Stanford dedicates overseas center in Berlin

H. George Will (center, with red cap) and his wife, Sigrid (center right), join

H. George Will (center, with red cap) and his wife, Sigrid (center right), join the students and staff of Stanford’s Berlin program at the H. G. Will Center. (Image credit: Cathrin Bach/Konzept und Bild, Berlin)

Sixty years after Germany became Stanford’s first overseas campus, the university has renamed the site to honor alumnus H. George Will.

Stanford’s center in Berlin, one of 10 Stanford campuses outside of the United States, has been named the H. G. Will Center in honor of alumnus H. George Will, ’55, a longtime supporter and friend of the program.

The celebration in early December coincided with the 60th anniversary of the Bing Overseas Studies Program (BOSP), which began in the small town of Beutelsbach, Germany, in 1958 before moving to Berlin in the mid-1970s.

Will was instrumental in helping Stanford establish its presence in Berlin. Even before there was an official campus, he worked to find homestays for the first group of students. Later, he helped Stanford secure the lease on Haus Cramer, an early 20th-century architectural jewel that would become the program’s home. Will was a driving force behind the permanent acquisition of the house and gardens, a process that was finalized in 2000.

Haus Cramer became the first Stanford-owned property outside of the continental United States. Fittingly, it is made of sandstone and has a red tile roof.

Gerhard Casper, who was Stanford’s president at the time and is a native of Germany, said Stanford would not have been able to purchase its home in Berlin without Will’s determination and generosity. It was Casper who initially suggested that Haus Cramer be named in his honor. After much thought, Will finally agreed. In a recent letter congratulating Will, Casper quipped, "I know that you are a very deliberate man, but isn’t deliberating for almost 20 years a little excessive?"

Berlin advocate

Will and his family fled the ruins of Berlin shortly after World War II and moved to the Bay Area, where he attended the Menlo School. Later, as a Stanford undergraduate, Will lived in the firetruck house on Santa Teresa Street and worked as a student firefighter. He was also a hasher at Roble Hall and a member of ROTC, where he rose to the rank of first lieutenant.

After graduation, Will worked for Volkswagen in the United States and eventually returned to Berlin to assume the role of managing director of a pharmaceutical company. When Stanford moved to Berlin, he helped with the logistics of setting up the new campus.

Over the years, Will helped expand the program’s offerings and enhanced the campus with sculptures, paintings and a sports court. In the early 2000s, Will created a local foundation that supports Stanford research and educational projects in Germany, which have focused on the life sciences. He also contributed to The Campaign for Undergraduate Education by establishing the H. G. Will Fund for the Berlin campus, with matching funds from the Hewlett Foundation.

Even today he remains a frequent guest at the center. He sometimes dons his firefighter’s hat for students - a memento of his time at Stanford - and hands out Stanford-in-Berlin baseball caps.

Outward-looking focus

One distinctive feature of the BOSP campus in Germany is the Krupp internship program, which helps students find full-time internships after completing their studies in Berlin. In the past four decades, nearly 1,300 students have taken on paid placements in more than 500 German institutions, including organizations that specialize in medical research, education, new technologies, finance, the arts and community service, as well as the automotive and aerospace industries.

"Students often choose to study in Berlin because they see it as a great way to get practical, real-world experience," said Ramón Saldívar, the T. Robert and Katherine States Burke Family Director of BOSP. "The Berlin program also asks students to think about the place of the European Union in the way world economies, cultures and social structures are developed. It offers a way of thinking beyond national categories."

The program’s outward-looking focus was important to Will, who provided funds for quarterly trips to Eastern Europe for students and faculty. More than 1,200 students have benefited from the "H. G. Will Field Trips" since they were established in 2005.

Karen Kramer, director of the H. G. Will Berlin Center, said Will has touched every aspect of the program in some way.

"The center in Berlin is simply not conceivable, in its full richness, without George Will," she said.