Go Back

Georg Gimpl

Born May 26, 1949 Abtenau (Austria). Died October 10, 2014, Linz (Austria)

Master of Arts 1975 (Germanic philology, pedagogics), PhD 1980 (Germanic philology and psychology), University of Salzburg (Austria)

University lecturer 2004–2014, University of Helsinki
Acting associate professor 1993–1995, University of Helsinki
Docent in the history of science and ideas, University of Oulu
Lecturer in German language and Austrian literature 1975–2003 (permanent appointment 1981), University of Helsinki

Research themes:
The history of philosophy, particularly the history of Austrian philosophy; Austrian and German literature; the cultural history of Bohemia’s German speaking (including Jewish) population; the virtual museum of Russbach, his home village


Kuva: Hartmut Lenk
Written by Hartmut Lenk, Marja Ursin, Valtteri Hyvärinen, Jouni Heikkinen, Helena Leheckova, Susanne Frejborg, Kaarle Holmberg, Faruk Abu-Chacra, Ove Knekt, Mark Shackleton, John Calton, Liisa Tiittula, Andrew Chesterman, Anni Aarinen (Kaija Hartikainen, ed.)
Translated by  Matthew Billington

A Student Reminisces

Firstly: who am I and what do I do? By the grace of my employer I am a lecturer in German language and Austrian literature, at least until the day I am kicked out.

This is how Georg Gimpl began the interview that my fellow student Mikael Bertus and I had the pleasure of conducting in early 2014.

On the day he passed away, we were on a trip to the Frankfurt book fair organised by our student organisation. Of course, there was plenty of talk of our studies and subjects, which is typical when a large group of students comes together. Thus, it was no coincidence that Georg Gimpl was mentioned several times, although we did not know what had happened until the last day of our trip. In fact, he always came up when students of German philology at the University of Helsinki gathered together, because every one of us—even those who had met him only once—had an opinion about him. He had a unique ability to make an impression and leave an indelible mark on your mind. I believe that his interview gives at least an indication of why that was the case, because he described the goals he set in his work in the following manner:

As a lecturer and a teacher I would like to see myself as:

  1. Well versed in my field;

Anyone who has worked with Gimpl, either as a colleague or as a student, surely agrees that he was well versed in his subject, both as a teacher and as an academic. Above all, he knew everything about literature—and if he did not know, he was all the more excited to fill in the gaps in his knowledge. No, he was not just well versed. He was the veritable man of steel of German philology. No question about it.

  1. Inspiring: the kind of person who can inspire interest in our field.
  2. Also socially gifted: I hope I am not a hopeless bore as a teacher and a lecturer. Teaching should also always be entertaining.

Georg Gimpl may have somewhat frightened some students—at least first year students, if not some of the older students as well. To them he was a man who wanted to be addressed formally, the only member of the faculty to do so; a teacher whose rapid fire lectures in thick Austrian German made many listeners lose track during the first sentence; an academic who, despite his age, had a seemingly inexhaustible reservoir of energy and very strong opinions, which he did not hesitate to bring forward. Beyond this first impression, however, was an extremely passionate man who loved science, research and literature. Even after a 40-year career, he still had many new thoughts and things to say, with no intention of slowing down.

When it came to teaching, above all he wanted his students to understand the wonders of science and literature, and to enjoy them as he had done. Gimpl went about achieving this by striving to make his lectures as interesting and entertaining as possible, turning them into a kind of a performance. Every student who has met Gimpl has their own Gimpl-anecdote. How in the middle of a lecture he veered off on some tangent that had just popped into his head, and out of the blue pointed at an unsuspecting student and asked “Verstehen Sie?” Or how he became so carried away by the poem The Silesian Weavers by Heinrich Heine that he brandished no less than two pairs of spectacles zealously in the air. If you happened to get the opportunity to have even a brief conversation on literature with Gimpl, he soon revealed himself to be a dazzling conversationalist and a friend who could not only elucidate any field of literature and give a thorough analysis of it, but could also listen and respect the thoughts and opinions of others.

Furthermore, this academic man of steel always wanted to offer brand new courses on interesting and esoteric topics, something that was a matter of honour to him all the way up to the day he passed away. He had prepared an ambitious project for his retirement, immortalising his beloved hometown in digitalised form.

And above all I should take students seriously, if not positively love them.

I was in the last proseminar group led by Georg Gimpl. At the beginning I had no faith in my ability to produce sound academic writing that could be taken seriously, but Gimpl was always so excited that it was impossible for his energy and enthusiasm not to rub off on you. His critiques were pointed but always justified and relevant. Despite our early issues with self-esteem, he motivated this group of academics-in-the-making and ultimately guided us towards wonderful results. For that I am eternally grateful.

These are the parameters by which I measure my successes and failures.

I trust that my fellow students will concur when I say that Georg Gimpl attained his goals. He was like the Verkörperung of German philology, the embodiment of all that is best about our subject and science—pure inspiration, curiosity, competence, and the love of something. No one had any cause to be frightened of Georg Gimpl. Although it could take a while before you could keep up with him, it was certainly worth the effort. He wanted only to inspire others, because he was so inspired himself.

Go Back