in memoriam - Hans Joachim Fiedler (1927-2022)
With great sadness we inform that Professor Dr. Dr. h. c. Hans Joachim Fiedler passed away on the 12th of February 2022 in Dresden, Germany. He was 94 years old.
Through his extensive work, he made a significant contribution to the development of soil science from a basic agricultural and forestry-based discipline to the integral part of modern environmental science that it is today. Given the multifaceted nature of soils, H.J. Fiedler was an early proponent of the importance of soils as an environmental medium and its decisive interface function for maintaining natural cycles.
Hans Joachim Fiedler was born in Düsseldorf in 1927 and he also spent his school years in the Rhineland. At the end of World War II, he found himself in central Germany. In 1945 he began to study chemistry, physics, and mineralogy in Jena, where he received his doctorate in 1951 with honors. In Jena he also gained his habilitation in 1957 in the subjects of agricultural chemistry and soil microbiology. This was followed with the appointment as a lecturer for plant nutrition at the University of Rostock. In 1959, at an exceptionally early age of 31, he was appointed as Chair of Soil Science and Site Ecology at the then Faculty of Forestry at Tharandt of the former TH Dresden. Professor Fiedler then continued to lead this institute until his retirement in 1995, and during this very long and turbulent time, he made an extraordinary impression. Regardless of the difficulty of both the material and organizational conditions in the former German Democratic Republic (GDR), Fiedler successfully established a modern and highly efficient laboratory. In leading the research efforts of the institute, he combined the skills of scientists from several forestry-related and natural sciences with the common goal of establishing methodological foundations and addressing forestry practice and environmental protection issues. Against all odds and difficulties he was able to preserve his soil institute as a place which was largely free of persistent political pressures and interferences. The ‘Fiedler Institute’ was a shelter ruled by mutual trust and social cohesion. Some of the critical contemporary issues that were addressed by H.J. Fiedler and his team included the heavy metal pollution of the soils in the Freiberg region and the forest decline (‘Waldsterben’) occurring in the low mountain ranges of the Saxony–Czech–Polish ‘black triangle’ due to the extremely high sulfur dioxide levels emitted during this period. This was anything but opportune under the political conditions of the GDR.
As a rhetorically talented teacher at the university, Hans Joachim Fiedler played a fundamental role in shaping several generations of students and graduate researchers. In addition to supervising a large number of graduating students, his more than 15 specialist books and more than 600 publications are a testament to his almost inexhaustible zeal. His great scientific contribution is also clear from his extensive collaboration with various scientific journals, both within the GDR and internationally. Although his contacts with colleagues in the other half of Germany and other western countries were made very difficult, or even outright prevented until the political change in 1989, the reputation of H.J. Fiedler continued to grow outside of eastern Germany. This high international reputation is reflected in his receiving several honorary doctorates, including from Munich in 1988, Trier in 1989, and Uppsala (Sweden) in 1995.
During the challenging period following the reunification of Germany, as Dean of the then Faculty of Construction, Water Resources, and Forestry (1990 - 1994), H.J. Fiedler helped significantly to shape the process of self-renewal underway at the TU Dresden (TUD), both through his scientific reputation and through his personal integrity. However, some of his most far-sighted ideas—such as the faculty’s orientation towards a platform for interdisciplinary environmental research with a significant involvement of soil sciences— were not feasible then, the time was not yet ripe for that! All the more, it filled him with satisfaction that much of what he intended at that time was put into practice at the current Faculty of Environmental Sciences in TUD which is labelled as one of 11 Excellence Universities in Germany. His commitment to the ‘International Environmental Management Training Program’ at the ‘Center for International Postgraduate Studies in Environmental Management’ (CIPSEM) has also paid great dividends. This training facility, which is run in cooperation with the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) and UNESCO, has been in operation at TUD since 1977. Hans Joachim Fiedler not only made a significant contribution to CIPSEM in helping it to survive the political transition, but has also been responsible for the development of its curriculum and organization, and it now has a large network of > 2,500 graduates worldwide.
Hans Joachim Fiedler was appointed honorary member of the German Soil Science Society (DBG) in 1993. He was also an honorary member of the German UNESCO Commission and an active member of the Saxon Academy of Sciences at Leipzig. After retirement he devoted himself more to his family and traveling. Nevertheless, he continued to take a keen interest in the activities of his ‘old’ institute. It was a memorable event to listen to his retrospect when the university and the DBG celebrated his 90th birthday with an honorary colloquium.
Beyond his undeniable scientific skills, he was deeply human and a very social person with a fine sense of humor. His kindness, availability, and great modesty have always made us admiring him. We will remember him as outstanding personality, colleague, and scientist.
Karl-Heinz Feger, TU Dresden, Germany
President of the German Soil Science Society (DBG)