Humboldtians in Private

Brothers in Spirit

By Karl Sebastian Lang, recorded by Kristin Hüttmann 

Winter 1983 in Natters – this village in Austria’s Stubai Valley is where we grew up. Altogether there were four of us children, but after Philipp was born, he and I soon became an inseparable team – and have remained so to this day.

Karl Sebastian Lang and Philipp Lang as they were children
Karl Sebastian Lang and Philipp Lang as they were children (Photo: private)

The photo shows two proud snow-house builders. Block by block we pressed the snow together in a square bucket, stood the blocks one on top of the other and finally fused them together – what fun we had! Our father taught me how to do it and I showed Philipp (on the right). Then, as now, we pursued joint projects and goals. As children we built a house of snow blocks, today we do scientific experiments which we construct and discuss.

Was it chance or intention that made us choose the same path? I have no idea, it just happened that way. Our father was a scientist and took us to his lab when we were still small. I later studied medicine, so did Philipp. I chose immunology, so did Philipp. And we even have the same specialisation: liver research. So it is hardly surprising that our CVs and projects are similar. The fact that we are brothers is beside the point. When you are a researcher, you need a buddy, and we found each other – ages ago. 

Being so similar makes us strong. We both tackle problems analytically. When we discuss things we immediately know what the other one is thinking. Some people have their lightbulb moments in the shower, we have them when we are talking to one another.

At the moment, we are working together on a collaborative research project at Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf where Philipp is head of a department. The university hospital there was one of our most seminal stages in our lives. Supported by the Humboldt Foundation, we spent five years working on our research and made one of our most important discoveries to date: enforced viral replication – an immunological process which is incredibly important for enabling the body’s immune system to fight viruses.

There is really nothing that divides us. We even share a dislike of fried liver. Although I can think of one thing we don’t both enjoy: jam dumplings with vanilla sauce – even he can’t get me to like them.

published in Humboldt Kosmos 106/2016

The brothers Professor Dr Karl Sebastian Lang and Professor Dr Philipp Lang were both granted the Sofja Kovalevskaja Award. Karl Sebastian Lang is the Director of the Institute of Immunology at Essen University Hospital; Philipp Lang heads the Department of Molecular Medicine II at University Hospital Düsseldorf.