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Taking a Nobel trip through the past

Family heads for Germany to honor prize-winning patriarch and to explore their roots.

April 29, 2011|By Gretchen Meier,
  • David Meyerhof and his father Walter Meyerhof at the family home in Germany in 2001 (Photo Courtesy of David Meyerhof)
David Meyerhof and his father Walter Meyerhof at the family…

Not many people can say their grandfather won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, nor can they say their family escaped the Holocaust.

David Meyerhof, however, can add that he visited his grandfather’s history-making laboratory to his list of family trivia when he returns from a trip to Germany in May.

Meyerhof, along with his 24-year-old son Matthew Meyerhof — a John Burroughs High School graduate — were invited by the town of Heidelberg, Germany, to visit the place where his father grew up, the medical center named after his grandfather and the laboratory where Otto Meyerhof performed his Nobel Prize-winning research in biochemistry.

The Meyerhof family last made this trip 10 years ago when the namesake medical center was dedicated. The Otto Meyerhof Centre for Outpatient Care and Clinical Research is the first of its kind in Germany to be dedicated to a Jewish scientist and professor, according to David Meyerhof.


His family will arrive from five countries for the ceremony, something that will never happen again, David Meyerhof said.

His father, former Stanford University physics Professor Walter Meyerhof, died in 2006, and his mother, who celebrated her 90th birthday this weekend, is unable to make the trip.

On the eve of the Holocaust Days of Remembrance, the weeklong commemoration of the Nazi atrocities that runs through this coming week, the trip carries an added significance.

“I think it’s incredible that this city has shown so much appreciation of my grandfather and of the Jewish people,” David Meyerhof said. “They’re allowing people to see where they used to live and really working to overcome the prejudice of the past.”

Otto Meyerhof, director of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Medical Research at the University of Heidelberg, was among those pushed out by a wave of anti-Semitism at the school during the time of Nazi control.

He fled the city and eventually made his home in Pennsylvania. His son was briefly in an internment camp, and the family had to travel across Europe. They escaped imprisonment on more than one occasion.

Otto’s 1922 Nobel Prize-winning discovery of the relationship between the consumption of oxygen and the metabolism of lactic acid in the muscle has deemed him the “father of biochemistry” in the medical world.

Four of his students went on to win Nobel Prizes.

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