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Moon Shadow over Mecklenburg

The Annular Solar Eclipse on 17. April 1912

Report on the historical solar eclipse from Stephan Heinsius according to eye-witness statements of Else Schumann

We go on a time journey, back in the year 1912, into the former German Reich, which was still governed by the emperor, and was still exempted from the forthcoming disasters of wars and despotism. For our attendance we selected the small city Grabow in Mecklenburg, which is on about half distance between Hamburg and Berlin. There we find, coming from direction of Ludwigslust, on the city inward guiding street of Steindamm at that place, where the up to then straight running paved street makes a left curve, on the right a magnificent brick building, which the extensive area of the gold border factory Th. Heinsius follows. Opposite we see the house of the physician Dr. Schumann, who moved in there four years before with his family. By the large gate entry of the house, which originates still from earlier Tuchmacherzeiten, the physician with his horse cart can retract and extend, in order to arrive at his patients.

It is Wednesday morning, 17. April 1912. The newspapers report that at the North American coast the English giant steamer "Titanic" is understood collided with an iceberg and in sinking. All passengers were saved.

Differently than this message however the weather forecast of yesterday, which promised calm, dry, often cheerful weather, and in the afternoon even warmth, kept right. Mecklenburg’s April sun shines to us from eastern directions, and provides us a beautiful spring day.

Still a few days before a violent onset of winter with snows and night frost came over the whole Germany. But today the weather seems to release the view to the forthcoming solar eclipse. Already since days before much is spoken about the rare sky event.

The solar eclipse on 17. April 1912 was one of the appearing particularly rare hybrid eclipses, which appear in their progress annularly, then over a part of the eclipse track totally, and then annularly again. While during a total eclipse of the sun the moon is close enough at the earth, in order to cover the sun completely, it is too far for it during the annularity of the eclipse. During the maximum eclipse still a ring of sunlight around the moon remains. On 17. April 1912 the Moon however was just that distant from the Earth that due to Earth's curvature only one part of the observation places on the earth's surface were close enough to the moon for a total coverage. At other places however the distance for it was too large, and the solar eclipse could only be observed annularly.

In the midday of 17. April 1912 the umbra of the moon, approaching from the Atlantic to the European mainland, which it reached the first time in Portugal. The only a few kilometers broad area of the umbra tightened, constantly becoming smaller, in northeast direction over France toward Belgium and the Netherlands. But before it reached the Belgian border, it left the earth's surface and hurried with increasing height over Northern Germany away toward the Baltic. The zone of annularity, which lies directly below the umbra, ran along a line of the German cities of Duisburg, Essen, Münster, Minden, Osnabrück, Nienburg, Hagenow, Greifswald and Lauterbach.

Grabow is located some kilometers south of this zone, so that the near umbra caused the sight of a very narrow solar crescent there (see illustration).

Solar Eclipse on 17.04.1912 in Grabow

The maximum phase in Grabow at 13:26:14
Source: Arnold Barmettler,

It is short before noon. Still one does not notice that the moon began to push itself slowly and apparently incessant before the sun. Gradually the light becomes paler, but it is not noticeable that it becomes slowly darker. Many people are outside, in order to observe the sun. They procured glass slides at the local resident photographer, who blackended them with soot. The glass plates are used by the photographer for the production of the photo negatives, and offer a simple possibility of manufacturing a sun filter.

This method however did not offer a safe observation of the sun, since for the eye not visible, but nevertheless dangerous infra-red light to a large extent penetrates the soot and thuscan cause eye damages. It was safer, if the glass slides were completely through-exposed before. The black negative could weaken then (differently than with the later usual negative and colour negative films) also the not visible portions of the sunlight strongly enough, in order to prevent a damage of the eyes.

Beside the house of Dr. Schumann, straight in the curve of the Steindamm street, there is a gap to the adjoining house, which is freely accessible from the road. From therethe sun can be well observed above the roofs of the gold border factory.

Here we also meet the 13 year old Else Schumann, a daughter of Dr. Schumann. Together with the neighbourhood she observed the increasingly eclipsing sun, and participates already quite a while.

Elsie, how she is also called affectionately, and all the others experience by the view by their blackened glass slides, how in the meantime the sun shrank to a narrow crescent. It became clearly darker now. The warmth, which could be felt still approximately one hour ago, has passed now. In the houses the gas lamps had been ignited.

In the meantime the sun could hardly be seen through the glass plates any more. The moon shadow rushes inaudibly some kilometers north over the heads of the Grabowers away.

Gradually can be seen, how the solar crescent grows again. It turned apparently, and with increasing solar crescent it becomes brighter again, and the sun begins to let feel warmth again. In the early afternoon around half past twoeveryting is over. The moon left the sun’s disk, so as if nothing would have been happened. But the solar eclipse left a large impression on Elsie and the others. Lateron much is still spoken about the solar eclipse.

Also on the nearby area of the gold border factory the solar eclipse was observed. Elsies friends may have observed from there, who are the three children of the factory owner Albert Heinsius. As there are still Easter holidays, Elsie and the other children and youngsters, could observe the solar eclipse in Grabow without neglecting their school obligations.

After this impressing experience we leave Grabow again and also the year 1912. We check, when the moon shadow visited Germany visited the next time and find out that this is the case on 11. August 1999. This time the moon shadow reaches the ground and moves in from the French border to South Germany to visit the cities of Karlsruhe, Stuttgart and Munich, and then moving further to Austria.

On 11. August 1999 we see many clouds over Southern Germany. Millions of people equipped themselves with solar eclipse eyeglasses and moved into thezone of totality. But most of them experience a dark shower in the moon rain without direct view of the totally eclipsed sun. Some in Karlsruhe and Munich have luck and are enchanted by the view into the black sun.

We check Grabow. In the meantime Elsie’s friends left this world, we find their graves on Grabow’s cemetery. But Elsie we find again personally. A few months before she has celebrated her 100. Birthday. She still lives in the same house, and experiences the solar eclipse again here.

Instead of the blackened photo slices the people in Grabow also carry eclipse eyeglasses now. The solar crescent is not as narrow as it was 1912, but differently than many people in South Germany, Elsie and the other Grabowers have a good observation weather.

On the television and newspapers already for days there are reports on the solar eclipse, and the totality is broadcast from airplanes live on TV.

And again the solar eclipse impressed the people. They know that it will last a long time, until the moon shadow will come back again to Germany. Some are firmly decided to follow the moon shadow and to visit foreign countries, since they probably will not any longer experience, differently than Elsie, that the moon shadow comes back home to them a second time.

The next total solar eclipse in Germany takes place on 3. September 2081. On 31. May 2003 however there is a deep partial solar eclipse during sunrise. In Grabow approximately 90% of the sunwill be covered by the moon then.

Stephan Heinsius, a great-grandchild of Albert Heinsius, in April 2001 and February 2002.


Message on the title page of the "Ludwigsluster Tagesblatt" (Ludwigslust daily newspaper) of 20. April 1912:

Hagenow, 17. April. The Hamburg observatory had sent an expedition into this area for the observation of the annular solar eclipse, in which under lead of the observators Dr. Graff the upper teachers Dr. Hillers, Lindemann, Caspar and Semmelhack from Hamburg participated and the directors of the physical laboratory v. Ruhmer (Berlin). It succeeded to specify the situation of the central zone which proved as to be located exact throgh the city of Hagenow. The duration of the annular phase was estimated on 3 to 5 seconds. A large number of photographic images was made. It succeeded to see prominences in the southwest edge of the sun but the corona could not be seen with definitely. The reduction of the daily brightness was extraordinarily large. The planet Venus could be sighted southwest from the sun wonderfully.


  • Ludwigsluster Tageblatt of 17.04.1912, 20.04.1912, Kreisarchiv (district archive) Ludwigslust, Z34 1912 I
  • Eye-witness report by Else Schumann from April 2000
  • Computation of the sun image: (Arnold Barmettler)

There is a further report on this historical solar eclipse (from Recklinghausen) on Wolfgang Strickling's Eclipse-1912-page (German).

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