Monday, June 23, 2003

Gottfried Merkel, 98, a UC luminary


Professor of Germanic languages was music lover

By Nicole Hamilton
The Cincinnati Enquirer

When Gottfried Merkel was asked by his son, Christian, if he would ever consider moving back to his native Germany, the University of Cincinnati professor of Germanic languages considered the things he most cherished:

A large College Hill home with a 2-acre yard. The local classical music scene. The university itself. And then he told his son he was fine just where he was.

"He was a great lover of Cincinnati," said Christian Merkel of Pasadena, Calif.

Gottfried Felix Merkel died Tuesday at Mercy Hospital Clermont of pneumonia. The longtime College Hill resident was 98.

Born in Dresden, Germany, in 1905, Mr. Merkel grew up with a love for reading and playing the violin.

In his early teens, he studied at the Gymnasium in Annaberg and then at the University of Leipzig, where he earned a Ph.D. in philosophy in 1930 - at the age of 25.

It was in Leipzig that Mr. Merkel met and studied under then-concertmaster of Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra Charles Munch, who went on to conduct the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

In 1931, Mr. Merkel took a position as professor of Germanic Languages at the University of Athens, Greece. There, he met his future wife, American graduate student Winifred Ruter. The two married in 1935 and, a year later, moved to East Orange, N.J., where Mr. Merkel was chairman of the German Department at Uppsala College until 1943.

The following two years, Mr. Merkel served in the U.S. Office of Strategic Services (precursor to the CIA).

In 1946, the Merkel family moved to College Hill when Mr. Merkel began teaching at UC. He later was named the Charles Phelps Taft professor of Germanic languages and literature. After he officially retired - in 1975 - he was named a graduate fellow, a lifetime designation.

Along with former professor Guy Stern, he co-founded the annual academic publication of the Lessing Society.

After a 1958 study showed children learn foreign languages more quickly than adults, Mr. Merkel became one of the first to teach German in local elementary schools. In 1968, he was the recipient of a Fulbright scholarship and studied for a year in Germany.

Mr. Merkel played viola with the Jewish Symphony Orchestra and Cincinnati Civic Orchestra. He was a tireless supporter of Findlay Market and shopped there well into his 90s.

His wife died in 1991.

Besides his son, Christian, he is survived by another son, Dr. Frederick of Chicago; two daughters, Dr. Luise Morton of Indianapolis, and Karen Byus of Amelia; 14 grandchildren, 10 great-grandchildren and one great-great-grandchild.

Services have been held. Burial was in Spring Grove Cemetery.

Memorials: Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, 1241 Elm St., Cincinnati, 45202.

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E-mail nhamilton@enquirer.com




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