New information board to commemorate Robert Koch as a country doctor in Brandenburg

Neuruppin/Niemegk, 12 October 2022

A new information board to commemorate Robert Koch will be inaugurated in front of the townhall of Niemegk on Thursday, 20 October 2022 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Among the invited guests are representatives of the Brandenburg Medical School (MHB) and the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) and Koch’s great-grandson Wolfgang Pfuhl. The Robert Koch elementary school in Niemegk will give a musical contribution.

Having studied medicine in Göttingen (1862-1866) and accepted a first position near Hanover, Koch set out to establish himself as a country doctor in Prussia. Hopeful that his professional and economic situation would improve in the southwest of Brandenburg, he found practice premises in the town of Niemegk in the Fläming region. First impressions must have been quite positive; in a letter to his father shortly after his arrival he described Niemegk as a nice enough place with sociable inhabitants.

Koch advertised his services as a general practitioner, surgeon and obstetrician. But the local population was poor and preferred cheaper alternatives such as home remedies, natural medicines or the advice of “wise women”. There was moreover a dispute with the mayor who was reported to berate the young physician as a “mouse doctor” in allusion to his laboratory animals, which prompted Koch to slap him in the face. As a result (and in view of his awkward economic situation) the young doctor left Niemegk in July 1869.

In 1939, regional physicians ordered a small and now barely visible memorial plaque to be mounted to the wall of the building (today’s address: Großstraße 69) where Robert Loch lived with his wife and daughter, at the suggestion of Wilhelm Roloff (1899-1949), senior hospital physician in Treuenbrietzen. PD Dr. Andreas Jüttemann, research assistant at the MHB Institute of Anatomy, has now initiated the event scheduled for 20 October which will probably be attended by Eckart Roloff, a son of Wilhelm Roloff. The idea to put up an information board in the memory of Koch’s short period in Brandenburg came from MHB student Janis Pehl who grew up in the vicinity of Niemegk. A study tour took her, together with Dr. Jüttemann and medical historian Benjamin Kuntz from the RKI, to several places in Brandenburg and what is now Poland where Robert Koch was active as a country doctor before he was appointed head of the Imperial Health Office in Berlin in 1880.

“These stations mark a chequered stage in Koch’s life as a young country doctor which appears to have fallen into oblivion. The shortage of country physicians is a highly topical social challenge and will gain in relevance in the coming years. It has already caused health policy problems in many places”, so Janis Pehl, who can well imagine working as a country doctor after graduation. Just like Robert Koch.