Fire damages Germany's Einstein tower

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Germany's best-known piece of scientific architecture, the Einstein tower, was damaged by fire last week after a spark ignited solvent used in renovation work.

The building's scientific instruments remain intact, however, as they had been removed last autumn in preparation for the overhaul, which was needed following decades of neglect during communist rule in East Germany.

The tower (inset), which is in Potsdam near Berlin, was built in the expressionist style in the early 1920s by the renowned architect Erich Mendelsohn as a solar observatory to test predictions of Einstein's general theory of relativity. It remains an important reference in the history of European architecture, and has continued to play a scientific role. For example, it made solar observations in parallel with the European Space Agency's space-based solar observatory SOHO, which was launched in December 1995.

Günther Hasinger, a director of the Astrophysical Institute in Potsdam which owns the tower, says that damage to the tower's infrastructure will be repaired by the end of the year.

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