One of my best friends died in June. Randomly, from meningitis. Out of the blue. He was healthy, young, and living life to the full. He was born and bred, in East Germany, in Bismark, just west of Berlin. He had 2 kids – Olly and Carla (see the pics below). He had a Doctorate in Electrical and Electronic Engineering from Imperial College London, and had a successful career, working at Altera in Southeast England. He was planning to run the Berlin marathon in the Autumn. He had traveled the world, and was continuing to do so. This is the kind of thing which isn’t meant to happen, and I’ve been trying – and failing – to make sense of it for 2 months. I miss him so much. I thought he would be here for ever.
One of the greatest honours of my life was speaking at his cremation. Here are my words from the crematorium on Monday June 29th 2009 in Amersham, UK:
It was an honour and a privilege to know Joern. He was such a wonderful friend, father, and family member. He was so young, and was due so many more years of happiness and bringing happiness to others.
Talking to many of you other the past few days, several aspects of his rich life and personality keep coming up. I’m going to touch on a few of these aspects so we can remember what a tremendous, well-rounded guy he was.
Joern was a wonderful friend. He was loyal, dependable and strong. He was always there to listen and offer his unique blend of support, calmness, and humour. His friendship helped many of us through our PhDs. This often involved a pint of beer down the Union Bar. In Klaus’s words, “The PhD years were quite demanding. Joern was calm and helped keep things in perspective.”
Joern was a leader and a founding member of the Imperial College Postgraduate Society, PostSoc. He served as president for over a year. In Jon’s words, “Joern was always there for support – always the consistent, stable foundation of the group – always pleasant, reassuring and tempering”.
Joern was a keen traveller and we couldn’t keep up with all the places he got to go to. Many of us were lucky enough to travel him. I’ll never forget a Winter’s night we spent in a draughty dorm in a youth hostel on Sardinia. It was so cold, we collected blankets from all the other beds in the room, to huddle under on our bunks. I think we slept maybe one hour. The next day, Joern in typical understatement and with a wry grin, summed the night up with “that was quite chilly, wasn’t it?”. This was typical of his wit and charm.
Joern was a keen sportsman and sportsfan. He loved hiking and running – he planned to complete the Berlin marathon in September. However, above all, he loved football – in particular Hertha BSC, Lok Stendal and his beloved Deutschland. He also delighted in making fun of his friends’ teams, who were never as good as his own of course. How we’ll miss his lively commentary through games.
Finally, Joern loved a glass of beer – be it over a footie match, halfway through a hike, or just to get away from our desks. He’ll always be there at our sides, whenever we raise a pint.
Joern – we’ll never forget you.
Family man! Joern, looking busy(!), with Daniella and his kids, Olli and Carla. Joern and Daniella had recently got divorced but remained friends – and of course, wonderful parents.
Olly and Carla at the Hit or Miss pub near Amersham after his cremation. It is amazing how much Olly looks like Joern!
Daniella and Olly with some sunflowers. These were Joern’s favourite flowers. My heart misses a beat whenever I see sunflowers now.
Joern had many nicknames – Jorni, Beany, and Superjorni. The photo below is taken from a T-shirt is colleagues were inspired to race in, during a run dedicated to Joern’s name, to raise money for the Meningitis Trust.
Joern with his girlfriend – Kerstin. He split his time between his work and family in the UK, and visiting Kerstin in Germany. Happily, they had many great times together in his final year of life.
I last saw him in person in April 2008 during our wonderful weekend in Rome. We got thrown out of a church (OK, so Joern wasn’t meant to be videoing the monk’s skeletons in the catacombs), hiked all the seven hills, and ate and drank our fill of wonderful Roman fare. Spot the hangovers.
Here is a photo in the back garden of a pub in Berkshire:
Here are some pics of us on the prowl in London. The pub is the Churchill Arms, one of Joern’s faves. Other fave drinking establishments included the Victoria in Paddington, and the Union Bar at Imperial College Students Union. The other bloke is Jon Smith, another best friend of Joern:
Joern, Jon and myself used to run regularly in Hyde Park / Kensington Gardens together during our PhDs. Often, we ran the next day after a night out at a local pub, to burn off the hangover. After his cremation we ran around the parks, and dedicated them to his memory.
The Hit or Miss pub in Penn Street, Amersham, where we remembered him. Joern would have loved it here.