Hans-Peter Dürr

When Hans-Peter Dürr returned to I-House followed by a crew filming a documentary on his life, he pointed out the exact spot in the Dining Hall where a transforming moment had occurred.

It was a simple, everyday exchange soon after he arrived in September, 1953. The Stuttgart native was eating breakfast in the Dining Hall when a resident asked where he was from. Dürr replied that he was from Germany and waited for the expected response Š either a hasty departure or the overly friendly response of someone hoping to redeem a lost soul.

The matter-of-fact response, "ThatÕs wonderful," to a wary German was a revelation. "From that point on, I felt like a changed person," recalls Dürr. "I was being treated as an individual and not as a representative of a country."

In the years following World War II, many residents of I-House were veterans, some had been on opposite sides. Others were refugees. Intense discussions occurred over meals, especially at the European Table and Middle East Table. All were welcome and discussions, songs, and slides were organized by those from the region. It was a rich environment for Dürr while he worked on his doctorate in theoretical physics.

Dürr's academic work with eminent physicist Edward Teller was difficult but stimulating. "Teller was brilliant, a person with many ideas. He walked up and down and spilled out ideas."

During this time, philosopher Hannah Arendt came to UC. "She was fascinating because she was talking to an American audience about the totalitarian experience in Germany and how people had been manipulated. She helped me understand my own past."

"When the war was over, my father had been killed, the house destroyed. It was a rather desperate situation. We saw terrible things. I just wanted to take care for my mother and four sisters and get through this mess."

Arendt inspired Dürr to be a "passionate trespasser" and to put aside the attitude of non-involvement. "Suddenly I was very interested in everything and got very involved with I-House. I trusted people again."

Jean Sullivan Dobrzensky, Director of Program and Student Relations, hired Dürr to organize regional tables, discussion groups, and folk dancing. As keeper of the keys to the music room, he met his future wife Sue Durham. An avid folk dancer, she soon had him folk dancing on Friday nights, an activity they still enjoy.

Dürr left I-House committed to sharing his experiences. "I felt that I had gone through a transformation and had to go back and translate these experiences for others. When you go back home Š to your own ground Š you have changed. You see a larger point of view. I saw involvement and participation on the municipal level. This is the real meaning of democracy, involvement in things around you. You must get involved with what bothers you."

After returning to Germany in 1956, Dürr joined the Max Planck Institute as a research assistant to work with physicist Werner Heisenberg. Dürr's publications include dozens of works on nuclear physics, elementary particle physics, and gravitation. Dürr currently serves as Director of the Institute and plans to retire this year.

Among Dürr's many talents is his ability to raise public awareness on crucial environmental issues facing mankind. He is a passionate advocate for decreasing reliance of energy. "We are overburdening the environment. We produce nuclear waste and donÕt know what to do with it. We must devise a different lifestyle with more time for the people we love, living in nature without destroying it."

Dürr founded Global Challenges Network, is a member of the State of the World Forum, and serves as President of the European Trust for Natural and Cultural Wealth. Among many honors, he received the Right Livelihood Award from Sweden's Parliament in 1987, the ecology prize Golden Swallow and CalÕs Haas International Award in 1993.

Asked for his advice to young people today. "Be a trespasser, a border crosser. Meddle around in everything. It's a lot of fun. Aim at a life that's full. Don't be best in one thing but good in many things. A responsible person has to stop and look around. Get involved!"

About I-House | Alumni Relations | Programs & Activities | Event Facilities

Copyright © 1998 International House Berkeley.