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a (Re) Play

In 1941 the German physicist Werner Heisenberg made a strange clandestine trip to Copenhagen to see his Danish counterpart, Niels Bohr.
Their work together on quantum mechanics and the uncertainty principle had revolutionized atomic physics. But now the world had changed and the two men were on opposite sides in a world war. Why Heisenberg went to Copenhagen and what he wanted to say to Bohr are questions that have vexed historians ever since.

Scientists and historians have argued ever since about why Heisenberg went, and what the two men said.

"Copenhagen", a thought-provoking drama by Michael Frayn, retraces their journey through the mysteries of the world around us - and on into the even stranger mysteries of the world within.

The play reenacts the 1941 visit of Werner Heisenberg, who was then in charge of the Nazi nuclear power program, to Niels Bohr, his mentor, and collaborator in creating quantum mechanics, complementarity, and the uncertainty principle, in German - occupied Denmark. The third "long-winded" character is Bohr’s wife Margrethe.

In Michael Frayn’s ambitious, fiercely intelligent, and daring new play Heisenberg and Bohr meet once again to discuss the intricacies of physics and to ponder the metaphysical—the very essence of human motivation.
Frayn does not pretend to solve the mystery: he just replays in many different ways (interpretations) what could have happened in that meeting. Nobody alive actually knows what was said.
The same uncertainty that was proven by the two scientists to be unavoidable in physics, pervades every aspect of this play.

We do know that something terrible happened between the two friends, which all but destroyed their relationship for the rest of their lives.
Speculation about the intent of Heisenberg’s call has been rife among physicists and historians ever since the visit became known.

Did Heisenberg want to warn Bohr and through him the Allies that the Germans were working on an atomic bomb and if so to what end?
Was it to convey the impression that he was about to succeed and that the Allies should therefore make peace with Hitler, or was it say that he had given up on an impossible task and that therefore the other side shouldn’t try either?
Did Heisenberg want to find out whether the Allies were actually working on an A - bomb?
Or did he hope to convince Bohr to issue a joint declaration with him denouncing efforts to build a bomb and pledging not to work on it?

The Play does not answer, but examines such questions, opening the facts to all possible interpretations. The Tony Award—winning play that soars at the intersection of science and art, Copenhagen is just an explosive re-imagining of the mysterious wartime meeting between the two Nobel laureates to discuss the atomic bomb.


From the Back Cover:

“Endlessly fascinating…. The most invigorating and ingenious play of ideas in many a year…. An electrifying work of art.”–
Ben Brantley, The New York Times

“Superbly dramatized…. [Frayn] has an elegant, almost algebraic way with the structure of a play…. Copenhagen offers a particular kind of brain-teasing pleasure.”–
John Lahr, The New Yorker

by Michael Frayn
For most people, the principles of nuclear physics are not only incomprehensible but inhuman. The popular image of the men who made the bomb is of dispassionate intellects who number-crunched their way towards a weapon whose devastating power they could not even imagine. But in his Tony... Read more


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Heisenberg's War
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by Michael Frayn, David Burke


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