Born: October 2, 1945;

Died: April 24, 2021.

BERND Rullkotter, who has died aged 75, was a linguist and editor known for translating fiction, biography, and academic works from English and Russian into German.

Working in his adopted city of Glasgow, his translations of Alasdair Gray’s novels helped introduce the Scottish writer to Germany, but he also translated novels by Ken Follett and Peter Ackroyd, biographies of Stalin, Catherine The Great and others, and works by Francis Fukuyama, the economist Daron Acemoglu, and the Scottish novelist Craig Russell, who wrote a series of novels set in Hamburg.

Rullkotter had always had a natural ease with languages. Born in Hamburg, German was thus his native tongue, but he also spoke fluent English and Russian (the latter learned during his military service) and had good conversational ability in Czech, Serbo-Croat and French.

His initial plan after university was to apply for academic jobs, but after completing a PhD in Russian science fiction, he found academic positions were few and far between and so decided to give translation a try.

Initially, work in the translation field was also hard to come by.

He contacted publishers all over Germany but the only ones to reply were Mills & Boon. He worked on the romantic novels for the first year or two, much against his own taste, but word soon got round that he was good, never missed a deadline and was a perfectionist on grammar, and so more publishers got in touch, although it was not easy to make a living at first.

Most translators are not able to live off their earnings and usually supplement it with teaching, but Rullkotter developed a method of speaking the German version into a tape recorder as he read from the original Russian or English text, which meant he could work on several books at once and make a good income.

Later in his career, when some publishers attempted to cut the pay still further, he led a fight against the move. The publishers had formed a cartel to reduce translators’ fees by one third and most translators had to lump it because they were in a weak position, competing for contracts.

But Rullkotter was well established and so, for the sake of new translators just embarking on their careers, he took some of the publishers to court with the backing of the Writers’ Union. The action was only partially successful, because at the last minute the Writers’ Union (which represented publishers as well as writers and translators) withdrew its support.

Although Rullkotter lived for most of his life in Scotland, he often returned to his home city of Hamburg, where he had been born shortly after the end of the Second World War. According to his mother, he was born “on a pile of bricks” in the basement of a bombed-out office, with no midwives or doctors in attendance.

His father, Hermann, and mother, Elfriede, supported themselves by running a kiosk selling ice-cream and cigarettes, which were an informal currency in Germany at the time. Elfriede also ran a small business mending stockings.

Life at home when he was growing up was often difficult for the young Bernd and his younger sister Birgit: their father was a difficult man and was sometimes drunk and violent and, when he was still a teenager, Bernd helped his mother collect evidence for divorce proceedings, although in the end the family stayed together.

Bernd left school at the age of 19 with a promising academic record: his marks in the Abitur (the German equivalent of Highers) were the best in the whole school, but before he could go to university, he had to complete a couple of years’ military service, which he did in the German Air Force.

As soon as his superiors realised he was good at languages, they put him through a crash-course in Russian and his job was to listen in on the radios of the Soviet planes flying over West Germany to see if he could pick up any state secrets. His talent for languages led to Bernd’s decision to study Slavonic languages and English at university, although he almost had another career entirely. A modelling company approached him and suggested he would make a good model and he did in fact complete a few photoshoots. In the end, however, he decided to go with the safer option and matriculated at Hamburg University.

While still at Hamburg, he took part in a student exchange programme with Glasgow University, which is where he met his partner-to-be Mary McCabe; she would later become a writer and poet and one of her early works was Die zauberhafte Reise (The Magical Journey). Bernd put her in touch with a German firm that published the book in 1985 to great success.

After considering a move to Germany with his family, Bernd and Mary decided to settle in Glasgow where he was a pillar of the Western Baths Club, off Byres Road. For more than 40 years right up until the imposition of the virus restrictions last year, he was at the baths every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

He also felt a huge sense of responsibility towards his German family. He helped support his sister when she had financial problems and when she died he supported her youngest son, Tim, through his education. Down the years, Tim became like another son to him.

He continued to work on his translations well beyond retirement age and when he fell ill with sepsis at the end of March he was negotiating deadlines over a biography of Alexei Navalny, the Russian opposition leader; his main concern was that his stay in hospital might affect his ability to keep to his contract.

Bernd Rullkotter is survived by his partner Mary, son Colin, daughter Eilidh, and nephews Boris and Tim.