Albrecht Penck

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Albrecht Penck
Albrecht Penck, painted by Leo von König (1932)

Albrecht Friedrich Karl Penck (born September 25, 1858 in Reudnitz near Leipzig , † March 7, 1945 in Prague ) was a German geographer and geologist . Penck devoted himself particularly to geomorphology , glacial landforms and climatology . He was the father of geomorphologist Walther Penck .


Penck was born in 1858 as the son of the bookseller and businessman Emil Penck (1829–1880) and his wife Elisabeth Penck (1833–1896) in Reudnitz near Leipzig . In 1886 he married Ida Ganghofer (1863–1944), sister of the successful Bavarian homeland writer Ludwig Ganghofer and daughter of the forest clerk August Ritter von Ganghofer , in Munich. Together they had two children, Walther Penck (geologist) and Ilse Penck.

Scientific career

After attending secondary school, Penck studied chemistry, botany, mineralogy and geology in Leipzig from 1875. In 1878 he received his doctorate with the mineralogist Ferdinand Zirkel with “Studies on loose volcanic ejections” . Hermann Credner , the head of the geological survey in Saxony, had already hired Penck as an auxiliary geologist and assigned him the recording of the Colditz and Grimma sections of the special geological map of Saxony .

After a study trip in 1878 through northern Germany and southern Scandinavia, Penck published in 1879 "The sediment formations of northern Germany", in which the three-time glaciation of northern Central Europe was documented for the first time. From 1880 onwards, Penck took further training in paleontology from Karl von Zittel in Munich and was entrusted with the general mapping of the Diluvium in the foothills of the Alps by Wilhelm von Gümbel , the head of the Bavarian Geological Survey . Penck published their results in 1882 ("The glaciation of the German Alps: their causes, periodic recurrence and their influence on the soil structure") and thus documented a three-time glaciation of the Alpine foothills and the formation of the Alpine lakes through glacial erosion. At the same time, Penck completed his habilitation as the first representative of the subject geography at the University of Munich . In 1885 he accepted a call to the newly created chair for physical geography at the University of Vienna , where, in addition to the usual lectures, he introduced obligatory excursions.

Jovan Cvijić , Naomasa Yamasaki and Emmanuel de Martonne (1873–1955) belonged to the “Viennese School” of geography, which soon became internationally renowned . With Penck's reputation, the Vienna chair became the world's leading center of karstology , particularly through the dissertation presented here by Cvijic in 1893, "The Karst Phenomenon" , even if Penck himself only initially dealt with the karst phenomenon . Stimulated by Cvijic's work in the Balkans, Penck went on an excursion to Dalmatia , Bosnia and Herzegovina with William Morris Davis in 1899 . Here, for the first time ever for the Dinarides , he noticed pronounced traces of ice age glaciation in the Orjen .

In 1887, in the first volume of Alfred Kirchhoff's “Länderkunde des Erdteils Europa”, Penck's “Das Deutsche Reich” appeared, which he prefixed with a “Physical Sketch of Central Europe” and thus not only gave the definition of Central Europe that is still valid today , but also its natural landscape for the first time conceptualized.

In the “Morphology of the Earth's Surface” (2 volumes, 1894), he presented the relief of the earth as a result of shaping processes in a methodologically forward-looking manner. From 1887–1890, Penck examined the glaciation of the Austrian Alpine countries together with August von Böhm and Eduard Brückner and thus laid the foundation on "The Alps in the Ice Age" (3 volumes, 1901–1909 with Brückner). This standard work firmly established Quaternary research in the German-speaking area, gave it a reliable methodological basis with the Glacial Series and, with the now four Alpine Ice Ages of Günz, Mindel, Riss and Würm, a stratigraphic basis that is basically still valid today .

In 1891 Penck demanded for the first time the creation of a world map on a scale of 1: 1,000,000 according to uniform principles (graduation and elevation layers), the realization of which began shortly before the First World War against considerable resistance . Numerous study trips took Penck to Western Europe (1883), Scotland and Ireland (1885), Spain and Morocco (1892), Canada (1897), the USA (1897, 1904 and more often), Mexico (1904), South Africa, Egypt ( 1905), Hawaii, Japan, northern China, Siberia (1909), Svalbard (1910) and Australia (1914).

In 1906, Penck was appointed to succeed Ferdinand von Richthofen in Berlin and, in addition to the directorate of the Geographical Institute at the Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität (today Humboldt-Universität ), he also took over the management of the newly founded Institute and Museum for Oceanography (1917/18 Rector, 1926 retired ). In the same year he became a member of the Imperial Academy of Sciences in Vienna. 1908/09 taught Penck as an exchange professor at Yale University and Columbia University in the USA, while at the same time William Morris Davis represented the Berlin chair.

In “Attempting a Climatic Classification on a Physiogeographical Basis” (1910) Penck differentiated humid, arid and nival climatic areas for the first time. With “The shapes of the land surface and shifts in the climate belt” (1913) he laid the foundations of climate morphology. He commented on current cultural-geographic issues in “The Austrian Alpine Border” (1915), with the map “Germans, Poles and Kassuben in West Prussia and Posen” (1919) and other publications on the question of the Polish corridor to the Baltic Sea.

Immediately after the end of the war, Penck initiated the establishment of a community college together with Alfred Merz . In 1921 he was significantly involved in the creation of the "Center for Inter-European Issues", from which in 1926 the "Foundation for German Folk and Cultural Soil Research " emerged. As part of the national movement , the construct of his “people and culture soil” was taken up by Max Hildebert Boehm and other right-wing intellectuals of the Conservative Revolution and National Socialism . The spatial concept of the “cultural floor” was of central importance in the expansion policy of the Nazi regime.

Since 1922, together with Friedrich Schmidt-Ott and Alfred Merz, he created the conditions for the German Atlantic Expedition with the Meteor (1925–1927). The 100th anniversary of the Geography Society in Berlin under Penck's direction in 1928 was a brilliant, internationally well-known scientific success .

His publications on the population capacity of the earth ("The main problem of physical anthropogeography", 1924, and "The credit rating of the earth's surface", 1926) sparked lengthy discussions. His "Geographical Guide through the Gate of Mittenwald" (1930) completed new field work in the Eastern Alps.

In the 1930s, Penck was among other things honorary president of the 3rd International Quarterly Conference in Vienna (1936) and chancellor of the Berlin Wednesday Society , four of whose 16 members were victims of the Nazi state on July 20, 1944 because of their participation . After the end of World War II , Penck's "National Geography" was placed on the list of literature to be sorted out in the Soviet occupation zone .

Penck was one of the most important German geographers of the first half of the 20th century, but also influenced contemporary geography through his numerous students. Among his most important students were Eduard Brückner (1862–1927), Alfred Merz (1880–1925), Jovan Cvijić (1865–1927), Giotto Dainelli (1878–1968), Adolf E. Forster (1868–1939), Gustav Götzinger ( 1880–1969), Alfred Grund (1875–1914), Erwin Hanslik (1880–1940), Hugo Hassinger (1872–1952), Franz Heiderich (1863–1926), Norbert Krebs (1876–1947), Hermann Lautensach (1886– 1971), Herbert Lehmann (1901–1971), Otto Lehmann (1884–1941), Herbert Louis (1900–1985), Fritz Machatschek (1876–1957), Emmanuel de Martonne (1873–1955), Emil Meynen (1902–1994 ), Eugeniusz Romer (1871–1854), Robert Sieger (1864–1926), Johann Soelch (1883–1951) and Naomasa Yamasaki (1870–1929).


During the heavy air raids on the Reich capital Berlin in November 1943, Albrecht Penck's apartment at Meierottostraße 5 in Berlin-Wilmersdorf was also hit. Penck, who was already very old, and his wife were taken to a hospital in Hindenburg ( Zabrze ) in Upper Silesia. With the advance of the Eastern Front, Penck's daughter Ilse and her husband Armin Tschermak-Seysenegg , who taught as a professor in Prague, arranged for their parents to be transferred to a hospital in Prague-Reuth ( Krč ) in occupied Czechoslovakia. Albrecht Penck died there, after his wife, on March 7, 1945. The urn with the ashes of the deceased was later buried in the family grave of the Prague cemetery in Stuttgart . A boulder marks the grave site.



Penck received honorary doctorates from the Universities of Cape Town, Oxford (1907), Columbia New York, Innsbruck (1927) and Sofia. He was a member of the Royal Prussian Academy of Sciences in Berlin and the German Academy of Sciences Leopoldina in Halle (Saale). He was an external member of the Accademia dei Lincei Rome and the National Academy of Sciences as well as the Academies of Sciences in Vienna, Copenhagen, Edinburgh, Stockholm, Uppsala and Padua. Since 1889 he was a full member of the Imperial Society of Naturalists in Moscow . In 1893 the Association for the History of Lake Constance and its Surroundings appointed him an honorary member. He was associated with the Bavarian Academy of Sciences as a corresponding member since 1909. In 1925 he received the Cothenius Medal of the Leopoldina, in 1933 he received the Goethe Medal for Art and Science . He held both the Austrian court council title and the Prussian privy council title.


The research ship Professor Albrecht Penck was named after Penck and was named after the Syrian refugee victim Alan Kurdi at the beginning of 2019 . In addition, the mountain Mons Penck on the earth's moon was named after him. The Penck Ridge in the catchment area of ​​the Franz Josef Glacier in New Zealand also bears his name . The following objects in Antarctica also bear his name:

He was also the namesake of the Albrecht Penck Medal of the German Quaternary Association until 2018 . The award was renamed the DEUQUA Merit Medal.

On December 9, 1938, while Penck was still alive, Eduard-Sueß-Gasse in the 15th district of Vienna was named after him, which was part of a larger wave of renaming during the Nazi era . This renaming was withdrawn in 1949. On June 3, 1953, in Vienna- Floridsdorf (21st district), Penkgasse was named after Penck with a typo .

In 1966, the painter and sculptor Ralf Winkler named himself AR Penck after the geographer .

Criticism of work in the political arena

For Hans Dietrich Schultz, Penck is one of those war-loving geographers who interpreted Germany's central position and the lack of natural boundaries in the west and east as a compulsion to expand. He was able to draw on ideas from Friedrich Ratzel's work "Political Geography" from 1897. During the First World War, Penck had already paid special attention to Russia in the hope of pushing Russia back onto a line from the White Sea via Lake Peipus to the mouth of the Dnieper . On this side he imagined satellite states with their own administration, but under German influence. Schultz quotes Penck from his inaugural address as rector of Berlin University in the autumn of 1917 as saying that it was “the minimum of what we need for the future.” Penck's target was “that we keep what is necessary from the conquered land is as living space for our German people that we receive colonial property, large and rich enough to provide us with the raw materials that have become indispensable from the tropics . "

According to Schultz, Penck's theory of the “people and culture soil”, published in 1925, determined the idea of ​​the urgently needed expansion. With a view to National Socialism, it had proven to be tremendously powerful.


  • Studies of loose volcanic ejecta. 1878.
  • The bed load formation in Northern Germany. 1879.
  • The glaciation of the German Alps, their cause, periodic recurrence and their influence on the soil structure. 1882.
  • Fluctuations in sea level. 1882.
  • The ice age in the Pyrenees. 1884.
  • The German Empire, the Kingdom of the Netherlands, the Kingdom of Belgium, the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg (in Richthofen's geography of Europe 1888/89).
  • Earth's surface morphology. 2 volumes. Stuttgart 1894.
  • Valley history of the uppermost Danube. In: Writings of the Association for the History of Lake Constance and its Surroundings. 28th vol., 1899, pp. 117-130. (Digitized version)
  • with E. Brückner: The Alps in the Ice Age. 3 volumes. Leipzig 1909.
  • Tsingtau. 1910.
  • National geography. Buchholz & Weißwange, Berlin 1934.
  • Klettgauer Pforte and Lake Constance. In: Writings of the Association for the History of Lake Constance and its Surroundings. Vol. 66, 1939, pp. 117-139. ( Digitized version )

As editor:

  • Geographical treatises. 1886 ff (from 1901 publishing house Teuber; from 1912 publishing of the Berlin Geographical Institute continued as a new series )


  • Hanno Beck : Albrecht Penck - geographer, pioneering ice age researcher and geomorphologist (1858–1945). In: Hanno Beck: Great Geographers. Pioneers - outsiders - scholars. Reimer, Berlin 1982, ISBN 3-496-00507-6 , pp. 191-212.
  • Nicolas Ginsburger: "La guerre, la plus terribles des erosions". Cultures de guerre et geographes universitaires. France, Allemagne, Etats-Unis (1914–1921) " [archive] [ " The war, the most terrible erosion. War culture and university geographers, France, Germany, USA (1914–1921) " ] , unpublished doctoral thesis, Université de Paris-Ouest-Nanterre-La Défense, 2010, 1682 pp.
  • Nicolas Ginsburger: The Berlin geographer Albrecht Penck in the First World War: The mobilizations of an academic (1914–1920) . In: Acta Historica Leopoldina , No. 75, 2019, pp. 151–163.
  • Maciej Górny: Fatherland draftsman. Geographers and Borders in Interwar Europe, fiber Verlag: Osnabrück 2019, ISBN 978-3-944870-68-7 .
  • Norman Henniges: “Learning to see”: the excursions of the Vienna Geographical Institute and the formation of the practice culture of geographical (field) observation in the Albrecht Penck era (1885–1906). In: Communications of the Austrian Geographical Society. Volume 156, 2014, pp. 141-170. (on-line)
  • Norman Henniges: "Natural Laws of Culture": The Viennese Geographers and the Origins of the "People and Culture Soil Theory". In: ACME: An International E-Journal for Critical Geographies. Volume 14, H. 4, 2015, pp. 1309-1351 (online)
  • Norman Henniges: The track of the ice: a praxeological study of the scientific beginnings of the geologist and geographer Albrecht Penck (1858-1945). (= Contributions to regional geography. Volume 69), Leibniz Institute f. Regional studies, Leipzig 2017, ISBN 978-3-86082-097-1 , 556 pp. (Online)
  • Norman Henniges: Albrecht Penck . In: Ingo Haar , Michael Fahlbusch (eds.): Handbuch der Völkischen Wissenschaften , 2nd edition, Berlin 2017, pp. 570–577.
  • Alexander Pinwinkler : "Here was the great cultural boundary that the German soldiers felt only too clearly ..." Albrecht Penck (1858–1945) and the German "People and Culture Soil Research". In: Austria in history and literature. Volume 55, 2011, pp. 180-191.
  • Ingo Schaefer: Albrecht Penck's way to Munich, to geography and alpine ice age research. In: Communications from the Geographical Society in Munich. Volume 74, 1989, pp. 5-25.
  • Hans-Dietrich Schultz: “A growing people needs space.” Albrecht Penck as a political geographer. In: Bernhard Nitz, Hans-Dietrich Schultz, Marlies Schulz (eds.): 1810–2010: 200 years of geography in Berlin (= Berlin Geographical Works. Volume 115). Berlin 2010, pp. 91–135. [2nd, improved and expanded edition. 2011, pp. 99–153.]
  • Hans-Dietrich Schultz: Albrecht Penck: Preparer and forerunner of the Nazi living space policy? In: E&G Quaternary Sci. J. , Volume 66, 2018 pp. 115-129. doi: 10.5194 / egqsj-66-115-2018
  • Steven Seegel: Map Men: Transnational Lives and Deaths of Geographers in the Making of East Central Europe , University of Chicago Press, Chicago 2018, ISBN 0-226-43849-X .

Web links

Commons : Albrecht Penck  - Collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Karl Albert Habbe:  Penck, Friedrich Karl Albrecht. In: New German Biography (NDB). Volume 20, Duncker & Humblot, Berlin 2001, ISBN 3-428-00201-6 , p. 173 f. ( Digitized version ).
  2. a b Vienna's street names since 1860 as “political places of remembrance” (PDF; 4.4 MB), p. 291, final research project report, Vienna, July 2013.
  3. ^ Nicolas Ginsburger, "" La guerre, la plus terribles des erosions ". Cultures de guerre et geographes universitaires. France, Allemagne, Etats-Unis (1914–1921)" [archive] , thèse de doctorat d'histoire contemporaine, Université de Paris-Ouest-Nanterre-La Défense, 2010, 1682 p.
  4. German administration for popular education in the Soviet occupation zone, list of the literature to be segregated. First supplement, Berlin: Zentralverlag, 1947. Letter P, pp. 112–118 . Olaf Simons, Carl von Ossietzky University of Oldenburg, Department of English and American Studies.
  5. Norman Henniges: "Learning to see": The excursions of the Vienna Geographical Institute and the formation of the practice culture of geographical (field) observation in the Albrecht Penck era (1885–1906). In: Communications of the Austrian Geographical Society. Volume 156, 2014, p. 147.
  6. See on this: Hans Spreitzer: Albrecht Pencks last year of life. Remembering a great researcher and teacher. In: Zeitschrift für Gletscherkunde u. Glacial geology . Volume 1, H. 2, 1950, pp. 187-192.
  7. Cf. on this: Report on the conference of the German Quaternary Association in Überlingen In: Eiszeitalter und Gegenwart Volume 10, 1959, pp. 230–231, here p. 231.
  8. See on this: Hans Frei: Albrecht Penck (1858–1945). In memory of an eminent scientist and pioneering ice age researcher. In: Reports of the Natural Science Association for Swabia. Volume 112, 2008, pp. 3–7, here p. 5.
  9. Harald Derschka : The association for the history of Lake Constance and its surroundings. A look back at one hundred and fifty years of club history 1868–2018. In: Writings of the Association for the History of Lake Constance and its Surroundings , 136, 2018, pp. 1–303, here: pp. 74 f.
  10. Alan Kurdi: German rescue ship named after a dead refugee child . In: Spiegel Online . February 10, 2019 ( [accessed June 23, 2019]).
  11. Honors. Retrieved June 23, 2019 (German).
  12. a b Hans-Dietrich Schultz: Boundless longing for power. German geographers as warmongers in the First World War. In: Der Tagesspiegel . December 11, 2014, p. 28.
  13. Heinrich Krämer, Jürgen Weiß: "Strongly promote science and intellectual education" - Two hundred years of BG Teubner 1811–2011. (= Eagle Edition at Gutenbergplatz Leipzig: Leipzig manuscripts on publishing, book trade, company and cultural history , Volume 50), Verlag BoD - Books on Demand, 2011, ISBN 978-3-937219-50-9 , p. 120 ( limited preview in Google Book search).