Photographer, Advocate, Friend: Ingeborg Gerdes Remembered by Emeryville Neighbors

2 mins read

At a small Halloween party in the courtyard of Oliver Lofts on 65th Street in 2006 our neighbor Ingeborg spontaneously performed a joyful dance around Irene, when she discovered German party food on the buffet table: potato salad and Frikadellen (fried meatballs) with lots of mustard. Irene, who had made this dish, had recently moved from Germany to Emeryville. Ingeborg, also born in Germany, but having lived in the US since 1964, could get overcome with joy and nostalgia when coming across German traditional fare.

A friendship developed between us over time and dinner with friends was a most welcome occasion for Irene’s husband Bob to show off as a chef of Asian, Mediterranean and Mexican food entertaining friends and family. Ingeborg would often bring dessert: fruit or ice-cream. She had a passion for persimmons, often eating 2 lbs. a day when in season.

Over the years Irene and Ingeborg went swimming at the Emeryville pool, attended Tai Chi classes, visited concerts, galleries and museums in the Bay Area or even drove to Santa Cruz, where Ingeborg had been a professor of photography for twenty years. She also volunteered for the annual flea market at the Emeryville Senior Center, managing the clothes racks in the back of the hall like they were a fashion boutique.

It seemed easy for her to make contact with people and this skill helped her establish herself as a street photographer after she acquired her Masters at the San Francisco Art Institute. But she also was a documentarian of the many changes in the neighborhood where she lived: North Beach and Mission District in San Francisco, Berlin in the summer time and for the last 17 years Emeryville with Berkeley and Oakland around the corner. Her favorite street was San Pablo Ave. catching photographic surprises with her special way of seeing the world around her. Her last photo outings were motivated by the protests against racism and social injustice.

Some of Gerdes’ final photos were of the protest activity around our city.

When the pandemic forced us into sheltering in place in March, it was clear that we would be in this together. As for most of us, her life changed drastically: No more swims at the Temescal Pool in Oakland, no more trips on BART to San Francisco to see friends, visit museums and galleries and no trip to Berlin/Germany this year, an annual event that she always looked forward to and often stretched out over 2 – 3 months.

We saw each other almost daily, usually in passing or on our patio donned with our masks and chatted away about the latest in politics and personal life. Our occasional dinner invitation was a welcome uplifting highlight of the day.

We were heartbroken when we found out that our friend and neighbor Ingeborg suddenly passed away on June 20th. Just a few days before we had seen her from our living-room window on a bike circling many rounds on the empty company parking lot across the street. Ingeborg had worked intensely on preserving her archive of 45 years of photography and had posted her latest finds on Facebook, where she had over 1000 friends.

After so many years of friendship we miss her terribly.


If you are interested in finding out more about her life and work as a photographer you can go to her website at ingeborggerdes.com or her personal Facebook page. The SF Chronicle published an obituary in their Datebook section on June 28.

This guest contribution was written by Emeryville residents Irene Bruenger and Bob Riksheim. All photos: Ingeborg Gerdes’ Facebook page.

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