The Acharius medal is awarded for “outstanding contributions to lichenology” and the “life work of distinguished lichenologists”. Hannes Hertel’s contributions to lichenology, his life work as a researcher and teacher and his services to the lichenological community certainly merit such a distinction. And I am deeply satisfied and grateful for this opportunity to honour him with a few words tonight.
Hannes Hertel was born in Munich on 3 February 1939. He was a student of Josef Poelt and published his doctoral thesis on calcicolous species of Lecidea in 1967. In 1972 he became a professor at the University of Berlin and in 1973 a curator at the State Herbarium in Munich, a position that he held until his retirement in 2004. These bare facts about his life tell you little about Hannes’ character: he is a meticulous lichen taxonomist, a thoughtful and sympathetic teacher, and an unusually honest and modest person. I mention this because I think that these characteristics are inseparably connected with his contributions to lichenology.
Hannes became my Ph.D. supervisor in 1990. Already at our second meeting I was able to obtain an insight into his remarkable character. At the time, we met in his office in Munich to discuss possible subjects for my Ph.D. thesis. He suggested that I should start work on the corticolous lecideoid lichens, and when I was about to leave his office he looked at me and said: “You know that this is going to be a rough journey.” By this he meant not the Lecideas but my plan to become a lichen taxonomist and my future job prospects. In my eyes this plain honesty together with an unusual degree of modesty describe his character best. An aura of understatement surrounds all his accomplishments and services to the scientific community.
If you search the Citation Index for Hannes you will not find an overwhelmingly long list. His publications are mostly in what is nowadays often called “non-impact” journals. But that tells you little about their impact. It is true that his efforts were mostly directed at a single form-genus, Lecidea, but what an effort this was! When Hannes started working on it, Lecidea consisted of more than 1000 accepted and 4000 published names, which is roughly 5 % of all described lichen species. It is mostly due to his efforts and the efforts of students he supervised that a large part of these species are identifiable and have found their places in the fungal system. One of his most influential papers, his treatment of the subantarctic lecideoid lichens, appeared in 1984, in the Poelt Festschrift, edited by himself and Franz Oberwinkler. A certain modesty is also manifest in this Festschrift, which is not even indexed, and comprises less than ten papers, but is probably one of the most frequently cited lichenological books.
Hannes’ achievements as a scientific teacher are also much bigger than they seem at first glance. Over the years, Hannes had only seven Ph.D. students. But of these seven, four pursued academic careers and are active lichenologists or mycologists today. A success rate of nearly 60 %. And even if their authors did not become scientists, some of the dissertations that Hannes supervised have turned into taxonomic standard works that are still used and cited today. To me, Hannes was an inspiring teacher. His office door was seldom closed, the answers to my questions were usually prompt and thoughtful, and they were always helpful. I am sure that many other lichenologists have had the same experience.
The Botanische Staatssammlung in Munich contains one of the largest lichen collections worldwide. The most important part of it is the Arnold-collection (about 100,000 specimens) with duplicate material from nearly all contemporary lichenologists. It was one of Hannes’ major achievements to make this treasure chest accessible for lichenologists. His index of collectors, index of exsiccatae, and his index of Arnold’s collecting localities are extremely helpful in this respect. But Hannes was always willing to help beyond that. He would, for example, decipher Arnold’s incredibly bad handwriting and type up new labels before sending the collections to foreign colleagues who would have been unable to read them. I often found him in the herbarium digging into a question that someone else had asked him. It’s true, this is what a curator is expected to do, but he did all this while he also served as director of the State Herbarium. For seven years, from 1985 to 1992, he had all the administrative work that comes with the position without being formally acknowledged for it, because he was only the provisional director. And did he complain? Yes he did, but not about the workload, only about the overeager bureaucrats that he had to deal with. And his complaints usually took the form of hilarious stories that ended in laughter.
Hannes is always inclined to think the best of the people around him and I hope that he believes us that the IAL means no harm when, in spite of his modesty, it points the spotlight on him tonight and honours him with the Acharius medal.
– Christian Printzen, Frankfurt/M. (18 July 2008)