The American Academy in Berlin mourns the passing of Berthold Leibinger, a longtime friend, benefactor, advisor, and confidante. The Academy’s board and management extend heartfelt condolences to Leibinger’s family, especially to daughter Regine Leibinger, an Academy trustee and the architect behind its Fellows Pavilion.
In the fall 2018 issue of the Berlin Journal, Berthold Leibinger contributed a vignette on why he supported the American Academy’s fellowship program, and why he helped to spearhead its Head-to-Head series, which brings together an Academy fellow and German scholar or writer for a public discussion in Stuttgart. “Keeping American thought and culture alive and well in Germany,” Leibinger wrote, “is vital for sustaining the relationship between the two countries. The American Academy in Berlin as an institution should help ensure that they thrive. . . . Through the fellowship program, American intellectuals from all walks of life not only spend several months working on compelling academic or creative projects in Germany, but also present and discuss their specialist knowledge with German audiences at public events.”
This, of course, was the fundamental aim of the Academy’s founder, Richard Holbrooke. And it was “Holbrooke,” in fact, “who led me through the building on Am Sandwerder in the early days of the American Academy,” Leibinger wrote. “It was important to him that intellectual America had a forum in Germany, the country he knew well and appreciated from his time as US ambassador there.”
Over the past twenty years, Leibinger was thrilled that the fellows who held his named fellowship “have dealt with an incredibly wide array of topics: reflections on recent German history, including problems faced after the end of World War II in 1945 and during the reconstruction of Germany; the art of writing; the impact of American theater; and the influence of architecture on the sensitivity of a country.” Moreover, Leibinger’s support of the American Academy “makes it possible for us to continue to engage in dialogue with the intellectual America at a time when we look toward the United States with some concern.”
Above all, however, the venerable business leader, engineer, and philanthropist was enthralled by the life of the mind, and by the power of ideas: “One thing has been made patently clear through the Academy’s fellows,” Leibinger wrote: “Intellectual forces are the ones that change the world.”
We will miss him dearly.