Michael Samlowski

Remembering Jakob Horn


I did not know the young Jakob Horn; the schoolboy who held a job managing a dairy in the Austrian state of Styria; the youth of limited means who bargained himself an antique Mercedes; the student who was speaker of the student council and member of the Association of German Students’ Unions during the student movement; the political science graduate who became a guidance counsellor for foreign students at the Free University of Berlin, co-founded the German Political Science Association, and served as its president; the young professional who joined the staff of the German Adult Education Association’s Department of International Cooperation in Bonn, held training workshops for African adult educators in Ethio pia and Sudan, worked as the Department’s adviser for Latin America, and went on to become its deputy director and then its director.

When I first met Jakob, the Institute was still called the “Department for Interna tional Cooperation of the German Adult Education Association”. It already had the firm backing of the German Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), where it was considered a key agency for development cooperation in the field of adult education. Cooperation in Africa and Latin America was coordinated through a number of liaison offices staffed by DVV employees. Colombia was the focus of DVV’s efforts in Latin America at the time. Situated in an economically disadvantaged neighbourhood of Colombia’s third largest city, Cali, the adult edu cation centre “Alfonso López Pumarejo” was a showcase of German-Colombian cooperation. The project was highly regarded at both the Ministry and the German Embassy, very much valued by Colombian partners, and a popular visiting place for members of parliament touring the country and representatives of the media covering development issues in Latin America.

The DVV Department of International Cooperation came to my attention while I was preparing for an assignment with the German Society for Technical Coopera tion (GTZ). I was being sent to a teacher training project that was also located in Cali, and since the DVV was working in a related field in the same city, it was sug gested that I contact the Department to investigate the possibility of collaboration between the two projects. What I experienced during my visit to DVV headquarters in Bonn was something I had a chance to witness again and again in the years to come: Jakob was a genial and attentive host. He was generous with the time he took for our meeting. He showed personal interest in me and was well-prepared for his guest. He even commented on my doctoral thesis, mentioning that there was a copy in the Department library. He was easy going and open, answering not only the questions I asked, but many others I had forgotten to ask as well. He gave me a tour of the premises, introduced me to the staff, and invited me to the birthday party that was being celebrated in the office that day. In short, he made me feel that if there were ever an opportunity, I would enjoy being part of his team. The atmosphere he created was very different from the more formal GTZ style. He conveyed familiarity, warmth, and personal interest, while preserving a sense of professional expertise and practical competence.

In those days Jakob was in charge of the Department’s Latin American activities. He promised to get in touch with me during his next project visit to Colombia, and, fortunately for me, he did, because the contact led to a chance for me to work for the DVV, at first in Colombia, and then for the remainder of my professional life at DVV headquarters in Bonn.

Dear Heribert,
Deeply distressed to hear this news about my old friend and mentor Jakob.
For many years before and during my years with ICAE, it was Jakob to whom one looked for wise and always reassuring advice and counsel. And in so many ways he represented all that was best and sustainable in the world of adult education.
Please convey my condolences to his family and ofcourse to all at DVV for whom his passing is really like the end of an era.
Hope this finds you well Heribert.

All the best and warm regards,
Lalita Ramdas, Former President of ICAE

Dear Heribert,
Accept, on behalf of the DVV Institute for International Cooperation, my condolences on the death of Jacob Horn. I would at the same time like to express my gratitude for the great contribution that he made to the work and development of adult education not only in Germany but all over the world. Uganda benefited very much from the Institute during his directorship.

Anthony Okech,
Department of Adult Education and Communication Studies at Makerere University, Uganda

Project visit in Colombia, conferences in Bogotá with the German Embassy, the Ministry of Education, and our partners. Jakob and I had reservations at the Hotel Bacatá – a decent place, although not as exclusive as the hotels frequented by ministry personnel and other officials who visit German projects abroad. It was never Jakob’s style to fly business class on official trips, or to stay in luxury hotels. I remember him being amused once by an expert who paid the extra price for a first class plane ticket out of his own pocket in order to impress his partners with his own importance. We had different schedules during our stay in Bogotá, but we planned to meet for supper. On my return, I found Jakob outside the hotel in the best of spirits having his shoes shined and talking with a street vendor who was try ing to interest him in what he claimed were “genuine” emeralds. In a good-natured tone, Jakob made it clear that although he wasn’t about to fall for any tricks, he knew very well that everyone had to try and get by the best they could. He never shied away from contact with anyone of a different social or educational background, and many were the times I saw him absorbed in conversation with peasant farmers or participants of courses in poor neighbourhoods.

The ICAE World Conference in Bangkok. At least half of the passengers on our flight are male tourists. Directly in front of us is a group from Lower Bavaria. Before they know it, Jakob has them talking about themselves. Slipping easily into a Bavarian accent (with an Austrian flavour that hints at the German he learned during his schooldays in Graz) he sounds out their holiday plans. The familiar tone comes naturally. Not that he wants to weigh on their conscience or make them uncomfortable. He is rather motivated by genuine curiosity about what it is that draws a group of everyday Bavarians to exotic adventures in faraway places. It always amazed me to stand by and watch how easily Jakob was able to connect with total strangers – regardless of whether they were doctors, tourists, ministers of state, or farmers.

Opening day of the ICAE World Conference. Participants from all over the world are milling around the registration area. Joyous shouts ring out, and with an exclamation of “Fantasía Arabia”, probably in Arabic, Jakob embraces a large African from Sudan. All around them people are laughing, but the happiest faces are those of two old friends who have just been reunited. Jakob had forged lifetime friendships all over Africa in courses he taught there in the 1970s. (An appropriate-technology workshop that he held on silk screening is documented in the present volume).

Waiting at the German Embassy for an official meeting with the ambassador. In the corridor we overhear a conversation between a local German employee and an embassy official about the going exchange rate for dollars. Resolutely, Jakob asks whether the embassy makes it a practice of conducting currency transactions. Admitting with an apologetic smile that this was so, the embassy official receives a lecture from Jakob about the responsibilities of embassy personnel and their obligation to abide by the rules and regulations of the host country – a lecture he is not likely to soon forget. In situations where expatriate staff tried to gain small advantages for themselves – in private currency exchange transactions, example given, or duty-free imports of chocolate or alcohol – Jakob was exceptionally strict. He was not blind to reality or common practice, but it went against his sense of justice if foreigners tried to secure special privileges for themselves beyond what they already enjoyed from their position in developing countries.

A conference at the Ministry of Education. Discussions with the officials in charge of international cooperation. Opinions differ. Otherwise at home in Spanish, Jakob shifts to German and requests an exact interpretation. He conveys seriousness and precision. Without setting deference aside, he leaves no doubt about the position of the German Adult Education Association. The tone stays friendly as the crisis is averted. Tension dissolves and laughter resumes. Jakob falls back into Spanish.

Jakob had no trouble talking with anyone, even with just a rudimentary knowl edge of another language. For him foreign languages were not an obstacle, as one colleague put it, but a challenge to his creativity. Still, he was always able to sense when it became provident to waive informality and when to opt for a more casual tone.

Jakob Horn with colleagues from Bonn and Lim Hoy Pick from Singapore 

Jakob Horn with colleagues from Bonn and Lim Hoy Pick from Singapore

Source: DVV International


He was never afraid to voice a clear opinion on controversial issues. I often watched him take on someone whose views he rejected as ignorant or uninformed. Somehow he always managed to avoid lingering hostilities. It was his easygoing manner that helped him navigate such sensitive situations along with his fascina tion with people and his respect for others. Well do I remember a rather heatedevening discussion at a restaurant in Sofia with a fellow citizen from one of the new German states whose remarks Jakob called opportunist turncoat gibberish. At the end of the evening, the two parted on first-name terms with a warm embrace. Somewhat more delicate was a conversation I recall between Jakob and a member of the Israeli Embassy in Bonn. Jakob spared no criticism over Israel’s Palestinian policy. What saved the conversation from becoming an all-out confrontation was Jakob’s profound knowledge of the history of Israel and the Zionist movement. His level of understanding showed him to be someone who needed to be taken seri ously, a fact that was also clear from all the partnerships that he had cultivated in Israel and the many Israelis that he counted among his personal friends. They were friendships that lasted until his death.

Reliability was one of Jakob’s most important traits – perhaps his most outstand ing. He honoured his commitments and was true to his word. When support was necessary, he gave it. Here, too, I can cite an example from my own experience. It was during my unfortunately not always problem-free assignment as a project director in Colombia. I was out of the country for a few weeks. My partner from the government of the Department of Santander saw a chance in my absence to confis cate what he could from our office in Bucaramanga. Claiming that all acquisitions were supposed to be turned over to the government, he commissioned members of his staff to move all the Institute’s furnishings and equipment to the offices under his supervision. My wife, who was seven months pregnant at the time, was in charge of the project’s bookkeeping. As my unofficial representative while I was away, she was called upon to protect the interests of the German Adult Education Association against the unscrupulous exploitation of the situation. Jakob lent her every possible formal and moral support during this difficult period. He had her consult an attorney. He advised her, as a legal precaution, to document everything that took place. He sent the director of the Institute’s other Colombian project to her assistance in Santander. And, perhaps more important than anything, for as long as the crisis lasted, at the end of every workday in Colombia – which was two or three o’clock in the morning for him in Germany – he took the time to call her. Night after night he went over the situation with her, counselling her step by step, and giving her the reassurance and encouragement she needed. His support and solidarity were implicit.

An internal audit at the Institute’s headquarters. Conferences with auditors from the Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development. Jakob and the head of the Institute’s administration department welcome the guests and open discussion – not actually discussion in the strict sense of the word. Jakob visits with his visitors, entertains them with anecdotes, commends the ministry, sprinkles his stories with names, praises the auditors’ work, describes a project situation here and there in an advance bid for understanding, digresses with another anecdote, or recalls a shared experience. The auditors are familiar with the procedure and always open to letting Jakob put them in a positive frame of mind. They know their work has the unconditional support of the Institute. Jakob has always stressed that for him the auditors were not annoying controllers, but constructive partners. They can rely on the cooperation of the entire staff. In the conference room, which is at the exclusive disposition of the auditors for the duration of the audit, all the relevant documents – financial statements, expense records, files of correspondence – are set out for review. Any questions or points that need clarification are handled immediately and as completely as possible. Discrepancies or errors that need more time for clarification are acknowledged at the closing meeting. Nothing is concealed, problems are not rationalized, criticism and corrections are accepted. But all in all, there is not very much to correct.

This was a cornerstone of Jakob’s philosophy. Cooperation of a lasting nature must be built on a foundation of fairness and trust. It does not pay in the long run to mislead funders – to embellish reports, exaggerate achievements, to deny or hide problems, not to lay all the cards on the table. Openness is part of reliability. Admitting a problem and asking for help with the solution is certainly more promis ing than hoping it will go unnoticed by the auditors on their next visit. Every project of cooperation based on equal partnership has its difficulties. Drawing attention to them with a view toward the future helps to build trust and strengthen the basis for working together.

Dear Heribert,
Thank you for passing on this news, sad as it is -these days, 73 is quite an early age and, in the light of his earlier and continuing contributions, Jakob certainly deserved to be with us longer. At any rate, what he built and what you and your team continue will stand as an enduring and ever green and growing memorial to him.

With the best of wishes to you all,
Yours ever,
John Oxenham

Trust was also the basis for Jakob’s relationship with his co-workers. The people who worked under his supervision always enjoyed considerable freedom in carry ing out their assignments. Personal initiative was always welcome and suggestions were seldom ignored. Where criticism or corrective action was indicated, it was not Jakob’s style to resort to conventional legal mechanisms such as a written reprimand or a personnel-file notation. He preferred to hold a “private conference” or write a memo not intended for the employee’s personnel file, methods that were clear in their message and ordinarily very effective. Employees who had won his confidence could always count on his complete support, as I was able to experience personally in a critical project situation.

The project I directed in Colombia’s Department of Santander was going through a phase of considerable friction with our main counterpart, the director of the adult educa tion section under the department’s secretary of education. Working out a solution was a main point on the agenda of Jakob’s project visit. I had already given him a full report of the problems. The details are incidental. The important part for me was the absolute solidarity I received from him. It was not just the complete backing he gave me for my arguments and my recommendations. From the very moment he arrived in Colombia, it was the way he never left me, or any of the people we were dealing with, with the slightest hint of doubt about my person. I remember how carefully we prepared our talks with our Colombian partners, analyzing every possible line of argument, playing through all the possible scenarios, with me in the role of our antagonistic partner. The actual negotiations took place in a friendly atmosphere, but the position remained firm and ultimately led to an amicable solu tion with the government officials.

What stands out most in my memories of Jakob, however, is the compassion and concern he showed for his staff and colleagues far beyond the workplace and the working relationship. The examples here are many. When the personal circum stances of a German co-worker in one of the Institute’s early projects required her to return to Germany after twenty years abroad, Jakob arranged for her to earn her living at the Institute’s headquarters in a position that she kept until her retirement. When the young Latin American wife of a co-worker was confronted with a serious illness, Jakob organized medical exams and treatment for her at a specialized clinic in Germany. When the son of an African partner took up his studies in Germany, the private home of Jakob and his wife was always open to him whenever he needed help or a place to spend his weekends. When a Latin American friend lost his life in an accident, Jakob helped his daughter obtain a scholarship in Germany. The remarkable part was always the same: Jakob’s amazing capacity for helping oth ers, for taking a personal interest in the people around him, for being sensitive to their private worries and concerns, for becoming actively involved on their behalf. There are examples I can cite from my own experience. Many years ago, when I was in Hamburg for a birthday of my mother, whose health was already declining at the time, we were surprised by a totally unexpected telephone call from Jakob. Somehow he had found out, and remembered, that he and my mother shared the same birthday. He congratulated her, asked how she was doing, engaged in small talk. Jakob was a natural conversationalist. He had a knack for talking about an event or experience with the kind of openness that made his listeners feel familiar with the details and people involved and welcome in the inner circle of his confi dence. He frequently discovered common points of reference in their line of work or in the places where they lived or came from. My mother was very receptive to the attentions from her son’s boss. The call made her day. From then on as long as she lived not a birthday would go by without a call from Jakob.

The young Jakob Horn and his staff

The young Jakob Horn and his staff
Source: DVV International

Jakob was not a theo retician who formulated thoughts and concepts with scientific precision. Writing essays, mono graphs or analyses was not his metier. He was a storyteller. Verbal communication was his strong point. He was an avid telephone user. His personal anecdotes and observations always managed to create an easy atmos phere. He could call the secretary general of the Christian Democrats and after wards comment on how they laughed over the problems they had in common with all the complicated buttons on modern telephones. Personal contact was important for him, both in our own offices as elsewhere. He never visited the Ministry on any matter without making the rounds and stopping in for brief visits at all the differ ent departments that had – or could again have – connections with the Institute. Wherever paths crossed in the world of adult education and development, Jakob was a well known and popular figure. Whether in the organizations of the Ger man Social Improvement Network (AGS) or the institutions that cooperated in the Basic Education Working Group, whether at the various political foundations, in church-based organizations, or at the GTZ, colleagues everywhere in the field knew and respected him.

Jakob always welcomed visitors. His lively interest in new acquaintances and his constant thirst for new information made visits a gratifying and rewarding occasion for him. He enjoyed the opportunities they offered to make new contacts and explore possibilities for new directions in our work. When visitors came, he often invited other members of the staff to share the experi ence. I well remember a visit from the Polish novelist, Andrzej Szczypiorski, who was seeking support for an adult education initiative in the city of Kalisz, as well as various visits from the Count of Krockow, who hoped to win the support of DVV as a partner in the development of the former residence of the von Krockow family in Pomerania into a Place of Encounter between Germans and Poles. Both visitors, by the way, were successful in their quests for support.

Dear Heribert, dear Friends
We in Hungary and myself we lost a great person. The letter from Elin arrived to my post-box this morning. I do not have words at all as words are weak. I need number of days and to talk to others. What’s sure we are planning a specific chapter of our next issue of MNT journal on him and probably organize a memorial meeting on his works in Hungary. Anyway please contact me if you plan anything. I will write a letter only to Elin now nothing else.

No words
Friendly greetings to all of you
Janos Sz. Toth
Jakob’s good HU friend and his colleague

By early 1990 Jakob had been with the Institute nearly 20 years, the greater part of the time as its director. Starting out as a DVV department, it had grown under his leadership from a small undertaking with just a few workers into an Institute with a staff of more than a hundred people at home and abroad. Attentive to the signs of the time and recognizing the new challenges that came with the opening of the iron curtain, Jakob had investigated possibilities for expanding the Institute’s operations to Central and Eastern European countries, and had negotiated project plans with the BMZ. Our first project offices there were about to be set up in Poland and Hungary. I well remember how surprised I was when he told me that he was thinking about directing the project in Hungary himself and asked what I thought of the idea. Jakob was so closely identified with the position of Institute director that at first it was hard to think of him in any other role. It was also hard to imagine the Institute in Bonn without him.

On rethinking what Jakob was considering, however, I saw no reason to question his plan. He was familiar with the country and its people. He had, after all, spent his childhood together with Hungarians in the Hungarian Batchka. He had good contacts in Hungary – sporadic perhaps, but all the more valuable since they dated back to the time before the transition. He had taken active part in the exchanges between the DVV and the century-old Hungarian Society for the Dissemination of Knowledge, TIT. He had expert knowledge about German adult education and especially Germany’s community adult education centres, the Volkshochschulen, and there was a demand for this kind of knowledge in Hungary. He would be able to help organize a wide range of partnerships with German Volkshochschulen. His charm went over well in Hungary.

Jakob soon became widely known and popular in Hungary. He was adept at working together with competing organizations of all kinds, government bodies and civil society institutions, bureaucratic agencies or informal groups, organiza tions that emerged from former opposition forces or new providers. He managed to gather them all at the same table, even those who came with feelings of mutual mistrust. His warm and hearty manner helped him overcome language barriers. There is no better example of this than the rapport he had with the project’s chauf feur, who spoke neither German nor English. During the many official trips that brought them together in Hungary, the two got along famously. With the bits and pieces of Hungarian that Jakob remembered from his childhood, they had no trouble understanding one another. They laughed a lot and came to see each other as good friends. This was another example of Jakob’s ability to feel at ease with everyone, regardless of status or position. After four years of service in the inter est of Hungarian adult education, Jakob was granted the prestigious Pro Cultura Hungarica award. When he returned to Germany, he left behind a large circle of friends and partners by whom he was greatly missed. He kept in touch with many of them until the very last.

Retiring from active service was not without mixed feelings for Jakob. But he also looked forward to “life after work”. And he would have had his problems with some of the more recent trends in modern project management. He understood the hier archy of values that defied the ever-increasing requirements of cost-benefit thinking. If a delegation from Germany visited a struggling poultry cooperative in Mexico as part of a project evaluation, for instance, he knew that it was more important for the women to make a feast for their guests and celebrate the occasion themselves than to count their chickens and send their guests away hungry. He appreciated that there were times when measurable objectives had to be sacrificed for the sake of hospitality. Helping our focus groups retain their autonomy had a higher priority for him than requiring them to set the “Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time-framed” objectives of the so-called “SMART” approaches that have become so pervasive in project planning today.

It was not difficult to agree with Jakob on where the Institute should focus its attention. He had a clear idea of which activities came first and which activities were also important but lower on the scale of priorities. He always based his proposals and decisions on the guidelines of the Institute in a spirit of solidarity with the disadvantaged members of society. He regarded adult education as an emancipatory process and adhered to the principles of partnership with respect for others and consideration for their feelings. Preferring the Institute to remain unassuming, he always put the achievements of our partners in the foreground. It was more important for him to earn the respect and appreciation of partners and colleagues than to cultivate the Institute’s image – a task that seems to have become necessary for survival in the field today. Being able to work alongside him for nearly twenty years was a privilege.

With his warm and genuine personality, his unpretentious charm and social graces, his serious and reliable nature, his sensitive dedication to social justice and intuition for doing the right thing; with his vast and detailed knowledge of the countries we work in, his memory for people and events, his congenial manner, charismatic spirit, and democratic style of leadership – in brief, with everything that made him the person he was – Jakob laid the groundwork for what the Institute is today. We have every reason to remember him in gratitude.