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Jena, Germany – Capital of the Optics Industry

Statue of Carl Zeiss at the Optical Museum Jena in Germany.  (c) David Prutchi, Ph.D.

Statue of Carl Zeiss at the Optical Museum Jena in Germany. The museum tells the story of the development of the city of Jena as the center of Germany’s optical industry, propelled by the lifeworks of Ernst Abbe, Carl Zeiss, and Otto Schott.

Jena is a town in eastern Germany, which is arguably the World’s capital of the optics industry. Its reputation in optics came in the 19th Century after Carl Zeiss – a microscope maker – met physicist Ernst Abbe, and glass maker Otto Schott.

In the 1880s the three formed the basis of today’s premier optical companies Carl Zeiss AG and Schott AG.

Jena’s famous Friedrich Schiller University lost its preeminence during the Nazi period due to the discrimination, expulsion, or outright murder of its Jewish professors. Its industrial basis was decimated by Allied bombings during World War II, and finally ended up as part of the Soviet-aligned German Democratic Republic. The Soviets dismantled large parts of the Zeiss and Schott factories and took them into Soviet Union.

Industry in Jena came into a heavy crisis after the German reunification in 1990 and the subsequent collapse of the Soviet Union. However, Jena managed to transition to the market economy, and today it is one of the leading economic centers of eastern Germany.

If you are ever in the region, you must take some time to visit the Optical Museum Jena. It showcases the lifeworks of Ernst Abbe, Carl Zeiss, and Otto Schott. Because of Jena’s difficult 20th Century history, its small antique shops are a treasure trove of optical relics that are sure to interest any technical-minded photographer.