David E. Muller on Visiting Germany in 1933
  David E. Muller     Biography    
Recorded: 15 Jul 2004

Yeah, he left in the Spring I guess or so of 1932. Ah, he had a fellowship for the Kaiser Wilhelm Institut für Hirnforschung which still exists.

MP: For brain research.

Brain. Means brain research. It was in the suburb of Berlin called Buch. It was a very pleasant place. Actually it was outside of Buch too, which is a little town. But it was entirely fenced in, it had nice bicycle paths and lots of greenery, forests and lawns and things like that. A very modern institute also. And ah, so ah… He went there then in the Spring of ’32 and ….Carlos came about the end of ’32 I think, to join him there. Carlos was also interested in cars, and he had bought for himself a new kind of car called a V8 which hadn’t existed before. A Ford V8. A kind of a novelty you see. And it was a maroon color with cream colored wheels, I remember. And he was very proud of this. He drove around Austin and outside also, ah after he got it. But then when he had to go to Germany he decided he would take it along with him. So he had it shipped you see. An interesting…ah thing. And he left then probably at the end of 1932. Now my mother and I went to Germany also, but that was after the end of my school which must have been in June of ’33. And ah…

MP: How long did you stay there?

About three months. So it’s probably June until September or something like that.

MP: So your father was there and Carlos was there and…

Yeah…so what happened when we went there. We took a very slow boat. It was a German boat. It left from Galveston and it took more than 30 days. Something like 33 days to get to Bremerhoffen in Germany. But in the process we went to Cuba where we picked up people who slept on the deck, you know. They wanted to go to Spain, and it crossed the Atlantic. I got terribly seasick. And then we stopped at about five ports in Spain, and ah…That was interesting, you got out and looked around. If it was night it was beautiful, if it’s in the day time it looks rather dingy. And then one port in France I remember. And then after that we went up to Bremerhoffen where we were met by my father and Carlos in his car. And I remember now when we stopped to get gas why, my father said, “Oh go ahead and ask for the gas in German.” And I had been taking private lessons in German because they wanted me to do that, and later also in Russian. And so I tried it and it worked. And so from then on I was pretty fluent in German, because of having started when I was about three years old or so to learn.

As I say, we were there during the summer of ’33. Occasionally we would visit Berlin. I do remember we had this car that we could drive in. So it was possible to go in and Berlin is a very interesting city, You know, we went to the Tiergarten which is the zoo. We walked Unter den Linden, the famous street, and so on. It’s certainly true that the Nazis were everywhere at that time and it was a frightening thing. You know, I’d see all these Nazi flags around and I was impressed by how prevalent they are. I remember seeing a little boy about 3 years old on a tricycle; you know, he was going along the sidewalk. He had a Nazi armband. And I thought, oh my goodness what are they doing to this poor kid; turning him into a Nazi. And that’s the way it was. It’s hard to understand how such a thing can take hold but sometimes I would begin to see what might happen, you know.

David E. Muller was born in 1924 in Austin, Texas. He is the son of Hermann J. Muller, who received a Nobel Prize in 1946 for his discovery of x-ray induced mutations in Drosophila melanogaster, and Jesse Jacobs Muller Offermann, a mathematician and first wife of H.J. Muller.

In the 1930’s, H.J. Muller left his laboratory at the University of Texas to work at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute in Berlin. He then moved to Russia where he joined the Institute of Genetics and later the Institute of Animal Genetics in Edinburgh. During this time, David and his mother traveled to Germany and Russia to visit his father. After H.J. Muller’s return to the United States in 1940, David reunited with his father at the 1941 Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Symposium for Quantitative Biology. Afterward, David returned to school at Caltech and H.J. Muller to his appointments at Amherst College (1940-1945) and Indiana University (1945-1967).

Following in his mother’s footsteps, David became a mathematician and began working with computers at the University of Illinois in 1952. There he designed the Muller C-element, which is a commonly used component in computers. He taught at the University of Illinois until 1992 at which time he retired.

In April 2005, David donated his collection of photographs and personal letters written primarily by his parents and Carlos Offermann (one of H.J. Muller’s top graduate students and David’s step-father) to the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Archives. The letters were written between 1900 and 1945, although the bulk of the letters date from the early 1920’s when H.J. Muller took his first trip to Europe and the 1930’s when H.J. Muller was working in Germany, Russia, and the UK. These letters also cover the period of time when H.J. Muller made his Nobel-winning discoveries.

(Anthony Dellureficio, June, 2008)

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