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 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. Each lecturer is honored with a commemorative plaque 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.
Since Professor Grilk passed away in March 2016, we have missed sharing with him the excitement that the lecture brings to the department each year. While we miss his gentle and gregarious presence, we are deeply moved to note that his legacy will live on in the lecture series that bears Werner’s name.
2002 Klaus Scherpe, Freie Universität, Berlin
Fear and Loathing after 9/11: German Intellectuals and the America-Debate
2003 John Noyes, University of Toronto
Flight from Books and the Crease in the Soul: Herder on Territoriality and the Mobil Writer
2004 Philip Bohlman, University of Chicago
"And What of the Meanings in the Miniature Hurdy-Gurdy?" Transcendence as Everyday on the Musical Stage of the Concentration Camp
2005 Marianne Hirsch & Leo Spitzer, Dartmouth College / Columbia University
"What’s Wrong with this Picture?" Documentary Photographs in Contemporary Narratives
2006 David Welbery, University of Chicago
Theses on the Anthropology of Narrative
2007 Judith Ryan, Harvard University
Lines of Flight: Territory and History in W.G. Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn
2008 Christopher Wild, University of Chicago
Enlightenment Aesthetics and the Eucharistic Sign: Lessing’s Laokoon
2009 Martin Jay, University of California, Berkeley
Magical Nominalism: Photography and the Reenchantment of the World
2010 Niklas Largier, University of California, Berkeley
The Plasticity of the Soul: Mystical Darkness and the Invention of Aestetic Experience
2011 Gertrud Koch, Freie Universität, Berlin
Cinema as Aesthetic of the Masses
2012 Barbara Hahn, Vanderbilt University
The History of Dreams Remains to Be Written: Dreams in the Twentieth Century
2012 Joseph Vogl, Humboldt Universität, Berlin
The Sovereignty Effect
2013 Vivian Liska, University of Antwerp
Kafka, Narrative, and the Law
2014 Andrew Piper, McGill University
The Werther Effect: Transtextualities of the Modern Novel
2015 Andreas Huyssen, Columbia University
The Metropolitan Miniature: Theory and Literary Practice
2017 Helmut Lethen, Kunstuniversität Linz
Amsterdam 1964 or Magical Thinking in Cultural Studies