The Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures mourns the passing of Werner Grilk, a student, colleague, and dear friend to the department. Werner passed away peacefully at Arbor Hospice in Ann Arbor on March 18th.
Werner Grilk was born in Davenport, Iowa, on January 9, 1928. He obtained his B.S. from Northwestern University in 1951, and worked as a German teacher at schools in Ohio and Tennessee from 1953 to 60, taking a year off to teach on a Fulbright exchange in Münster, Germany in 1956/57. Werner joined the University of Michigan, where he received his M.A. in German in 1960 and became an instructor in 1962. In 1965, he joined the professoriate as an assistant professor of German. He received his PhD in 1966 with a dissertation on the Austrian dramatist Ferdinand Raimund. Though his particular interests lay in German language comedy and German humor, he cultivated a broad range of expertise and interest in 19th and 20th century German literature, art, and political history. An active and committed teacher of undergraduate courses in German literature, he liked to joke about the fact that for many years he taught a class on German humor. For a full eleven years between 1965 and 1976, Professor Grilk served as the departmental undergraduate advisor, and he was a member of many doctoral committees and served during his tenure. He served the profession at large for over a decade on the Bibliographic Committee, German Section for the Modern Language Association, eventually taking over as committee chair from 1977-80. Those who recall leafing through the tomes of the MLA Bibliography prior to the digital era will also remember the centrality of this resource for all humanistic scholarship; even as we now rely on digital databases and aggregators, we continue to benefit from the content supplied by Professor Grilk.
Werner Grilk retired from U-M in 1992, but he remained active in the community. In particular, he could be found at virtually any concert the University Musical Society put on and he enjoyed talking about the performances afterwards with friends. Together with Warren L. Hallock, his partner of 37 years who passed away in 2013, Werner led a rich life full of friends, music, socializing and travel.
Once a year, though, Werner would reliably return to the German Department for a special event in his honor. In 2002, a former student of Professor Grilk’s who prefers to remain unnamed endowed a lecture in his teacher’s name. The annual “Werner Grilk Lecture in German Studies” is today a marquee event of the department. We now look back on a series of renowned, international speakers whose names taken together provide a veritable map of the protean field of German Studies. The list has meanwhile become too long to enumerate in detail – though each lecturer is honored with a commemorative plaque in the Department on the third floor of the Modern Languages Building. The themes of the Grilk Lectures have ranged from Germany’s colonial legacies to musical performance in the Holocaust, to contemporary discourses and practices of memory; from literature and modernism, to intellectual history, to aesthetic theory and photography; from 20th century dreams and nightmares to the specter of Capital haunting neoliberal Europe. When Professor Grilk was no longer able to join the proceedings for the lecture delivered by Professor Andreas Huyssen of Columbia University this past November, we were nonetheless still able to share with him the excitement that the special day brings to the department each year. As we begin planning for the sixteenth annual Grilk Lecture this Fall, we miss his gentle and gregarious presence – and at the same time, we are deeply moved to note that his legacy will live on in the lecture series that bears Werner’s name.