From planet aficionado to patron

A major supporter of the natural sciences, computer science and mathematics - this is a description that fits entrepreneur Klaus Tschira, who made industrial history in his own career.

Together with his colleagues Dietmar Hopp, Hasso Plattner, Claus Wellenreuther and Hans-Werner Hector, Klaus Tschira set up the company SAP in 1972, which is known today as Europe's largest software group. After leaving the company, he devoted his life to patronage and set up one of the largest charitable foundations in Europe with private funds.

He had set himself the goal of sparking enthusiasm for the natural sciences and contributing to their appreciation. "Our prosperity and communication are based on the natural sciences as well as on mathematics and computer science." His credo was that education must start in the kindergarten and continue through school, university and research institutions.

This is where the Max Planck Society came into the equation, as, being a major non-university science organization, one of its priorities lies in conducting research in the natural sciences. Connections with the Max Planck Society are multifarious: Gerda Tschira has been a Personal Supporting Member for decades, her husband Klaus was a member of the MPG Senate from 2002 to 2008, in which personalities from science, business, politics and the media make decisions on the future of the research organization. Here he made closer acquaintance with the work of the Max Planck Society and its scientists, and not only found their excellent research work inspiring but also the way in which insights are communicated to the general public.

Tschira thus came to include the Max Planck Society within the ambit of his patronage. The most conspicuous example is the Haus der Astronomie in Heidelberg, which he himself designed in the form of a spiral galaxy in order to hand it over to the Max Planck Society on completion. In doing so, the passionate astronomer — even his classmates at school called him "the planet kid" — was able to fulfil a long-held dream. At the same time, however, he presented the public with a "development laboratory for educational and public relations work in the field of astronomy" which conveys the fascination of astronomy while also promoting dialogue between scientists. Specialist conferences are held here as well as public presentations, workshops for schoolchildren and further training for teachers.

Klaus Tschira was also generous in his support for the establishment of the Center for Systems Biology in Dresden, a project organized by the two local Max Planck Institutes of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics and for the Physics of Complex Systems. As Director, Eugene W. Myers has been appointed to the newly created Klaus Tschira Chair, and also works at the prestigious Heidelberg Institute for Theoretical Studies (HITS). This, too, is a remarkable initiative of Klaus Tschira’s: around 80 scientists work at HITS in fields that generate and process great volumes of data, from astrophysics to cell biology.

The activities of Klaus Tschira were as diverse as the honours that he received for them. They included honorary doctorates as well as the Federal Cross of Merit with ribbon and honorary memberships of the most prestigious associations. Even an asteroid was named after him as a special international accolade seldom awarded.

Klaus Tschira devoted all his energy to his self-appointed task, and his family supported his commitment. Since the death of Klaus Tschira in 2015, his sons Harald and Udo have run the foundation in the spirit of their father as managing partners.