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The Thinker of the Century

gbs releases film commemorating Hans Albert's 100th birthday

Marking the 100th birthday of its founding advisor Hans Albert, the Giordano Bruno Foundation has produced a film that provides both an entertaining and informative introduction to the life and work of the important science theorist. With previously unpublished images and unusual animations, the documentary explains why Albert's influence on science and society is still underestimated.

A few days ago, the Deutsche Presseagentur (dpa - German news agency) reported that Albert is "in the same league as Max Weber and Karl Popper" and is "one of the most important representatives of his discipline in Germany and worldwide." A better testimony can hardly be given to a science theorist - and yet Albert's name is not as familiar to many people as the names of his former opponents Theodor W. Adorno, Jürgen Habermas or Hans Küng. This remarkable contradiction provides the premise for the documentary film "Hans Albert - Der Jahrhundertdenker" by Ricarda Hinz (director) and Michael Schmidt-Salomon (screenplay), which was shown for the first time on February 8 as part of the online celebration of Albert's 100th birthday and has now been released in its own right on the YouTube channel of the Giordano Bruno Foundation.

Screenwriter Schmidt-Salomon, the moderator of the film, explains the striking contrast between Albert's high scientific significance and the rather low esteem in which he was held in the feature pages, among other things, by the fact that Albert used "simple, comprehensible language," which made him "unattractive to many intellectuals, because in this country the preconception still holds that only a completely incomprehensible thought is a truly profound thought." Another negative effect on Albert's popularity was that he never pandered to the "zeitgeist" and strictly refused to play an "authoritarian leadership role". According to Schmidt-Salomon, the latter did not meet with a good reception, especially during the time of the student revolt, since the '68 movement saw itself as "anti-authoritarian," but at the same time was filled with a "deep longing for authoritarian father figures."

The documentary "Hans Albert - Der Jahrhundertdenker" (Hans Albert - The Thinker of the Century) illustrates these and other theses with impressive images and witty animated cartoons. For example, the infamous "Positivism Controversy" is illustrated by a boxing match in which Karl Popper and Theodor W. Adorno fight each other in the first round and Hans Albert and Jürgen Habermas in the second. Albert's no less famous "Munchausen's Trilemma" is illustrated in the film by a stressed father who has to face his daughter's probing "why" questions.

[Still images from the film: click to enlarge]

Director Ricarda Hinz says the film's unusual setup was in part due to the circumstances of the Corona crisis: "We couldn't just go out and conduct hours of interviews because of the Corona measures. And so we made a virtue out of necessity and looked for alternative solutions." Fortunately, the film team was able to access the Albert family's private archive, so the documentary features many photographs from Albert's life, such as those of his encounters with Karl Popper or Paul Feyerabend, that were previously unpublished. A special highlight is certainly also the historical Super-8 footage of the "European Forum Alpbach", which Hans Albert regularly attended and even temporarily chaired, yet he described himself as an "organizational idiot" "who should never be trusted with such a responsible task".

Despite a very modest budget, which would generally only suffice for the production of a few seconds, it was possible to produce the almost half-hour film of this quality thanks to the creative people who supported Hinz and Schmidt-Salomon in their work. Notable contributors include the team at the Virtual Studio VR3, where the film was developed under outstanding conditions, Saskia Zillekens, who created the original graphics for the animated sequences with great attention to detail, Julian Held, who composed the atmospheric film music to complement the images, and Nadine Pungs, who added a very special color and liveliness to the documentary as the off-screen narrator. Great thanks are also due to the photographers who provided their pictures (especially Evelin Frerk and Frank Luwe) and - last but not least - Kurt Albert, who sent the film team a brimming hard drive with historical photographs, without which this documentary would not have been possible.

"Hans Albert - Der Jahrhundertdenker" was devised in such a way that the film also appeals to a younger audience. That said, what does the centenarian, who doesn't exactly belong to this target group, think about it? As it turns out, he liked the film - even though he generally prefers not to have so much fuss made about his person. Right after the online launch on February 8, Hans Albert called screenwriter Michael Schmidt-Salomon to thank him and the other people responsible for the project. Albert is very pleased that a young generation of scientists has discovered the critical-rational method and wants to apply it to central social issues. This is precisely what the Hans Albert Institute, founded in 2020, sets out to do. Whether the institute will be able to live up to the legacy of its eponym is not yet clear at this point, but will certainly be examined eventually with the help of Albert's "principle of critical examination"...

"Hans Albert - Der Jahrhundertdenker" (2021): Directed, edited & animated by: Ricarda Hinz +++ Moderated & scripted by: Dr. Dr. h.c. Michael Schmidt-Salomon +++ Narrator: Nadine Pungs +++ Music & script assistance: Julian Held +++ Graphics: Saskia Zillekens +++ Virtual technology: Virtual Studio VR3. +++ Special thanks to Kurt Albert, Prof. Dr. Max Albert, Prof. Dr. Gert Albert, Herbert Steffen, Elke Held, Florian Chefai, Helmut Fink as well as Evelin Frerk (photography), Frank Luwe (photography) and the "Digital Hans Albert Archive" of the Hans Albert Institute +++ Non-commercial educational video: Redistribution and performance expressly permitted! +++ © Giordano Bruno Foundation / Hans Albert Institute 2021.