgenev, 1818 – 1883, is the classical-author of the Russian literature. He was a novelist and playwright, started a preliminary position and was one of the first to write on the needs and fears of the Russian society. Turgenev was considered to be one of the most important representatives of the Russian realism. He cared about lyrics and worked as author of dramas and comedies amongst them the famous narration “The Hunters Sketches” and “Smoke”. In his work “Fathers and Sons” he worked up the conflict in generations.
Nicolaj Ivanovich Pirogov, 1810-1881, medical-man and educational politician, anatomist and surgeon, was the most important of all Russian surgeons. He is considered to be the founder of the war surgery. He worked at the Universities of Berlin and Goettingen, Moscow, St. Petersburg and in the war hospital of Sevastopol on the Crimean peninsula. Just being 26 years of age he was given the chair of a professor at the University of Dorpat.
The story which I will now narrate occurred in the sixtieth of the nineteenth century and was an example for the many Russian activities in Heidelberg:
Ivan Sergeyevich Turgenev came to Heidelberg for medical visits several times. He also visited the Russian medical-professor Pirogov who lived and worked here in Heidelberg at that time. Pirogov was a world- famous surgeon and Turgenev wanted to discuss with him his own medical problems. Turgenev stayed the night at the Hotel Schrieder – now Hotel Holiday Inn Crown Plaza. The name of Turgenev you may still read on a memory plate at the façade.
Pirogovs roll in Heidelberg: By order of the Russian government he was curator for the Russian students. In the attic of his house in the street named Ploeck no. 52 he installed a Russian reading hall. It became the centre of culture for all Russian speaking scientists. Here Turgenev could read all new editions of Russian literature and newspapers which Pirogov provided from his native country. Turgenev realized here as well his readings from his new novel “Fathers and Sons” which is regarded as one of the major works of 19th-century fiction. The figure of his novel hero Basarov is known to every Russian since school time. Basarov was the personification of Nihilism: To say it rudely – he intended to extinguish the Old World and create the New World by means of scientific methods. Such again a new, a better generation should grow.
But the Russian students in Heidelberg found this idea much too brutal and negatively presented. An intense literature debate began and Sofia Kovalevskaja expressed the contrary position of the then Russian student generation to the point in her contra novel “The woman Nihilist”. For her and her friends Nihilism ment not the negation of all values, but the consent for social reforms. Her generation – such she wrote – wants to take the best out of the existing and use it as basis for a better future.
This dispute took place here in Heidelberg and at that time was very important and also was a real enrichment to the social life of that time. Especially because a young woman raised her voice against an established famous literature classical-author, doubted his position and put up clearly a complete program for a whole generation. It was a pity that her later occupation and activity as professor of mathematics made this social position forgotten and therefore for the mankind of nowadays unknown. This should not have happened!