When talking about Gdansk’s most famous resident, you not only have to decide which name to use - Johannes Hevelius if you’re German or Jan Heweliusz in Polish – but how exactly to credit him first. As a popular brewer? A successful astronomer? A prolific inventor? The onetime mayor of Gdansk? The Da Vinci of Poland?
With a resume like that it makes sense that Gdansk devoted 2011 – the 400th anniversary of Hevelius’s birth – to honouring what one local publication called “The man of the millennium.” Normally recognised with a week each year, Hevelius was upgraded to a full year’s worth of activities, events and celebrations to honour all his achievements.
A life in GdanskBorn in Gdansk in 1611 into a wealthy German-speaking family, Hevelius was one of three brothers and six sisters and the only male child to make it to adulthood. The German- Czech children of Abraham Howelcke and Kordula Hecker had a privileged upbringing, and Hevelius was sent to Gymnasium at the age of seven. There Hevelius was taught by Peter Cruger, who encouraged the boy’s early fascination with mathematics and astronomy.
Though Hevelius chose to pursue law at Leiden University in Holland, his interest in astronomy was always at the forefront of his mind. After leaving school Hevelius travelled around Europe seeking out leading astronomers like Pierre Gassendi and Ismael Boulliau before his parents called him home – just short of his final destination, Galileo in Italy.
The summons to Gdansk meant Abraham and Kordula were ready for Hevelius to stop chasing astronomers and instead take over the family brewery. Hevelius did just that, marrying neighbour Katherine Rebeschke in 1635 and embracing the family tradition of brewing beer. Yet despite his devotion to beer (Hevelius helmed the local brewing guild), the pull of astronomy was one he could not ignore.