Creation of the Max Planck Society

Fig. 11
Fig. 12

After 1945, the individual departments of the KWI for Brain Research were each relocated to Dillenburg, Giessen, Köln, Marburg or Göttingen. The year 1948 saw the creation of the Max Planck Society to succeed the Kaiser Wilhelm Society; the institute became the Max Planck Institute for Brain Research.

Hallervorden retired as director in 1955, and Spatz in 1959. In 1962, a new building was built in Frankfurt-Niederrad (Fig. 11) to house the Departments of Neurobiology (Hassler, Director 1959-1982) and Neuropathology (Krücke, Director 1956-1979) (Fig. 12), as well as the Research Groups "Evolution of the Primate Brain" (Stephan) and "Neurochemistry" (Werner).

Wilhelm Krücke, a pupil of Hallervorden, was a specialist of peripheral neuropathies. He was the reason for the institute's relocation to Frankfurt, because he was also the head of the 'Edinger Institute', the Neuropathology Department at the Frankfurt University Medical School. In 1982, what had in the past been the KWI for Brain Research's Department of General Neurology, relocated to Köln after WWII, became the Max Planck Institute for Neurological Research, an independent entity from Frankfurt’s MPI for Brain Research. The other relocated departments of the KWI were closed down with the retirement of their directors.

Rolf Hassler’s mixed legacy
Rolf Hassler was born in Berlin in 1914. He studied medicine and carried out his PhD at the Kaiser-Wilhelm Institute for Brain Research in Berlin-Buch under the supervision of Oskar Vogt (1936-1939) on Parkinson’s syndrome. After WWII, he moved to Freiburg  where he became professor at the neurological/psychiatric university hospital in 1954. There, he cooperated with Traugott Riechert on stereotactic brain surgery. While Riechert operated, Hassler guided the electrocoagulation of thalamic loci as treatment for patients suffering of dystonias, chronic pain, compulsive disorders and Parkinson’s disease.

In 1959, Hassler became director of the neuroanatomy department, later called neurobiology department, of the MPI for Brain Research, and in 1962, moved from Freiburg to Frankfurt/Main, where the new MPI for Brain Research was now located. There, in addition to his neuroanatomical studies, Hassler continued to work on human stereotactic brain surgery. The surgeries were performed by Gert Dieckmann at the university hospital in Homburg/Saar. Hassler identified loci to be lesioned, and studied the patients both before and after surgery in Frankfurt. When Dieckmann became professor of psychosurgery in Göttingen, Hassler began a cooperation with Prof. Harm Spuler at the clinic for neurosurgery in Würzburg. Even after his retirement in 1982, when Wolf Singer and Heinz Waessle took over the institute, Hassler continued to participate in human stereotactic surgery while acting in the name of the institute. As psychosurgery was becoming increasingly controversial, in 1983 Wolf Singer and Heinz Wässle denied Hassler permission to use his affiliation to the institute. This led to the publication of an article in the BildZeitung magazine, criticizing Singer and Wässle for their lack of support for Hassler (link to the article). Hassler died soon after this (1984).

In recent years, Hassler’s human stereotactic lesions work has been the object of renewed interest. Prominent among them is Dr. Lara Rzesnitzek, who is both a psychiatrist and a medical historian at the Charité University Hospital in Berlin. In 2008, she wrote a thesis in Tübingen entitled “Psychosurgery and deep brain stimulation, a historical and conceptual overview”. In 2019, she wrote a “Habilitation thesis” entitled “The establishment of shock therapies and leucotomy in Germany”. This work, which complements several publications on stereotactic surgeries in German, focuses on Hassler’s contributions.

Sonja Toepfer, an artist and cinematographer, recently published on her homepage an interview with Prof. Volker Sturm, the former director of the clinic for stereotactic and functional neurosurgery of the university hospital in Cologne. Sturm was trained by Dieckmann and Hassler in Homburg/Saar and describes in this interview the types of patients who were treated there with stereotactic lesions.

Fig. 11: Building of the MPI for Brain Research from 1963 to 2012, Frankfurt am Main. Top: Postcard from 1963; bottom: bird's eye view of the building 2010

Fig. 12: Left: Rolf Hassler (1914-1984); right: Wilhelm Krücke (1911-1988)