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70. Jahrestagung der Deutschen Gesellschaft für Neurochirurgie (DGNC)
Joint Meeting mit der Skandinavischen Gesellschaft für Neurochirurgie

Deutsche Gesellschaft für Neurochirurgie (DGNC) e. V.

12.05. - 15.05.2019, Würzburg

Herbert Olivecrona (1891–1980) and his contacts to Germany – the influence of the founder of Swedish neurosurgery on the establishment of neurosurgery in Germany

Herbert Olivecrona (1891–1980) und seine Kontakte nach Deutschland – der Einfluss des Begründers der schwedischen Neurochirurgie auf die Entwicklung der Neurochirurgie in Deutschland

Meeting Abstract

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  • presenting/speaker Ulrike Eisenberg - Werner Forßmann Krankenhaus, Klinikum Barnim, Neurochirurgie, Eberswalde, Deutschland
  • Nils Hansson - Universitätsklinikum Düsseldorf, Institut für Geschichte, Theorie und Ethik der Medizin, Düsseldorf, Deutschland

Deutsche Gesellschaft für Neurochirurgie. 70. Jahrestagung der Deutschen Gesellschaft für Neurochirurgie (DGNC), Joint Meeting mit der Skandinavischen Gesellschaft für Neurochirurgie. Würzburg, 12.-15.05.2019. Düsseldorf: German Medical Science GMS Publishing House; 2019. DocV200

doi: 10.3205/19dgnc215, urn:nbn:de:0183-19dgnc2151

Published: May 8, 2019

© 2019 Eisenberg et al.
This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License. See license information at



Objective: Historical analysis of the influence of Herbert Olivecrona’s school on the establishment of (pre-, war and post-war) neurosurgery in Germany – and vice versa.

Methods: Research and review of documents of Swedish and German archives as well as of the literature on the history of neurosurgery and of Olivecrona’s and his German colleagues’ publications.

Results: Herbert Olivecrona introduced Harvey Cushing’s school of neurosurgery in Sweden, but he also had a great influence on the establishment of modern neurosurgery in Germany. His relationship to Germany started even during his medical studies. After the medical exam in 1918, he went to Leipzig to study surgery with Erwin Payr. It was Payr who introduced him to brain and skull surgery. In 1919, Olivecrona went to the USA to work at the Hunterian laboratory in Baltimore, financed by a grant. He visited Walter Dandy who showed him his new methods ventriculography and air encephalography. Back in Stockholm, he introduced neurosurgery at the Serafimer Hospital. In 1924, he got the first European Associate Professorship for Neurosurgery and in 1935 the first Chair in Neurosurgery at Karolinska Hospital. His most famous German pupil was Wilhelm Tönnis who in 1932 spent seven months with him. They stayed in close contact and published a famous handbook on neurosurgery in 12 volumes. But Olivecrona and his colleague in neuroradiology, Erik Lysholm, trained several German neurosurgeons, some of them who were expelled from Germany by racial persecution. They published in Germany not only before the Second World War, but also during and after the war. In 1956, Olivecrona was the first to receive the Fedor Krause medal. In his evaluations for the Nobel Prize committee in physiology or medicine in the 1930s, Olivecrona emphasized the historical achievements of pioneers in German neurosurgery like Ernst von Bergmann and Fedor Krause. In the end, he recommended to the jury that Cushing and Dandy were prizeworthy, but they never received it.

Conclusion: Herbert Olivecrona, founder of Swedish neurosurgery and one of the first European neurosurgeons, had a substantial influence on the development of German neurosurgery and neuroradiology, beginning in the 1930ies until his retirement in 1960.