By Ryan Tran
Lecturer Sylke Tempel, who taught overseas in Berlin as part of the Bing Overseas Studies Program for over 20 years, passed away at the age of 54 on Oct. 5 after a tree fell on her during Storm Xavier. A memorial in her honor was held by her family in Germany on Oct. 20, welcoming faculty and friends who knew her to celebrate her life as a professor and a key commentator in German foreign relations.
As editor-in-chief of Berlin Policy Journal and foreign policy magazine Internationale Politik since 2008, Tempel’s work has won her praise and recognition from many German political leaders and news networks as one of the country’s foremost foreign policy analysts. Germany-based broadcaster Deutsche Welle described her as a “feisty political expert who could be counted on to shine” in her frequent appearances on air.
Tempel began her career in Israel, where she worked as a freelance journalist until the 1990s, after graduating in 1988 from the Ludwig-Maximilian University of Munich with a master’s degree in political science and Jewish studies. She also holds a doctorate in political science, Jewish studies and history from the Bundeswehr University Munich.
Beyond her accomplishments in the media industry, Tempel has also written several books — her latest work is a German-language biography of an activist who combatted the human rights abuses under Adolf Hitler’s regime. Her work, which combined journalism and scholarship, stood out to others not only for the quality of her thought, but her character.
“She had this incredible clarity and transparency when talking about political tension in Germany, Israel and the United States,” said Charlotte Fonrobert, associate professor of religious studies and director of religious studies in Berlin. “It shows how courageous of a mind she had, to be able to talk about these issues.”
At Stanford’s Berlin campus, Tempel taught several classes on politics and international relations. Her last course, titled “Leading from Behind: Germany in the International Arena Since 1945,” was held during the 2016-2017 fall quarter. She was scheduled to teach the same seminar in spring of 2017-2018. An outpouring of regard from professors and students involved in the program came when news of her passing spread.
“I remember her as someone who combined an acute intelligence with warm sensibility and a contagious sense of humor,” said Russell Berman, professor of comparative literature and German studies. “She was a treasured member of the Stanford community, extraordinarily smart, articulate, but also good-natured and very caring and giving towards her students. She will be missed deeply by colleagues and by students whose lives she touched.”
Other students and faculty members who have worked with her said her compassion and care for others shaped the way she taught classes. Karen Kramer, director of the Stanford in Berlin program, said Tempel would encourage students to engage with German culture by hosting them in her own home.
“She would work closely with students and then invite them over to her house for dinner to continue discussing what they were working on,” Kramer said.
Kramer also described Tempel as an “engaging, vibrant and witty public intellectual” who was able to work at the intersection of multiple issues and domains of knowledge and who aided others in doing the same.
Students recalled her as welcoming and kind — even those she never taught directly.
“Much like the other professors in the Berlin program, she made me feel immediately welcomed to the foreign country and incredibly inspired to learn more about the political environment in Germany and the E.U.,” said Da Eun Kim ’18, who recalls meeting Tempel at a Bing dinner in Berlin. “I remember her to be charismatic, and I know she will be dearly missed by all the students who have ever studied abroad in Berlin.”
Tempel is survived by her wife, Judith Hart; her parents; her sister, Kerstin Tempel and her nephew, Moritz. On Oct. 11, Tempel’s latest article, a co-written piece on German-American relations, was published posthumously in the New York Times.
Contact Ryan Tran at rtran56 ‘at’ stanford.edu.