Caroline Hoffmann: a Tribute
Dr Caroline Hoffmann (1964-2011) was a member of the Scottish Green Party and Bündnis 90/Die Grünen, an ecologist, a sailor and an LGBT rights campaigner. She died on the 4th December 2011 after a long struggle with leukaemia.
In 1998 the Scottish Green Party hadn’t got much in the way of assets. Most of the party membership had become disillusioned and burnt out after a succession of electoral false dawns. What it did have, alongside the irrepressible Robin Harper, was the steely determination of a German PhD student called Caroline Hoffmann that the party could and must do better. Together with her then partner, Philine Gaffron, she helped give the party the hard shove that was required to get it ready to fight an election campaign in 1999. The result of that campaign was the election of Robin, and the creation of a new green space in British politics. Caroline played a massive part in this success.
Caroline moved to Edinburgh to do a PhD at the Napier University Pollution Research Unit, with the catchy title “Investigation into the use of the Vibrio fischeri bioluminescence assay as a direct toxicity assessment (DTA) tool in the activated sludge environment”. The research side of of the PhD – assessing tools for measuring the toxicity of of sewage before discharge – appealed to Caroline’s attention to detail, her love of the sea and her life long passion for environmental protection. When not measuring the light output of V. fischeri at different levels of pollution, the other great draw of Edinburgh was the excellent sailing from Granton Harbour. Caroline had taught sailing in Southampton and quickly got involved in the Forth Corinthians yacht club.
However, coming to the Scottish Green Party conference in 1998 in Edinburgh, she was stunned to find a party that was seriously considering folding itself back into the Green Party of England and Wales, so low were the levels of energy and enthusiasm. Caroline, together with a few others, recognised that despite appearances, the introduction of PR for the Scottish Parliament elections meant the party stood on the brink of a massive opportunity.
Caroline threw herself into getting the party ship-shape and ready for the election. As Convenor of the National Executive and as Euro Election Campaign co-ordinator she gained a fearsome reputation for cutting through the waffle common in green circles. Her broadcasts from boring old realityland were vital in grounding the party and focussing its efforts on what actually needed to be done.
Opinions differ as to whose idea it originally was, but Caroline was a fierce advocate of the ‘Second Vote Green’ slogan. She recognised that the greens would only get a small window of opportunity to get their message across so it needed to be focused. Constant emphasis on a single clear message, she believed, should be at the heart of a campaign – and took the successes of 1999 and 2003 vindication of this.
She was also a passionate feminist and LGBT rights campaigner, and served as a role model for many new female members of the party. The campaign in 1999 to support the repeal of Clause 28, the homophobic regulations that forbade teachers and other local authority staff from treating gay and lesbian relationships as equally valid, was a bitter one, but Caroline maintained her principles and humour, as well as her passionate commitment to equality, throughout.
After a stint working for the Centre for Human Ecology, she returned to Germany, and after working for the Green Group in the the Bundestag and as Senior Advisor to the Council of Baltic Sea States she became the Head of the Environment and Transport Unit at the German Federal Environment Agency. She maintained her commitment to Green campaigning, working hard to get Bündnis 90/Die Grünen candidates elected in Berlin and Brandenburg.
It was in Berlin that Caroline married Katarzyna Nowak last year – in her own words “never give up hope – true love exists after all”.
However shortly after their wedding Caroline was diagnosed with leukaemia, the latest of several bouts of cancer. Despite two separate bone marrow transfusions, associated radio- and chemotherapy and a huge amount of struggle and bravery Caroline died in hospital on December 4th.
There are the ‘Bs’ I will always associate with Caroline. First, birds: she persuaded me that birdwatching could be fun, and her tales of how her group of ‘gay birders’ shook up the almost asexual world of birdwatching in Edinburgh always got a giggle. Secondly boats: I have a vivid memory of sailing across the Forth with her, and Caroline suddenly ducking down to put the radio on. Lo and behold, just as she had predicted, up popped a seal to see what the noise was. Finally (Werder) Bremen – her hometown football club and a source of pride, passion and disappointment in equal measure.
In love, in joy, in memory.
Mark Ballard was a Green MSP from 2003-2007 and ran the 2003 Scottish Parliament campaign which elected 7 Green MSPs.
Dear Mark, thank you for your warmhearted words and lovely discription of Caroline. We got informed about her passing away yesterday by Lorraine Jordan, who Angela and I met in Hamburg. We lit a candle for her last night. Your tribute helps us to pay her the attention she deserves after more than 6 months after her passing away. Love from Angela & Verena /Hamburg
I just have a question:
Looking for a Caroline Hoffmann who was at the same highschool as I, I found this message.
Could you please confirm if this Caroline has had her schooltime (until the age of about 18 years) in Alkmaar in the Netherlands?
If so, my search ends here.
Kind regards. Wim
PS. this message needs not to be displaued on the tribute page.
I love your wp template, where did you get a hold of it?
I’ve just learned of Caroline’s death and am so sad. The world’s lost a wonderful woman. I knew Caroline through SGP and the North Sea Greens and always remember her saying it doesn’t matter how hard you work if you don’t achieve results. How wise! We’d kept in touch but I had no idea of her illness. She was always a fighter. Before returning to Germany, she gave me her Jaques Cousteau Whales book as she wanted it to go to a good home. I’ll treasure it and my memories of Caroline.
I only met Caroline once on the occassion of a B21 event in Braunschweig, and she found the way into my heart at once. For the one mourning this (at least for me) most wonderful text from the old testimony may be comforting our loss and honouring Caroline:
A Time for Everything
1 There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:
2 a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
3 a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
4 a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
5 a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
6 a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
7 a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
8 a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.
9 What do workers gain from their toil?
10 I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race.
11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet[a] no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.
12 I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live.
Good bye Caroline!
So sorry to learn of Caroline’s death. Although I only knew her as a fellow sailor and cyclist. It was always a pleasure to chat with her. I admired and envied her intelligence, her good nature, genuine enthusiasm and passion for her causes. In Frieden ruhen
I had the priviledge to work with Caroline at the Council of Baltic Sea States Secretariat in Stockholm (2006-2008). With her huge commitment for environmental protection, great enthusiasm for international co-operation and a wonderful sense of humour – not to mention all her competencies and skills – she was a great colleague to work with. Through ever inspiring cooperation between ourselves and many others, we managed to create several important projects for advancing sustainable development of our region. Many of these projects are right now reaching their conclusions and making their findings and recommendations available for wider use. The last time I met Caroline was at her and Katarzyna’s wedding in October 2010. She was then very happy and full of optimism. It is incredibly sad that she has sailed away now. Her strong will and visions for a better world will continue to be a source of inspiration as long as I shall live.
Thank you for this – lovely words. I remember Caroline as a real force in the Scottish Greens: not afraid to demand action (and by the due deadline) but absolutely commtted to making things happen.I first met her at a conference about women’s participation in politics. The Scottish Green success in 1999 helped open the door to Brussels. She has certainly left a legacy
I knew Caroline through the North Sea Greens. Right now I can’t say any more than that I agree totally with Marian’s comments. Auf wiedersehen, Caroline, auf wiedersehen.
Well said Marion. She was a force allright and will be sadly missed. For sure I’m gutted to hear the news. Although I haven’t seen Caroline for years she was on my wavelength and I’ve always thought of her as a close friend. She was someone who could cut though the bullshit, and with so much bullshit out there everyone needs a friend like that. Mark is right that her work for the Greens before and around the 99 election was transformational and, I suppose, that will be her legacy. Her energy and motivation was a huge force in the election of the first Green in UK parliamentary history.
That is a beautiful piece for a beautiful woman whose utter love of life struck me when I first met her at CHE… and then again when I met her in Edinburgh again briefly a year or so ago. Thanks Mark for this, and Caroline for bringing that same energy you brought to the Greens to the CHE and no doubt many other places.
I was closely involved with the Centre for Human Ecology (as I still am) at the time when Carolina worked for us. She worked with determination, vision, and a much-needed full-on bullshit detector. The 2nd vote green principle was pivotal, in its time, for getting green politics re-grounded in Scotland. We thank her and will miss her.
Caroline; irreplaceable, irrepressible, irreverent. A good woman, one I was proud to call my friend and comrade.
My last contact with Caroline was when she sent me her joyously happy wedding photos last year. I had no idea her cancer had returned and now I feel bereft.The world has lost a woman who lived by the motto, “Better to light a candle than to curse the darkness”. Dear Caroline, you have sailed out of sight and beyond our horizon but we will never forget you.