Both parents were stern with Hans and his brother and sister.
High standards were set in every area - behavior, personal discipline
and school work. Life was emotionally cold. There were no spontaneous
hugs or goodnight kisses. Maybe the lack
of outward signs of love had something to do with his poor
by no means a model boy. He was fussed at by his family and
by his school teachers for being sloppy.
He thought of himself as unattractive and unpopular.
The grammar school he attended was over seven
hundred years old. (In Europe, there are many schools that have
histories that are centuries long.) He did not learn much in
school, partly perhaps because all the good teachers had been drafted
into the army to fight in World War I. In Germany then, most of the
teachers were male. Hans admitted that he was just
an ordinary student. His favorite subjects were history and
music, but NOT science!
What led young Hans to science? It might have
begun with the love of living things that he gained from his
father. They often went on family outings in the nearby countryside.
Hans especially liked to discover plants that he had never seen
before. For reasons unknown, Hans had a special love for learning
new things. By age nine he was reading books on a variety of
subjects, just for entertainment.
he was impressed with the family-doctor lifestyle of his father,
Hans wanted to become a physician also. Hans went to college
after he was released from the army at the end of Word War I.
The country was in a shamble, and life at the university was
primitive and difficult. Food was rationed, public transport
was unreliable, gas and electricity were so scarce that people
could not have lights on in their houses past 10 PM. But the
spirit of learning and inquiry that Hans found at the university
was exhilarating. For a boy like Hans who loved to learn things,
the university became the most important thing in his life.
In those days, the main point of a university in Germany was
to explore and learn, not necessarily to prepare for a profession
or career. In that place of higher learning, it did not take
long for Hans to realize that his first love was scientific
discovery. But he did go on to follow his father's footsteps
and become a physician.
Classes in medical school were overcrowded.
Then, as in many schools in Germany today, anyone who qualified
and could pay the fees must be admitted. Hans became interested
in scientific research from listening to his professors talk
about their own research. Quickly, he realized that he wanted
to be a scientist instead of a physician, which disappointed
his father. His father worried that Hans would never make a
good income as a scientist. At that time in Germany, the beginning
of the Great Depression, the economy had collapsed. In one year,
1923, the value of the U.S. dollar relative to the German mark
had exploded some 4,000,000,000,000 times. And Hans did live
in poverty. He went many years living on a modest income. His
first paid job was at the age of 25. Fortunately, that job was
as a lab assistant to Otto Warburg, who won the Nobel Prize
In his early career, Hans performed experiments
in many subject areas that were totally unrelated to the area
for which he was to become famous. However, some of this research
prepared Hans' mind for understanding the research for which
he was to become famous. His first job after graduating from
medical school was in the laboratory of a famous scientist, Otto Warburg.