Press release

Death on the eternal ice

[21. October 2005] 

Alfred Wegener Institute honours name patron

On the occasion of Alfred Wegener’s 125th birthday and the 75th anniversary of his death, the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research commemorates the German polar researcher and geoscientist whom the institute is named after. Marking the anniversary, the Alfred Wegener Institute is hosting a scientific symposium from October 30th to November 2nd. A film series ‘Research and adventure on the ice – Alfred Wegener in film’ containing original footage of the 1929 and 1930 expeditions, will be shown at Atlantis cinema in Bremerhaven on October 30, and at Cinema 46 in Bremen on November 1.

Wegener’s work
Alfred Wegener authored approximately 70 articles and books relating to astronomy, meteorology, climatology and geology. He is considered founder of the theory of continental drift and, in 1915, published ‘The origin of continents and oceans’. Only the book’s 3rd edition from 1922, translated into several languages, was acknowledged internationally, but received a predominantly negative response. In the mid 1960s, approximately 30 years after Wegener’s death, his ideas found unreserved recognition among the scientific community through the extended model of plate tectonics. Wegener’s diverse interests and his interdisciplinary efforts continue to provide a shining example for science to date. In the preface to the 4th edition of his ‘Origin of continents and oceans’ he writes: “Only by integrating all geosciences we can hope to discover the truth, i.e. to find the picture which represents the total of known facts in the greatest order and hence deserves the claim for highest likelihood.” The Alfred Wegener Institute has instigated a new edition of the first and fourth version of the book ‘The origin of continents and oceans’. It is supplemented by additional indices and will soon be released on the market.

Ice drama
Wegener’s main interest was in meteorology. Using kite and balloon launches he pioneered meteorological research, especially on his expeditions to Greenland. During the fourth expedition in 1930, a one-year recording of weather and ice conditions all the way across the inland ice of Greenland, and making use of three stations, had been planned under his leadership. However, the expedition was ill-fated from the start. Initially, drifting ice delayed unloading of the 98 ton equipment until June of 1930. Subsequently, the motorised propeller sleds, employed for the first time, did not meet expectations; and the remote station ‘Inland Ice’ could not be supplied sufficiently.

On September 21, 1930 Wegener himself leads a rescue mission with 15 dog sleds, later reduced to three sleds at kilometre 151 following bad weather conditions. In a letter he writes “that life is now on the line” for his friends at station ‘Inland Ice’. He continues his journey with only two companions and reaches the station on October 30, 1930. After celebrating Alfred Wegener’s 50th birthday at station ‘Inland Ice’ on November 1st, Wegener and his companion Rasmus Villumsen begin their return trip to the western station. Neither of the two ever reaches his destination alive. In an obituary about Alfred Wegener, Hans Benndorf writes: “He was a person of flawless character, unadorned simplicity and rare modesty. At the same time, he was a man of action, who, in pursuing an ideal goal, achieved the extraordinary by means of his iron will power and tenacity while putting his life at risk”.

Wegener’s legacy
Both, the Alfred Wegener Foundation for the Advancement of the Geosciences, founded in 1980, now GeoUnion Alfred Wegener Foundation, and the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research (AWI), established in the same year, were named after Alfred Wegener. At AWI, scientists are exploring the polar regions and the oceans of our planet. From October 30th to November 2nd, 140 scientists will gather in Wegener’s memory for the second International Alfred Wegener Symposium.

The Alfred Wegener Institute library oversees the ‘Alfred Wegener Archive’, owned by a foundation of the same name. It is a collection of Wegener’s works and Wegner-biographies. In addition, the Wegener family has left documents and records about Alfred Wegener’s life to the institute. The belongings of two members of the Greenland expedition, Johannes Georgi, leader of station ‘Inland Ice’ and Fritz Loewe who accompanied Wegner on his way to the station, constitute the main body of the archive. The archive continues to be expanded through purchases and donations.

Alfred Wegener Film Festival

In cooperation with several municipal cultural associations (Kommunales Kino Bremerhaven e.V.’, ‘Stadtkultur im DLZ Grünhöfe’ and ‘Kino 46’ in Bremen), the Alfred Wegener Institute will present a film series with productions on Alfred Wegener and his expeditions to the polar regions little known at the time. Screenings will take place on October 30th at Atlantis cinema, Hafenstr. 144, in Bremerhaven, and on November 1 at Cinema 46, Waller Heerstr. 46, in Bremen. The Alfred Wegener Film Festival represents a joint event of the 25th anniversary celebration of the Alfred Wegener Institute and the ‘City of Science 2005’.

Programme at Atlantis cinema, October 30, 2005
11:00 – 12:20 The great ice (78 min)
13:00 – 13:35 German Greenland expedition Alfred Wegener Part I-III (35 min silent film with live accompaniment by Guido Solarek, piano)
14:00 – 14:25 The German Greenland expedition Alfred Wegener (22 min FWU)
15:00 – 16:30 SOS Iceberg (90 min)
Programme at Cinema 46 Bremen, November 1, 2005
18:00 – 18:35 German Greenland expedition Alfred Wegener Part I-III (35 min silent film with live accompaniment by Guido Solarek, piano)
19:00 – 20:20 The great ice (78 min)
20:30 – 20:50 The German Greenland expedition Alfred Wegener (22 min FWU)
21:00 – 22.30 SOS Iceberg (90 min)

Bremerhaven, October 20, 2005
Suggestion for editors:

Your contact person is Dr Reinhard Krause (Tel: ++49-471-4831-1924, email: and, in the public relations department, Dr Angelika Dummermuth (Tel: ++49-471-4831-1742, email: Printable images can be found on our webpage at

The Foundation Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research (AWI) conducts research in the Arctic, Antarctic and in oceans of temperate and high latitudes. The AWI coordinates polar research in Germany, and provides important infrastructure, such as the research icebreaker ‘Polarstern’, for international scientific enterprises. The AWI is one of 15 research centres of the 'Helmholtz-Gemeinschaft' (Helmholtz Association), the largest scientific organisation in Germany.


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Das Institut

Das Alfred-Wegener-Institut forscht in den Polarregionen und Ozeanen der mittleren und hohen Breiten. Als eines von 19 Forschungszentren der Helmholtz-Gemeinschaft koordiniert es Deutschlands Polarforschung und stellt Schiffe wie den Forschungseisbrecher Polarstern und Stationen für die internationale Wissenschaft zur Verfügung.