Mirte Berko | AspenTimes.com
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Mirte Berko

Mirte Berko died Thursday, May 17, at the age of 93 in Aspen.Mirte was born in Berlin on Jan. 17, 1914, to a German father, Wilhelm Hahn, and an Italian mother, Mirte Beretta. Mirte grew up in Kronberg, Germany, where at the age of 17 she met her lifetime companion and husband, Ferenc (Franz) Berko. As teenagers, Mirte and Franz helped cultivate each other’s interests in visual beauty and composition. Mirte studied fashion design at the Staedel School of Art in Frankfurt. As the war neared, she left her family to join Franz, who had already moved to London. Together, the young couple enjoyed the artistic climate; Mirte continued her fashion design studies at Goldsmith College and Franz made short films and pursued photography. Mirte and Franz were married in 1934 and for several years lived in London and Paris, where Mirte worked in fashion houses.In 1938, the Berkos moved to India for Franz to work for an Indian film company. The Berkos became British citizens in 1946, and Franz began making films for the British Army. Mirte volunteered for the Red Cross and was instrumental in helping Franz establish, and run, his own photography studio. Mirte most enjoyed her summers in the northern Indian hill country where she described life as quieter and the people more distant from the strains of colonialism.With India’s independence in 1947, Mirte and Franz moved to Chicago for Franz to teach at the Chicago Institute of Art, where they met Elizabeth and Walter Paepcke. In 1948, the Paepckes invited the Berkos to Aspen – a peacefulness and landscape that reminded Mirte of her happy years in the Indian hills.Upon the Paepckes’ further encouragement for Franz to photograph the Goethe Bicentennial, the Berkos made Aspen home in 1949. The couple raised two daughters in Aspen, Nora and Gina. Having always worked closely with Franz throughout his photographic career, both as muse and collaborator, Mirte helped Franz with his photography business. Eager to pursue her own interests, Mirte then opened Aspen’s first toy store – The Toy Counter, first in the basement of the Wheeler Opera House, expanding to the Hyman Street Mall, and finally in the Lily Reid Victorian (now Timberline Bank) on Hopkins Avenue. Mirte’s boutique of European handmade toys – Kathe Kruse dolls, Steif stuffed animals, and Naef wooden toys – was a natural extension of her earlier studies: “I did not find it difficult to apply what I learned in fashion to toys: good design in shapes, colors, and materials are the basis of whatever we choose.”Mirte enjoyed the cosmopolitan aspect of Aspen by welcoming participants from the Aspen Music Festival and The Aspen Institute into their home. With a group of music-loving friends, Mirte helped found Friends of Aspen Winter Concerts. She loved opera, gardening, lilacs, linzer torte and all things beautiful.Mirte is preceded in death by her husband, Franz, and her granddaughter, Verena Mallory. She is survived by her daughters and their husbands: Nora Berko and Howie Mallory, Gina Berko and David Fleisher, and her five grandchildren: Mirte, Linden and Eliana Mallory, and Tanya and Dana Fleisher.In Mirte’s memory, please plant some petunias in your flower boxes this spring. A memorial gathering will be held later this summer.


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