A Wyneken in a movie

I flew to Philadelphia from Frankfurt a few weeks ago on family business. In order to while the time away on the flight I watched a few complimentary movies that Lufthansa offered. It came as a complete surprise to me when one of them turned out to have a Wyneken angle, even though that was admittedly not a central part of the plot.

The movie was from 2012 and entitled “Die Vermessung der Welt”, English title “Measuring the World”. I found out later when I looked up the movie in the Internet that it was based on a best selling German novel by Daniel Kehlmann.

I thoroughly enjoyed the movie but if you are considering watching it please beware of nudity, sexual content and painful scenes of tooth extraction. The camera work was absolutely gorgeous.

As much as I enjoyed watching it I must admit that I didn’t really catch what the intended connection was that it was trying to draw between the naturalist and explorer Alexander von Humboldt and the mathematical genius Carl Friedrich Gauss. Later research uncovered that the critics were not impressed with how the movie reflects the intention of the book, so I have placed the book on my to-read list, hoping to gain a better understanding.

The Wyneken connection is that Gauss’ second wife, Minna Waldeck, as I have pointed out in my blog, was the daughter of Charlotte Wyneken and her husband Johann Waldeck. Wikipedia says that Minna was the best friend of Gauss’ first wife, Johanna Osthoff. That is also portrayed in the movie. However the movie portrays this friendship as dating back to the times when Johanna was growing up in the working class background that came with being the daughter of a whittawer (i.e. tanner of white leather). Minna’s father, on the other hand, was a law professor in Göttingen, and her Wyneken grandmother grew up in the household of a government official. Thus I think it more likely that they met and became friends when the young Gauss family moved to Göttingen for Gauss’ professorship there.

The movie hints at relation ship problems between Gauss and his second wife and between him and one of his sons. This is historically accurate. There are other things in the movie that are probably less so and added for the effect, such as their meeting in Potsdam. That’s all right. It’s just a movie after all.

In any event, I found it interesting to see an actual historical Wyneken as a character in a movie. I think that’s a first for me.


The painting at top of the page depicts Alexander von Humboldt, by Joseph Karl Stieler, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10393110

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