It was the day of the Lord 12 February 1989, such as they count in the Old World. I was in the Old World that day, which I know precisely, because I found a trace of it in my keepsake box. Two days before Valentine’s Day of that year which brought about the Fall of the Iron Curtain, I was sitting in a giant lecture hall at the Rheinish Westfaelische Technische Hochschule Aachen (short, RWTH) for the midterms in Theoretical Quantum Mechanics. In German, that’s called a Klausur, which is the local spelling of a Latin word that means, “sequestration.”
It was the most important midterm of my career: I knew I had no business in Experimental Physics, and getting into Theoretical Physics was competitive. The first course in Theoretical Physics, Mechanics, hadn’t shown a whole lot of separating powers. But the second one would coincide with the Bachelor’s Degree, which meant professors were looking at the outcome to pick the students they would mentor.
It happened to be the year that Professor K. taught the class. K. was the dean of the College of Physics and an incredibly respected name. His father had been a famous exponent of the Copenhagen School of Theoretical Physics and the son – not as distinguished, but still a powerful force – had been groomed since birth to become the leader of the Physics movement. I am not kidding: his name was Hans-Albert, which dad had borrowed from his colleague, who had named his own son Hans-Albert… Einstein!
Impressing Hans-Albert (I feel free to call him that, two and a half decades later) was thought to be of fundamental importance. It also was my only chance of getting into the Theoretical Physics circus made famous by Sheldon Cooper on Big Bang Theory. You see, when I watch that show, I recall my own college years: Sheldon is the Theoretical Physicist that gets to look down on Experimental Physicists and to pee on the shoes of the Engineers. That was us, in the day.