His father belonged to an exclusive yacht club in Berlin.
“As early as 1931, the secretary of the club said, ‘You can’t be very happy here with people like Joachim von Ribbentrop and Hermann Göring in the club,’” Professor Kirstein said. “It wasn’t until they said that to him that he suddenly realized they were regarding him as Jewish.”
Feeling increasingly unsafe in Germany, the family took advantage of Eleanor Kirschstein’s British citizenship and moved to London in 1937. Walter changed the family’s surname to Kirstein when he became a naturalized citizen in 1947.
Professor Kirstein studied mathematics at Cambridge University, where he received a bachelor’s degree in 1954. For graduate work, he went to Stanford University, where he received a Ph.D. in electrical engineering in 1957.
In 1956, during a trans-Atlantic crossing, he met Gwen Oldham, a dental hygienist who was on her way home to England. “I noticed her as we were leaving,” he recalled. “She was busy flirting with lots of boys. I thought, ‘That’s the kind of person I’d stay away from.’” They married in 1958.
In addition to his daughter Ms. Black, Professor Kirstein is survived by his wife; another daughter, Claire Fiona Kirstein; a sister, Ellen Batzdorf; and six grandchildren.
In 1973, after stints with the European Organization for Nuclear Research, or CERN, in Geneva and in General Electric’s Zurich office, Professor Kirstein joined the faculty at the University College London. Computer networking became his principal research field.
When he built the university’s email gateway to the United States in 1973, his lab became one of the first international connections on the Arpanet, the precursor to the internet. For the next decade he oversaw Britain’s presence on the Arpanet.