Professor’s Love of Literature Stayed Strong Through Military Service

Contact Cheryl Pon at [email protected]





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Blake Lee Spahr, professor emeritus of German and comparative literature at UC Berkeley, died September 29. He was 82.

Spahr joined the UC Berkeley German faculty in 1955 to teach 17th- century literature. His friends and family said he always had a love of German literature, even after serving in the U.S. Army Air Corps in World War II.

Spahr served from 1942-1945 and an additional year as a German translator in Paris.

According to his wife Herlinde, Spahr volunteered to serve in the war on the condition that he was allowed to finish off the year at Dickinson College, where he was an undergraduate in a program for gifted students.

However, that condition was not granted and he was sent to war within a few months.

Though he fought in Germany and received the Air Medal from the U.S. government for his service, his passion for German literature never ceased, she said.

His colleagues said Spahr’s love for German literature was admirable, especially after he fought alongside the allies in the war.

“I was always deeply touched that he who risked his life fighting the Nazis became an expert in German literature,” said Fritz Tubach, UC Berkeley professor emeritus of medieval and modern German literature. “He loved teaching very much.”

Spahr encouraged friend Johan Snapper, UC Berkeley professor emeritus of German who was initially hired as an 18th-century German literature specialist, to teach a Dutch course.

With Spahr’s encouragement and guidance, that one course turned into a degree program in Dutch language and literature.

“He was known all over the world for his flamboyant manner and for his scholarship,” Snapper said. “He was the kind of friend with great integrity that you don't often meet in academia.”

A winner of multiple accolades, Spahr continued his interest in the arts after retiring in 1993. He spent 40 years as a flute and French horn player in the Oakland Community Orchestra.

“Once he said that some of the stars we look at are already dead, but their light still shines and travels to the world,” Herlinde said. “I know he's dead but his warmth, wit, and love will always be there.”

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