Our Galaxy on Foot: The Planetary Way

Walking Across the Solar System

“Space, the final frontier. It’s the year 2200…”

With these words, each of the 79 episodes of the TV series “Star Trek” began, which was broadcasted in German television from 1972 onwards. While the Enterprise “ventured into galaxies no man has ever seen before,” I recently had my own space adventure. Although it was “only” within our solar system and without a spaceship, but I managed to travel on foot from the Sun to Pluto.

I had long been determined to walk the entire planetary path, and finally, the opportunity arose.

The Sun is also within sight of Mercury.

Two billion kilometers in space correspond to one kilometer on the Göttingen Planet Path.

The Göttingen Planet Path is a replica of the Sun and its nine orbiting planets, scaled at 1:2 billion. Actually, it’s now only eight planets, as Pluto has been reclassified as a dwarf planet.

The path ends at the Bismarck Tower.

Two billion kilometers in outer space equate to one kilometer on the Planet Path. The path starts in front of Gebhard’s Hotel on Goetheallee and ends at the Bismarck Tower high up in Hainberg.

Bronze sculptures in the correct scale were designed by Göttingen artists Karin and Reinhold Wittig, representing the Sun and the planets.

Informational texts on each sculpture provide interesting facts about the respective celestial body. The Planetarium Göttingen support group is responsible for maintaining the path.

The scale of the Planet Path is 1:2 billion.

Planet Path: Sun, Children & Copernicus

It’s a humid and warm Thursday. I’m standing in front of the “Sun” sculpture on Goetheallee. Unlike all the others, its sculpture is three-sided. Radiating in golden yellow, its sphere with a diameter of 70 centimeters sits atop the pillar.

Nicholas Copernicus: Astronomer and Physician

Amongst the various information about our closest star, what catches my attention is the inscription on the west side. Above a picture of the Polish astronomer Nicholas Copernicus, it states that the path is dedicated to him in honor of our sister city, Toruń, and especially to the children.

“The sun intones its ancient song in spheres of brotherly competition.”

In addition to the profile with scientific data about each celestial body, the third side also mentions Goethe’s former residence here on this street. It includes praise for the sun, taken from his most famous work, Faust.

The Sun is located in the Goetheallee in Göttingen.

There are five sculptures in the Goetheallee representing the planets. 

The first four planets, Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars, are placed close to each other as they orbit relatively close to the Sun. This fact was not as apparent to me before.

Scale representation of the planets

The size ratio of the planets is also based on the mentioned scale, with the larger ones sculpted in relief from the pillar. For the smaller planets, where this wouldn’t make sense, they are symbolized by steel balls of varying diameters placed between glass panels. This creates intriguing photo opportunities since I can see through them. For example, Earth has a diameter of only 6.5 millimeters in this representation.

The Venus is represented by a small steel ball placed between glass panels.

Jupiter and the Nabel

The outdoor dining area in Goetheallee is bustling with people today. Those passing by on their errands in the city hardly notice the planet sculptures. It’s only when they see me taking photos that some become curious and take a closer look.

Jupiter stands on Prinzenstraße

Continuing my walk between the old SUB building and the Michaelishaus, both of which are worth more than just a passing glance, I reach Jupiter on Prinzenstraße. It stands just a few meters away from the Navel sculpture, somewhat overshadowed by the central sculpture “Der Tanz.” By the way, most of the seats in the restaurants here are also occupied.

Dwarf planet Sedna is located in Diemarden

As I capture images of the largest planet in our solar system, a lady approaches me and turns out to be a member of the supporting association. Frau Kiang points out the presence of the dwarf planet Sedna, also part of the Planet Path. However, the sculpture marking its closest distance to the Sun in scale is located on Mühlendamm in Diemarden.

Portals, Horses & Saturn

On my way to the next planet sphere, I stroll up Theaterstraße, making my way through the line of customers waiting outside Eislust.

An eye for detail: Portals and Horses

At the intersection of Oberen Karspüle, I notice the Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht publishing building with its beautiful entrance portal. Just to the right, along the street, the golden horse above the entrance to Kulpschen Garagen shines in the sun. I think to myself, walking more on foot allows you to discover the most beautiful things.

Saturn sculpture stands in front of the Deutsches Theater

Shortly after, I find myself in front of the Deutsches Theater and its magnificent candelabrum in the roundabout. The seventh stop on my Planet Path today, Saturn, is installed on the sidewalk next to the bus stop. In addition to its dimensions and distances, the profile also mentions its five largest moons: Titan, Rhea, Iapetus, Dione, and Thetis. However, its famous rings are slightly bent. Perhaps someone stood on them to get a better view of the Altstadtlauf race’s start.

Through the East Quarter to Uranus

I continue my journey towards the east. When I look back from Planckstraße, I truly notice the imposing presence of the Max-Planck-Gymnasium, the oldest high school in the city. It’s a sight even the Göttingen Tatort (crime series) hasn’t captured.

“Blau Sänger” (Blue Singers): The oldest student cultural organization

I pass by beautiful old town villas with wooden conservatories and diverse gable architecture. At the end of the street, at the intersection with Düstere-Eichen-Weg, I gaze upon a beautiful house with a bay window and turrets. It is the home of the “Blau Sänger,” which claims to be the oldest student cultural organization in Göttingen. In addition to a symphony orchestra, this musical association also offers a mixed choir, theater ensemble, and big band.

Stele at Eichendorff-Platz

I must keep going because just a few meters ahead, Uranus awaits me at Eichendorff-Platz. The sculpture is placed on the small green area directly in front of a lush and colorful flower bed – a lovely spot.

Neptune’s Triton, the Troublemaker

From Weender Straße, the path continues uphill. Just like in Brüder-Grimm-Allee, which I am now ascending. Not on the sidewalk at the edge, but right in the middle, on the gravel path under the lush green linden trees that seem to be frequently planted in Göttingen. When I reach Ewaldstraße, I turn right.

Neptune: Diagonally across from the Hainbund monument

The Hainbund monument in Göttingen.

Amidst the trees, I almost overlook my ninth stop, Neptune. The sculpture is located diagonally across from the Hainbund monument, just before the 180-degree turn of Herzberger Landstraße. At this moment, I don’t quite grasp why the profile describes its moon, Triton, as a “troublemaker” and “planetary wrong-way driver.” However, it doesn’t matter much to me right now because a bolt of lightning flashes across the sky. It would be unwise to continue through the forest to reach Pluto at the Bismarckturm during a thunderstorm. I’ll save that for another day.

Neptune has 14 known moons.
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