Albrecht von Graefe and the history of ophthalmology

1850 – First findings at the back of the eye

1850 – Ophthalmoscope

The physicist Hermann von Helmholtz (1821-1894) presents the ophthalmoscope in Königsberg. This device makes it possible for the first time to record findings at the back of the eye in living human beings. It leads to a dramatic increase in knowledge and thus decisively promotes specialisation and the development of ophthalmology into an independent discipline.

1851, November 1st – Eye Clinic of Albrecht von Graefe

Albrecht von Graefe (1828-1870) sets up his own private eye clinic in Berlin.

1852 – First Chair of Ophthalmology

The first chair of ophthalmology in the German Empire is established in Leipzig and filled by Theodor Ruete (1810-1867).

1854 – First ophthalmological journal in the world

Albrecht von Graefe publishes the 1st volume of the “Archiv für Ophthalmologie” in Berlin, which still exists today. This is the first ophthalmological journal in the world that still exists today.

A. v. Graefe, Archiv für Ophthalmologie, 1. Band 1854

Mid of 1856 – “Jünger der Ophthalmologie”

In a letter to his pupil and friend Adolf Weber (1829-1915), Albrecht von Graefe wrote: “I was wondering whether it would not be possible for certain zealous disciples of ophthalmology to meet annually in a beautiful place, e.g. Heidelberg, and spend some time together, partly in scientific endeavours and communications, partly in harmless muse”.

Adolf Weber

From the 3rd to the 5th of September 1857 – Founding date of the DOG

Albrecht von Graefe meets with 11 like-minded people, including his teacher Ferdinand Arlt (1812-1887), Adolf Weber, Friedrich Horner (1831-1886), Alexander Pagenstecher (1828-1879) and Carl Wilhelm von Zehender (1819-1916) in Heidelberg. The conference venue is the “Hotel Schrieder”. There will be 12 scientific lectures. The date of this meeting is designated as the founding date of the DOG after the 2nd World War.

Ferdinand Arlt

5th September 1863 – Founding date II

After some loose meetings in the past years, the “Ophthalmological Society” gives itself statutes consisting of 4 paragraphs drafted by Albrecht von Graefe. In contrast to the first 6 years, from now on there are official reports. Conference venues in Heidelberg will be the Hotel Schrieder, the Aula of the University and the Stadthalle. Until 1940, the year 1863 is considered – formally correct – as the founding date within the DOG.

Statuten der DOG, Klinische Monatsblätter für Augenheilkunde 1863

1863 – Monthly bulletins for Ophthalmology

Carl Wilhelm von Zehender publishes the “Klinische Monatsblätter für Augenheilkunde” with Enke Verlag Stuttgart. The purpose of the “Monatsblätter” (monthly bulletins), which have been published without interruption until today, is the publication of the DOG conference reports. They are also intended to provide a more practice-oriented (clinical) counterweight to the more scientifically oriented “Archiv für Ophthalmologie”.

Versammlung 1863, Klinische Monatsblätter für Augenheilkunde 1863
Carl Wilhelm von Zehender

1866 – Suspension of meetings during the war

The annual meetings of the DOG are suspended for the first time because of the German-Austrian War. There are repeated suspensions due to the war until 1947.

1867 – Manual of Physiological Optics

Hermann von Helmholtz, now in Heidelberg, publishes the “Handbuch der physiologischen Optik” (Manual of Physiological Optics), thus laying the foundations of the “physics of the eye”. In it he develops a theory of accommodation that is still largely valid today (Young-Helmholtz theory of accommodation).

Helmholtz, Handbuch der physiologischen Optik

1868 – “Ophthalmology at Prussian universities…”

Julius Jacobson (1828-1889) publishes his pamphlet “Die Augenheilkunde an preußischen Universitäten – ein Nothstand im Cultus” (Ophthalmology at Prussian universities – a state of emergency in education), which he sends to the Prussian Minister of Education and the party leaders in the Prussian parliament. In it he writes, among other things:
“Should my description of the general problems in education not be clear and convincing enough to finally bring about radical changes, then I, for my part, will not tire of making the untenability of the present conditions visible to even the dumbest eye by going into detail”.
Thanks mainly to the activities of Jacobson, who was a student and friend of Albrecht von Graefe, ophthalmology became an independent subject with its own chairs at Prussian universities. With the founding of the German Empire in 1871, this development reached the entire German Empire, including the kingdoms of Bavaria, Württemberg and Saxony. By 1882, every medical faculty has a chair of ophthalmology. Julius Jacobson becomes the first full professor in Königsberg in 1873.

Streitschrift Jacobson

1869 – „Archives of Eye and Ear Diseases“

Hermann Knapp (1832-1911) publishes, together with S. Moos, the first volume of his “Archiv für Augen- und Ohrenkrankheiten” (Archives of Eye and Ear Diseases) and thus the third important German journal for ophthalmology. Knapp moves to the USA, where he founds the “Archives of Ophthalmology”, which still exists today, as a kind of continuation of the German archive. The “Archives of Ophthalmology”, as it is called from 1879, is continued by Carl Schweigger (1830-1905), Albrecht von Graefe’s successor in the Berlin chair, and by Carl von Hess (1863-1923) (hence “Archives of Ophthalmology Knapp-Schweigger-Hess). It was merged with “Graefe’s Archive for Ophthalmology” in 1938.

Hermann Knapp

20th July 1870 – Albrecht von Graefe dies in Berlin

The founder of the DOG and doyen of modern ophthalmology, Albrecht von Graefe, dies of tuberculosis in Berlin one day after the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War. The specialist journal he founded is called “Graefe’s Archive for Ophthalmology” in his honour from 1871.

Albrecht von Graefe, eines der letzten Fotos

1872 – Donations for a von Graefe monument

Friends and students of Albrecht von Graefe call for donations for a von Graefe monument. Monetary donations come from all over the world in the following years.

1873 – “Graefe Prize”

Robert Ritter von Welz (1814-1878) from Würzburg donates the “Graefe Prize”, now awarded every two years, “in the faithful memory of his unforgotten friend and teacher”. The prize is awarded for the first time in 1877 to Theodor Leber.

Robert Ritter von Welz

1874 – Graefe Medal

The DOG decides to endow the Graefe Medal in memory of its founder Albrecht von Graefe. This highest scientific distinction of the DOG is to be awarded “every 10 years to the person who among contemporaries – without distinction of nationality – has rendered the greatest service to the advancement of ophthalmology”. Mainly due to a lack of funds, it will take another 12 years before the medal is awarded for the first time to Hermann von Helmholtz in 1886. Other laureates include Theodor Leber (1840-1917), Ewald Hering (1834-1918), Carl von Hess (1863-1923) and Jules Gonin (1870-1935).

Carl von Hess

1875 – „Ophthalmological Society of Heidelberg“

The DOG is now called the “Ophthalmological Society of Heidelberg”.

From 1875

As a result of the ordinariates established, the first generation of university (but also non-university) eye clinics was built by 1910. The increasing importance of ophthalmology is also reflected in numerous new textbooks. One of the most modern of its time is the “Lehrbuch der Augenheilkunde in der Form klinischer Besprechungen” by Paul Römer (1873-1937), who writes in the 1st edition of 1910:
“The imperfection of our knowledge oppresses the researcher in me, the inadequacy of our therapeutic skill weighs heavily on the doctor’s soul, and only the joy of working with and serving a youth rich in future encourages the teacher in me to publish this book.”

aus: Römer: „Lehrbuch der Augenheilkunde“, 2. Auflage von 1913
Paul Römer


Julius Hirschberg (1843-1925) publishes the 1st volume of his “Centralblatt für praktische Augenheilkunde” with Veit & Comp in Leipzig. Original papers are published in this journal, but mainly scientific papers from other journals are refereed. The aim is to make “filtered knowledge” accessible to the ophthalmological practitioner as quickly as possible. Hirschberg will edit the “Centralblatt” until 1918, i.e. for more than 40 years.

Julius Hirschberg


For the first time a woman attends a DOG meeting.

22th May 1882

Exactly on Albrecht von Graefe’s 54th birthday, his monument is unveiled on the corner of Luisenstrasse and Schumannstrasse at the Charité in Berlin. The monument is thoroughly restored in 2005 with the support of the DOG.

von-Graefe Denkmal Berlin

9th to 12th August 1888

The 7th World Congress of Ophthalmology is held in Heidelberg. Congress President is Frans Cornelis Donders (1818-1889) from Utrecht/Netherlands, who first took part in a DOG meeting in 1858 and played a decisive role in determining the fate of the Society after the death of his close friend Albrecht von Graefes.

Frans Cornelis Donders


The DOG conference reports are published in the new “Berichte der Ophthalmologischen Gesellschaft” (later “Fortschritte der Augenheilkunde”, today “Der Ophthalmologe”) and no longer in the “Klinische Monatsblättern”.

September 1903

The DOG is entered in the Heidelberg Register of Associations and thus only now acquires legal capacity. Theodor Leber becomes the first “legal” president (chairman of the board), August Wagenmann (1863-1955) becomes the first “legal” secretary.

Theodor Leber
August Wegemann


The DOG admits Dr Clara Knieper from Mittweida/Saxony as the first female member.


Allvar Gullstrand (1862-1930) from Uppsala/Sweden is the only ophthalmologist to receive the Nobel Prize for Medicine for his work on the physiological optics of the eye (definition of the “normal eye”). Gullstrand, who also introduces the slit lamp in the same year, is a long-standing member of the DOG and from 1912 a member of the DOG board. He repeatedly attends the conferences in Heidelberg. In 1928 he is awarded the Graefe Medal by the DOG.

Allvar Gullstrand

August 1914

World War I begins. This leads to the suspension of the meetings of 1914, 1915 and 1917 and to the breaking off of ophthalmological relations with the war opponents. Contacts with neutral states are maintained. About 20 DOG members are killed in the war.

November 1918

The end of the Empire marks the beginning of the Weimar Republic. The leadership of the DOG and the full members remain in office and – as far as can be reconstructed today – tend to be loyal to the Kaiser. Wilhelm Uhthoff (1853-1927) is the DOG’s president during the transitional period.

Wilhelm Uhthoff


With “The Reform of Ophthalmology”, Julius Hirschberg completes the last volume of his “History of Ophthalmology”, which appears in the 2nd edition of the “Handbuch der gesamten Augenheilkunde” by Alfred Graefe (1830-1899), the cousin of Albrecht von Graefe, and Theodor Saemisch (1833-1909). Thanks to this epoch-making work of several thousand pages, which began in 1899 with “The Ophthalmology of the Ancient Egyptians”, no other medical discipline has such detailed information on its own history as ophthalmology. Today, a commemorative plaque commemorates his private eye clinic at what is now Reinhardtstrasse 34, not far from the Reichstag building in Berlin.

Gedenktafel Julius Hirschberg

6th August 1920

At the request of Emil Krückmann (1865-1944), the General Assembly at the 42nd meeting in Heidelberg unanimously decides to rename the “Heidelberg Ophthalmological Society” the “Deutsche Ophthalmologische Gesellschaft (German Society of Ophthalmology – DOG). The name has endured to this day. The inclusion of the word “German” certainly stems to a large extent from the fact that the international boycott measures against the new Weimar Republic encouraged nationalist tendencies within ophthalmology as well.

8th to 10th June 1922

For the first time in its history, the DOG holds its 43rd congress not in Heidelberg, but in Jena.


After the first, difficult years of the Weimar Republic, Theodor Axenfeld (1867-1930) wrote the timelessly topical sentence on the occasion of his anniversary “25 years as editor of the Klinische Monatsblätter für Augenheilkunde”:
“Only those who remain in continuous contact with the intellectual work of their subject … will deepen their clinical judgement and preserve in full measure the drive for further education and the joy of progress, and thus have the indispensable counterbalance against the purely technical attitude and the absorption by the economic hardship of the day, which just today threatens to consume thought to an excessive degree.”

30th January of 1933 to 8th May 1945

Adolf Hitler’s “seizure of power” causes a rupture in German ophthalmology. Leading positions, including in ophthalmology, are largely filled “according to the party book”, especially until 1938, and laws such as the “Law for the Prevention of Hereditary Diseases in the Offspring” of 14.07.1933 influence practical ophthalmology in an unprecedented way. Of the 193 (as of 2014) Jewish ophthalmologists living in Germany in 1933 – almost 40% of whom are DOG members – about 65% emigrate by 1941, and 14% die in a concentration camp or prison by the end of the war. One of the emigrants is Aurel von Szily (1880-1945), who returns to his home town of Budapest in 1939 after being expelled from his chair in Münster in 1935 and forcibly deprived of the editorship of the “Klinische Monatsblätter für Augenheilkunde” in 1937.
Until 1940, the reports of the DOG state that about 80% of the Jewish members “left voluntarily”. At least in the first years, the DOG leadership met the new, totalitarian rulers predominantly with sympathy. According to current research, however, the DOG was not involved in Nazi crimes. In particular, the secretary of the DOG from 1938 and Heidelberg professor Ernst Engelking (1886-1975) is considered critical of the regime. The DOG chairman Walther Löhlein (1882-1954) becomes Adolf Hitler’s ophthalmologist in his capacity as chair in Berlin.

Aurel von Szily
Ernst Engelking
Walther Löhlein

6th to 8th August 1935

The DOG celebrates its 50th conference in Heidelberg. After the imposed change of the statutes, it comes under the influence of the Reich Ministry of the Interior.

4th to 8th July 1937

The 52nd meeting of the DOG takes place in Heidelberg. The discussions on the “Law for the Prevention of Hereditary Diseases”, i.e. the indications for (forced) sterilisation, are surprisingly controversial, with non-NSDAP members among the ophthalmologists sometimes taking a stricter stance than NSDAP members. Ernst Rahlson (1871-1944) is the only and last Jewish ophthalmologist to attend a DOG conference during the National Socialist era.

Ernst Rahlson

05th to 07th August 1940

The 53rd meeting of the DOG takes place in Dresden at the Hygiene Museum. Because of the Second World War, it is the last during the National Socialist era.

23rd to 25th August 1948

The 54th meeting of the DOG is the first after the Second World War. It takes place again in Heidelberg. The DOG reconstitutes itself under the supervision of the allied military authorities on 24 August with its old statutes of 15 September 1903.

Bericht von der Tagung 1948

18th to 20th September 1950

The 56th meeting of the DOG takes place in Munich. A memorial service for Hermann von Helmholtz commemorates “100 years of the ophthalmoscope”. The number of DOG members exceeds 1000 in 1949/50.


The DOG celebrates its 100th anniversary. The Düsseldorf ophthalmologist and medical historian Albert Esser writes a commemorative publication, which, however, almost completely omits the Nazi period. The reappraisal of the DOG’s Nazi history does not begin until 1999.

Festschrift 1957

13th August 1961

The construction of the Berlin Wall finally leads to a far-reaching interruption of the contacts between ophthalmologists from the GDR and those from the FRG, which had already been declining since 1949. East German ophthalmologists are urged to terminate their DOG membership.


The 20th World Congress of Ophthalmology is held in Munich. Congress President is Hans (Johannes) Karl Müller (1899-1977) from Bonn.

Hans Karl Müller


The 74th Congress of the DOG is held in Essen with the theme “Peripheral Retina”. The congress president, Gerhard Meyer-Schwickerath (1920-1992), is the only German ophthalmologist so far to be awarded a Nobel Prize for the photocoagulation of the retina, which he developed in Hamburg and Essen.

Gerhard Meyer-Schwickerath


The 88th meeting of the DOG takes place in Baden-Baden with the main theme “Retina”. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, for the first time in decades, numerous colleagues from East Germany take part in the conference. Congress President is Achim Wessing.

Achim Wessing


The 89th DOG Congress is held in Leipzig and thus for the first time in one of the new federal states. Congress President is Jörg Draeger.

Nach 1991

After the fall of communism, also in the former “Eastern Bloc”, the ophthalmologist Rolf Grewe from Münster and the DOG establish contacts with ophthalmologists in the countries of South-Eastern Europe and support the further development of ophthalmology there.


Due to reunification, the number of DOG members and congress participants has increased considerably, so that the “historic Heidelberg” has become too small a venue and can no longer be considered. The DOG meets in nearby Mannheim from 1992-1996.


The number of DOG members exceeds 3000.


The DOG moves its venue to Berlin. President of the first conference in Berlin is Anselm Kampik.


The 98th DOG Congress in Berlin is a “millennium conference” with the theme “Tradition and new beginnings in ophthalmology at the turn of the millennium”. Congress President is Christian Ohrloff.

Christian Ohrloff

30th September 2001

Gabriele Lang is the first woman to become President of the DOG.


The DOG makes its “Graefe Collection” available to the Medical History Museum at the Charité Berlin on permanent loan.

26 to 29 September 2002

With its President Gabriele Lang, the DOG celebrates its 100th conference in Berlin with the general theme “Innovations in Ophthalmology”.


The DOG co-hosts the meeting of the European Ophthalmological Association (SOE) in Berlin. The conference president is Michael Foerster.

Michael Foerster


The DOG moves into its new office in Munich’s Platenstraße.


With its 105th conference, the DOG celebrates its 150th birthday. It publishes the comprehensive commemorative publication “Visus und Visionen”. The conference president is Gernot Duncker.

Gernot Duncker


The DOG is co-organiser of the “World Ophthalmology Congress” (WOC) in Berlin. The conference president is Gerhard Lang.

Gerhard K. Lang


The “Klinische Monatsblätter für Augenheilkunde” as one of 3 publication organs of the DOG celebrate their 150th birthday. In the special section “150 years of KliMo – yesterday and today”, papers from past decades are reproduced and commented on from today’s perspective.


After 16 years, Anselm Kampik (Munich) ended his term as Secretary General of the DOG. Kampik’s decisive achievements are and remain the professionalisation of the office, the further internationalisation of the society and the relocation of the conference venue to Berlin. Kampik’s successor as Secretary General is Thomas Reinhard (Freiburg).


A secondary school in Berlin-Kreuzberg officially receives the name “Albrecht von Graefe Schule”. The naming ceremony is celebrated with a ceremony. Subsequently, a friendly relationship develops between the Graefe School and the DOG.


This year marks the 150th anniversary of Albrecht von Graefe’s death (“Graefe Year”) and the beginning of the Corona pandemic. On 20 July, the anniversary of von Graefe’s death, President Hans Hoerauf and Vice-President Hagen Thieme lay a wreath on behalf of the DOG at the von Graefe Memorial in Berlin. Mr Opp, teacher at the A.v. Graefe School, is also present. Due to the pandemic, the congress in October cannot be held as an attendance event, but is held virtually for the first time. The keynote speeches and lectures will deal with the influence of economics on medicine and ophthalmology.

With over 7,850 members from 6 continents and 60 countries, the DOG is – as has been its tradition since the beginning – an international association of ophthalmologists. With an age of 163 years, it is the oldest specialist medical society in Germany and the oldest ophthalmological society on earth.

© Dirk Michael Deckbar
Kranzniederlegung am Albrecht Von Graefe Denkmal – 20. Juli 2020 durch die DOG und anschliessende Verleihung der Ehrenmitgliedschaft an Prof. Rohrbach Und Prof. Klauß l © Dirk Michael Deckbar