In Memoriam


Prof. Dr. Dres. h.c. Rolf Birk


Professor Rolf Birk, born on 14.4.1938 in Stuttgart, passed away on 20.3.2021 in Trier, held the professorship for Civil Law, Labor Law and Private International Law at the Department of Law of the University of Trier from 1983 until his retirement in 2006. With his death, the University and the Department have lost a member who contributed tirelessly to their visibility at home and abroad.


In 1983, Rolf Birk became the first director of the newly established Institute for Labor Law and Industrial Relations in the European Community (IAAEG) at Trier University, which was based in Quint Castle and is now housed on Campus II of the University. Since the 1980s, Professor Birk was recognized as one of the leading experts on European and International Labor Law and centered the research of the Institute's legal research group on these focal areas.


Many junior scholars benefited from the Institute's first-rate library, whose holdings and whose flourishing were of great importance to the director. The library became a magnet for researchers not only from the EU but far beyond, whose work Professor Birk was able to stimulate with suggestions and discussions. He also supervised numerous dissertations by foreign doctoral candidates who, upon returning to their home countries, continued and deepened their contact with Trier. For researchers focusing on European labor law, the IAAEU became a well-known and respected contact point in Europe.


Professor Birk's international orientation was accompanied by a pronounced talent for languages, which enabled him to acquire knowledge of other languages in a short time. Traveling all over the world, he quickly felt at home and appreciated a country and its people with great interest. He, therefore gladly accepted requests for guest professorships, which took him to the USA, Japan, South Africa, Taiwan, Italy, Poland, and the Netherlands, among other places. While taking his expertise to various countries, he maintained a special relationship with Hungary, primarily with colleagues from Budapest, Miskolc, Debrecen, and Pécs. His scientific achievements were honored by the Universities of Miskolc (1996) and Pécs (2001) with honorary doctorates.


Professor Birk has been active in the field of international labor law for many years, as (in his own words) a "practitioner of international law" since the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe elected him as a member of the (now) European Committee of Social Rights (ECSR) in 1994. The Committee monitors the compliance of Council of Europe member states with the European Social Charter. In his role as member and president (1996 - 1998) of the ECSR, Rolf Birk contributed to the further development of social rights in Europe.


Professor Birk has published his research results in nearly 300 papers in prestigious national and international journals and has presented papers at international conferences. He made contributions to international labor law, European labor law, and international labor law in the Munich Handbook on Labor Law and on international inheritance law in the Munich Commentary on the German Civil Code. In his comparative law contributions, he developed ideas and arguments that continue to shape discussions long after his retirement. He also promoted the visibility of comparative law studies as co-editor of the "Zeitschrift für vergleichende Rechtswissenschaft", the "Zeitschrift für Internationales Arbeits- und Sozialrecht" and the series "Studien zum ausländischen, vergleichenden und internationalen Arbeitsrecht". In addition, he was active on the board of the German section of the Society for Comparative Law and the "International Society for the Law of Labor and Social Security".


When Professor Birk retired in 2006, he continued his leadership duties at the Institute for another two years, but his interest in the further development of the Institute went far beyond that. His students, colleagues, and companions presented him with a commemorative publication on his 70th birthday as a token of appreciation for his lasting contributions. The numerous projects that he worked at himself and with the Institute during his active time, are an incentive and obligation for those who follow him. Colleagues and successors will also benefit from the work he has done to build up the Institute, which has given it a special reputation in research on European labor law far beyond Trier. We owe Rolf Birk a great debt of gratitude and will honor his memory.