Albert Einstein lived in De Haan in 1933?


If you ever visit Shakespearelaan in the Anglo-Norman residential area of De Haan, be sure to look out for house number 3. Villa Savoyarde was home to the world-famous physicist Albert Einstein (1879-1955) from April to September 1933.

Albert Einstein was working at Berlin University in 1933. When Adolf Hitler seized power early that year, the physicist had just arrived in New York to lecture on his theory of relativity. At the end of March, he arrived in Antwerp with his wife Elsa Einstein-Koch on the SS Belgenland, owned by the shipping company Red Star Line. He was unable to return to his homeland due to his Jewish origins. Furthermore, the Nazis had already searched his home in Berlin and had plans to dispose of the scientist because, as a keen pacifist, he openly criticised the new regime. Professor Arthur De Groodt from Ghent and his wife offered temporary shelter to the unfortunate pair in Cantecroy castle, in Mortsel. They then continued helping Einstein, his wife, stepdaughter and secretary by renting Villa Savoyarde, a rather modest residence in the fashionable resort of De Haan, a place where they spent their holidays. Meanwhile, Einstein had already revoked his German citizenship in Brussels, handed in his notice at Berlin University and more or less decided to move to the US, where he had been offered a good job as a lecturer.


Carpenter fled into the toilet

In those days, writers, academics and artists often wandered in and out of Villa Savoyarde. There was once even a visit from Queen Elizabeth who was born in Bavaria, where Einstein also grew up. They met in the early 1920s at the Solvay conferences on chemistry and physics in Brussels and remained close, a relationship resulting in many letters and visits. An old carpenter, who came to mend a broken window in the villa, could hardly believe his eyes when our monarch appeared, and fled into the toilet until he heard her footsteps in the distance.


Bickering in the restaurant?

On 2 August 1933, the French minister of Education, Anatole de Monzie, came to Ostend to give James Ensor an award. He was clearly keen to meet the Einsteins. The ambassador and the painter dined at the star restaurant Au Cœur Volant, 25 Normandiëlaan in De Haan, and persuaded the physician to join them. The dinner went anything but smoothly. After Einstein had accused Ensor of knowing nothing about colours and Ensor had similarly accused Einstein of knowing nothing about mathematics, Ensor opted for an early night. However, if the photos are anything to go on, it seems that there was plenty of port and that it went down very well. An apartment complex has now been added to the beautiful building. In those days, it was probably much quieter in his local establishment at hotel Belle Vue, where he went for his daily coffee and raisin roll.