Stanford German lecturer Jochen Wohlfeil, who spent more than 30 years teaching German language to Stanford students in the Bing Overseas Studies Program in Berlin, died there on June 1 of natural causes. He was 65.

Jochen Wohlfeil (Image credit: Cathrin Bach/Konzept und Bild, Berlin)

“We are deeply saddened by the sudden passing of Jochen,” said Karen Kramer, director of the H.G. Will Center, Stanford Bing Overseas Studies Program in Berlin. “He played a central role in the development of Stanford’s Berlin program; his innovative contributions to language education were formative and profound. He will be sorely missed by his students and colleagues.”

Wohlfeil joined the Berlin program in 1984. Over the years, he taught German language to an estimated 1,500 Stanford students in Berlin.

His Stanford colleagues remember him as an innovative teacher who placed tremendous focus on his students’ educational needs. Wohlfeil designed an innovative, fast-paced language pedagogy to facilitate cultural literacy and to prepare students for subsequent German internships. This involved introducing the main points of German grammar very early on, then revisiting them later in the quarter. He also implemented teaching methods that catered to each student’s individual interests, such as requiring students to select fifteen words each day to learn. He then crafted quizzes based on their chosen vocabulary.

Wohlfeil integrated computers into his seminars before it was commonplace. Rather than use blackboards, he would type grammar, idioms and vocabulary examples on his laptop and project them on a screen. This method reinforced the spoken word visually and allowed students to focus less on note-taking and more on linguistic interactions in class.

“He was always thinking about what the students needed most in order to function in everyday life in Berlin and later as interns in German workplaces,” said Maria Biege, associate director emeritus of the program. “Providing a rich experience for each student in his class was at the forefront of his teaching.”

Stanford junior Josie Flohr, who was enrolled in the very last class Wohlfeil taught, expressed great sadness upon hearing the news of his passing. “Herr Wohlfeil was a wonderful instructor that pushed me to a level of confidence and competence in German that I did not think I was capable of. He provided one of the most challenging and enriching academic experiences I have had at Stanford. He will be dearly missed.”

In 2009, Wohlfeil received the Bing Overseas Studies Program Award for Excellence in Teaching. According to Norman Naimark, the Burke Family Director of the program at the time, the award recognized Wohlfeil for his “innovative course design and a legendary classroom culture that at once challenges and sustains, facilitating the linguistic empowerment of hundreds of students at the Bing Overseas Studies Program in Berlin.”

In addition to his contributions to Stanford, Wohlfeil was adjunct associate professor in Duke University’s German Department, as well as resident director of Duke in Berlin. Wohlfeil was also a founding member and deputy chair of the Association of American Study Abroad Programs in Germany (AASAP).

Yasmin Fischdick, the chair of AASAP, said in a statement: “Jochen was very involved in Board work in his unique and pleasant way. He was a reliable partner who always kept an eye on everyone involved and worked to assure the success of the annual AASAP meetings and to further the network of study abroad in Germany. It was always a pleasure to work with him.”

Stanford Berlin lecturer Matthias Pabsch – a good friend to Wohlfeil – said he will be remembered for his intellect and compassion for those that he taught.

“Jochen’s open-heartedness and his constant thirst for knowledge also allowed his students to grow,” said Pabsch. “The generosity and empathy with which he met them will be carried in their hearts for a lifetime.“

Wohlfeil studied at the Universität Hamburg and Indiana University, where he received an M.A. in Anglo studies and German studies in 1982. He also studied at the Freie Universität Berlin, earning an M.A. in American studies. Outside of his professional accomplishments, Wohlfeil enjoyed classical music, opera, theater and film, as well as soccer, sailing and the culinary arts. He is survived by his wife and three children.

The Bing Overseas Studies Program in Berlin, in partnership with the Duke Berlin Program and AASAP, will hold a celebratory event honoring Wohlfeil in the fall.