Prof. Dr. Heribert Weber: A man like no other

A portrait of the former FHWS president Prof. Dr. Heribert Weber

 © Nils Braunöhler

Today he is a sportsman, hobby radio operator and foodie. During his time as president of FHWS and professor of electrical engineering, Prof. Dr. Heribert Weber was dedicated to the university. About an unpretentious and dedicated man for whom justice is important – and who never shies away from conflict.

Sport is his life. Alongside electrical engineering and a few other things. Prof. Dr. Heribert Weber appears for the interview in a black and green track suit jacket. The 68-year-old has a wiry build and a full head of white hair. We run up a vineyard in the Würzburg countryside at a brisk pace. Weber talks a lot while running, but he doesn't get out of breath. After all, he used to be a marathon runner and handball player. Sport, you quickly notice, is one of his favourite topics. And maybe that's why Weber goes through life with a certain ease.

Talking about his school days, he says: "School always came easy to me." And talking about his professional time at FHWS, he talks about the "Ämtchen". That's what he calls all the offices he held in his long, successful career before he went into "normal retirement for a professor" in 2017. It sounds like it all just happened, almost incidentally, sort of by accident. Weber admits: "You need to be cut out for it. But sometimes I was just a stopgap and it turned out that way due to circumstances." Like, for example, his position as regional chairman of the Association of Professors in Bavaria, as deputy dean of the Faculty of Electrical Engineering or as head of the central computing centre at the Schweinfurt location. These "Ämtchen" prepared him well for his time leading FHWS: first as vice president from 1996 to 1999, and then, after the death of his predecessor Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Fechner, as president. He held this office until 2012.

Two terms of office with total commitment

Unpretentious, humble, sometimes almost modest. That’s how Weber talks about his time in office: "Some people wondered to begin with how someone like me could become president. I just don't fill the room like some others do." His understanding was rather "primus inter pares", i.e. someone just like everyone else, just with the badge of president. What distinguished Weber during his two terms was his undisputed commitment to FHWS and his perpetual pugnacity. Whether during the two citizens' petitions in 1997 and 2008, which were about the expansion of FHWS, or the long adherence to the diploma – Weber knew how to fight and often to win.

His long-time companion Prof. Dr. Friedrich Vilsmeier, a colleague from the Faculty of Electrical Engineering at FHWS, also confirms this: "Weber did an enormous amount for FHWS." Vilsmeier is thinking in particular of the democratisation of the committees, which Weber promoted with the establishment of the extended university management. Or Weber’s spontaneous petition to Bavarian politicians to put the remaining subsidies from the unsuccessful Transrapid project into research into high voltage technology. Whether for FHWS in general or for research in particular, Weber was very active, says Vilsmeier. "He wasn't afraid, once, to take a professor out of the middle of a lecture and have them come up with a concept that was approved by the Bavarian cabinet the next day."

Heribert Weber sitting on a park bench
The former FHWS president enjoys spending time outdoors in nature. (© Nils Braunöhler)

Taking it and dishing it out

Weber himself considers sport to be the origin of his pragmatic manner: "It was clear to everyone: I don't shy away from confrontation. That comes from handball." In Weber's active handball days, he was a pivot. A position made for the not quite so tall, but nimble young Heribert. The pivot feints, nudges the opponent aside, grabs the ball and somehow fights his way through. "Taking it and dishing it out – that's part of it," Weber says, grinning. "I'm not someone who needs three airbags."

And his little electric car even comes with six airbags. It's a baby blue VW e-up! (Weber pronounces the word "up" in German), which sends the passionate electrical engineer into raptures. It's a great car and very affordable, says Weber, who also says he often uses it to drive to Munich. "It works out very well with a stopover to charge and have a coffee." Munich has become the centre of Weber's life in recent years. His two daughters live in the Bavarian capital and most of his friends also live there. He is only rarely at his house in Gochsheim near Schweinfurt, he reveals.

Quote by Prof. Dr. Heribert Weber:  "It was clear to everyone: I don't shy away from confrontation."
Heribert Weber in front of his VW e-Up electric car
As a passionate electrical engineer, Weber has a soft spot for electric cars. Here he is leaning against his VW e-Up! (© Nils Braunöhler)

From Würzburg to the world and back again

Looking back at the various stages of Weber's life, it becomes clear that changes of location were a constant companion for him. He was born in Würzburg in 1953 into humble circumstances and, after primary school, he went to a classical grammar school. After studying physics and mathematics at the University of Würzburg, Weber went to the Ruhr University in Bochum for a year to follow his true vocation: electrical engineering. He then worked at the High Field Magnetic Laboratory in Grenoble for a year before moving to the Max Planck Institute in Stuttgart for two years, where he obtained his doctorate in 1981. Weber's "most interesting and professionally and personally enjoyable time" then began, during which, as he says, he was able to "incorporate all my knowledge": He worked on an air combat simulator in Ottobrunn near Munich and was responsible for visualisation and control of the systems there. In 1985, he was appointed as a professor of applied computer science at FHWS and worked there first at what is today the Faculty of Applied Natural Sciences and Humanities, then at the Faculty of Electrical Engineering until his retirement.

Weber's wires extend a long way

And today? What does a former FHWS president and electrical engineer do in his spare time? Amateur radio, for example. Weber has strung a few wires in the garden – much to his wife's chagrin – to this end in order to transmit his radio waves to the world. "I try to get as far as I can with as little effort as possible," Weber says of his hobby. "I can be heard all over the world, in China, in southern Uruguay or in Iceland." He sends out signals at 3.5 to 29.7 megahertz and 20 watts of power and then looks to see which stations receive his signal. For Weber, it's "exciting to see what's possible."

Quote by Prof. Dr. Heribert Weber:  "I'm a happy person today."

When he's not radioing, he's on camping holidays in the Iberian Peninsula with his wife or bringing holidays home through cooking. Weber is a foodie who talks passionately about the fresh lamb chops he buys from his favourite Arab butcher on Semmelstrasse in Würzburg: "The flavour is wonderful!" Or he goes to the Persian baker next door to buy baklava. He also raves about freshly caught anchovies, which he buys in Munich: "Then when I fry them, the apartment smells like you're in Portugal.”

Back in Würzburg, Weber gives the impression of being at peace with himself. "I'm a happy person today," he says. When asked if he has any regrets in his life, he thinks for a moment. He regrets if he has treated anyone unfairly in the past. Justice is very important to him. This also comes from sport, after all Weber is also a basketball referee. And we’re back to his favourite topic. Sport is simply his life.

By Nils Braunöhler

By Nils Braunöhler