Learning from history

From chemist to high-ranking ambassador — Heinz Ludwig Krekeler had an astonishing career in turbulent times. For his entire life, he strived to achieve a social order based on consensus between freely deciding citizens.

He never lost sight of this objective and set up a foundation under the aegis of the Max Planck Society. With this initiative, he showed his resolute support for interdisciplinary research projects in which scientists investigate the foundations for liberal societies, and clarify how they can survive in the long run.

Heinz Krekeler's generation was marked by the historical experience of two calamitous wars that should never be repeated. As the first German ambassador in the USA after the Second World War and later as a politician on the European stage, he played an active role in working to achieve this goal. But he was never predestined to embark on a political career. Originally, Krekeler studied chemistry, obtaining his doctorate in 1930, and enjoying success at IG Farbenindustrie in Ludwigshafen. In 1931, he successfully applied for a US patent for the manufacture of fluorine by the fluorine electrolysis method.

However, after the fateful experience of war, Krekeler was drawn to politics. First he was a volunteer representative in the economic administration of the French occupation zone, then elected to the regional assembly in Lippe and to the Westphalian Provincial Council and became a member of the first regional parliament of North-Rhine Westphalia. In 1950, he was named Germany's General Consul in New York by the Federal government, and one year later, he was appointed chargé d'affaires of the German representation in the USA, finally becoming the first ambassador of the Federal Republic of Germany in the USA in 1953. This office was followed by membership of the EURATOM Committee of the European Community in Brussels. At the end of his professional career, Krekeler received a lectureship on diplomatic and international relations at the University of Münster and the Bavarian School of Public Policy in Munich.

"The only social orders that are stable over the long term without compulsion are those based on the ‘anthropological constants’, as the great Swiss statesman Willy Bretscher noted many years ago", Krekeler wrote to the then President of the Max Planck Society, Hans Zacher. But it exceeds the powers of any individual, he stated, to find an answer to what those constants are: "This requires broad-based research across disciplines."

Heinz Krekeler created the material conditions for his mission with his foundation which he integrated with the Max Planck Society in a spirit of trust. Two of its research personalities provided a link with the Society over many decades: Adolf Butenandt, whom he met in Göttingen as a chemistry student as part of an internship, and Fritz Haber, who was the second assessor of his doctoral thesis. The impressions that they made on him and his later personal encounters with the scientists cemented his trust in the Max Planck Society.

Heinz L. Krekeler died in Munich in 2003 at the age of 97. As set out in his will, the conditions under which it is possible to ensure the peaceful coexistence of peoples, can be examined in Germany's major non-university research organizations with the aid of his foundation.