Alex Schweitzer obituary

·3-min read

My father, Alex Schweitzer, who has died aged 81, was an architect who specialised in public housing and worked for Islington council in north London for many years. After taking early retirement he used his architectural expertise to refurbish and adapt a group of old buildings in south-east London for use as a community theatre and exhibition centre specialising in reminiscence, which was run by his wife, Pam.

The youngest of five children, Alex was born in Berlin at the outset of the second world war. His father, Kurt, who was Jewish, had been sent to Sachsenhausen concentration camp a year earlier. Alex’s mother, Jutta (nee Reicke), who was not Jewish and came from an influential family (her father had been mayor of Berlin), managed to arrange for Kurt’s release, and he escaped to Britain with two of his children, a daughter and a son, before Alex was born.

Jutta stayed in Wannsee, near Berlin, with the new baby, Alex, and the two other children. They managed to survive through the war in Germany, despite most people knowing the children were half-Jewish. After the war, much of Berlin was in ruins and food was short, but Wannsee came under the control of the US, and the family dared to think about getting back together.

In the summer of 1946, Alex came to London by ship and train with his mother. The two halves of the family met at Victoria station, an emotional occasion. Alex was ecstatic about meeting his father for the first time, and their relationship remained remarkably close.

Alex soon learned English and went to Kilburn grammar school in north-west London, where he became head boy. He had great enthusiasm for the ancient world and studied classics at St Peter’s College, Oxford, before training in architecture in Brighton and at the Bartlett school of Architecture in London (now part of UCL). He worked first with Oxford Architects Partnership, and then Feilden and Mawson in Norwich.

In 1968 he went to Israel to work on designing parts of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem with David Resnick. While in Israel he met Pam Aubrey, who was travelling and working on a kibbutz. They married in 1969.

On his return to Britain, Alex worked throughout the 1970s and 80s as an architect for Islington council, where he was responsible for maintaining the Marquess Estate, among others.

In 1986 Pam set up Age Exchange, a reminiscence theatre company, in Blackheath village in south-east London, where they lived. Alex took early retirement in 1990 and then spent most of his time supporting Pam in her work. He converted a run-down premises in Blackheath into the world’s first Reminiscence Centre, combining a hands-on museum, offices, performance, rehearsal and exhibition spaces.

Alex was a keen photographer and polymath. He was a thoughtful, considerate man who listened to (and remembered) what people had to say. He was always learning and pondering practical problems and how to solve them.

He is survived by Pam and their children, Dora and me.

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