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Ralf Merkel was born in Altenburg (Thuringia). He was trained as an electrical technician as well as a stage and lighting technician and studied electrical engineering. From 1990 to 1997 he worked as a lighting technician at the theatre in his home town. In 1997 he moved to Munich, where he became deputy head of the lighting department at the Prinzregententheater . He also lectured on lighting design at the local Hochschule für Musik and Theater. Since 2002 he has been the head of the lighting department of the Hamburg Ballet.