Everything You Never Knew You Wanted to Know About Berlin



Adelbert von Tobold (photo: National Library of Denmark and Kopenhagen University)

Adelbert von Tobold (photo: National Library of Denmark and Kopenhagen University)

Every time you turn on your laptop, get on the street-tram or dry your hair with a blow-dryer you owe this comfort to Berlin. Well, indirectly, of course. You owe it to someone whose invention was made in the city.

Berlin can pride itself on thousands of ground-breaking inventions: the first programmable computer in the world built by Konrad Zuse, the electric tram of Siemens & Halske, the first TV set invented by Paul Nipkow or the Thermos flask to mention just a few. Owing to the presence of several key medical institutions such as, for instance, the world-famous university clinic of Charite, the world medicine profited from many pivotal discoveries and inventions.

Such as those made by Dr Adelbert von Tobold (Adelbert Augustus Oscar Tobold) from Berlin-Kreuzberg, the father of German laryngology and one of the leading medical experts in both laryngeal diseases and laryngeal surgery.

Working in a field that was still relatively underdeveloped, Dr Tobold who focused primarily on the larynx diseases liked his medical instruments “functional”. Proper and well-designed equipment was a prerequisite for careful examination and correct diagnosis. Unable to find satisfying equipment on the market, he went on to make his own tools.

In fact, Tobold was designing them almost from the start of his career as a medic. Performing surgeries inside people´s mouths required high-precision instruments which Tobold was missing. And although it was not unusual for the 19th century surgeons to modify and re-design their tools to adjust them to their own needs, Tobold´s instruments were to become classics among laryngeal surgeons.

For instance, his laryngeal syringe for injecting anaesthetics directly into the patient´s larynx prior to a surgery became a regular feature in any laryngologist´s bag. Such was its impact upon the field that the London Science Museum features it today among its chief medical exhibits.

From Tobold´s book: his laryngeal syringe and why some patients are fussy about its application

From Tobold´s book: his laryngeal syringe and why some patients are fussy about its application

In his book Lehrbuch der Laryngoskopie und Kehlkopfkrankheiten (The Manual of Laryngeal Surgery and Larynx Diseases), published in 1863 which next to Die Chronische Kehlkopfkrankheiten (Chronic Diseases of the Larynx) became the bible of every ENT ward, Tobold introduced an improved version of the head mirror equipped with a special lamp. The instrument allowed the doctor to look deep into his patients “mouth” without any direct sunlight and without staring directly into his or her throat.

tobold´s apparatus for illumination (with a stand)

Then came the tongue depressor: a wood and metal spatula used to keep the patient´s tongue during the examination, which some of us know from our own visits to the doctor´s. Tobold´s depressor was followed by many other surgical instruments still very much in use today.

On August 23rd, 1860 Dr Tobold was granted a patent for a much bigger piece of medical equipment which revolutionised the world of laryngeal surgery: the adjustable surgery stool. Made of three independently working, adjustable elements: the lean, the seat and the foot-rest, the chair could be arranged in a way that allowed the patient to either sit in it, lay on it or to remain in a half-up position.

Apart from being a pragmatic, Tobold was also a great expert in his field. Thanks to his knowledge and experience he was appointed the chief surgeon and the chief obstetrician as well as the medical director of the polyclinic in Taubenstrasse 33.

When in 1888 summoned to help the dying Kaiser Friedrich III, for whom it was much too late anyway as the monarch was in the last stadium of larynx cancer, Adelbert von Tobold had already come a long way from the little surgery on Oranienstrasse 139 in Berlin-Kreuzberg, where in 1860 the plaque on the door said:

Berlin Directory entry for Dr Tobold Senior and Junior, 1860.

Berlin Directory entry for Dr Tobold Senior and Junior, 1860.


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