Report on the 2016 Annual Conference of the Deutsche Gesellschaft der Humboldtianer (DGH, German Society of Humboldtians) in Karlsruhe at KIT
Organized by: Regional Humboldt Group Karlsruhe-Pforzheim in cooperation with the International Scholars & Welcome Office (IScO) of KIT
On October 28 and 29, 2016, the annual conference of the DGH for the first time took place in Karlsruhe. The conference was organized by the Regional Humboldt Group Karlsruhe-Pforzheim in close cooperation with the International Scholars & Welcome Office (IScO). Since 2012, the Regional Group and IScO have been cooperating successfully in organizing the so-called “Humboldt-Tag.” It has become a regular event at KIT, takes place annually, and brings together many Humboldtians and representatives of the Humboldt Foundation.
The motto of this year’s annual conference was I³: Internationalization, Innovation, and Integration. This motto was developed to reflect the Humboldtian mission of conducting international research and being open-minded.
The conference was opened by Professor Dr. Dirk Wentzel, who referred to the development history of the motto and analyzed it from different perspectives. He was followed by Professor Dr. Thomas Hirth, Vice President for Innovation and International Affairs at KIT, who introduced himself as a long-standing partner of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation and emphasized the high innovative power of KIT and its complex network of international collaborations. KIT proved to be an excellent host. It made available to the DGH the just renovated Senate Assembly Hall at no cost. The Vice President of KIT was followed by the Spokesperson of the DGH, Professor Dr. Uwe Dorka, who used his welcome address – as he usually does – to reflect on Humboldt and the present situation. He concluded that scientific excellence and sociopolitical responsibility are inseparably linked in the sense of Humboldt.
The welcome addresses were followed by the first cultural highlight of the event: Tatjana Uhde of the Paris orchestra presented some pieces on her violoncello, much to the delight of the audience.
The panel members discussing the topic I³ were entirely female: Professor Dr. Caroline Robertson-von Trotha, founding member of the Regional Group and Head of KIT’s Center for Applied Cultural and General Studies (ZAK), Professor Dr. Ingrid Ott (Chair for Economic Policy), and Ms. Meri Uhlig, the Integration Commissioner of the City of Karlsruhe. While Professor Ott mainly analyzed the economic aspect of integration in terms of human capital, Ms. Uhlig underlined the diversity and complexity of integration. She also spoke about her own life: As a child of immigrants, she managed to complete school, graduate from university, and assume an executive position in the administration of the city of Karlsruhe. Passionately, she pleaded for advanced integration efforts and open-mindedness.
The spirited panel discussion was followed by another cultural highlight: In groups, the guests were guided through Karlsruhe Palace and informed about the margrave, the palace, and the city of Karlsruhe with its fan-shaped design that served as a model for Washington D.C.
The traditional highlight of the annual conference was the so-called “Humboldt-Abend”. At the Gartensaal of the Palace, Professor Alexey Ustinov from the Regional Group presented a gala evening with Professor Dr. Dorka making the welcome speech for the about 90 guests on behalf of the DGH. He was followed by KIT Vice President Professor Dr. Hirth, who was highly pleased to welcome the Humboldtians in “the living room of Karlsruhe.”
A very touching speech was given by Dr. Enno Aufderheide, Secretary General of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation. Dr. Aufderheide mainly spoke about the Philipp Schwartz Initiative to support threatened researchers, which unfortunately is very busy at the moment due to persecution and war.
The Secretary General was followed by Dr. Frank Mentrup, Lord Mayor of the City of Karlsruhe, who found highly personal and humorous words for the Humboldtians. He pointed out that all are rather important scientists, but still “normal and down-to-earth” and by no means a “closed society.” Dr. Mentrup also praised the subject of the conference “I³” and referred to the integration efforts and successes of the city of Karlsruhe.
The absolute highlights of the evening and probably of the whole conference were the musical performances by the Head of Karlsruhe University of Music, concert pianist Professor Dr. Michael Uhde (piano), and his daughter Tatjana (violoncello). Professor Uhde, who had come to Karlsruhe with his family (including his new-born grandchild) in spite of the birthday of his son David and an appointment in Munich, and Tatjana turned the Humboldt-Abend into an extra-class concert evening. The Palace as a festive venue, the excellent cuisine of the region of Baden, and local wine rounded off the evening.
The morning of the next day (Saturday) was dedicated to the scientific colloquium on research projects of Humboldt scholars in the region. The event focused on the “I” of Innovation. Current Humboldt Professor Dr. Wolfgang Wernsdorfer first talked about the “World of quantum nanomagnets.” Professor Wernsdorfer just came to KIT from Grenoble. His presentation was followed by Dr. Ioan Pop, winner of the Sofja Kovalevskaja Award, who just came from Yale to KIT. He spoke about “The world of experimental physics.” Both presentations fascinated the audience and provided insight into latest research in the area of physics.
After the coffee break, the colloquium focused on integration. Dr. Petra Roth (IScO) reported about the Philipp Schwartz Initiative at KIT, thus referring to the speech of Secretary General Dr. Aufderheide at the Palace on the evening before. Ms. Roth’s speech was followed by that of a threatened researcher, who is supported by the PSI. In a very touching way, he reported about his escape and his reasons to do so. For his own personal safety, his name shall not be mentioned here. Quite a few persons in the audience had to fight their tears.
The conference was completed by a very special highlight. Professor Dr. Annie Powell was thanked for having been the host of ten Humboldtians while working as a professor at KIT. The laudation was held by Professor Dr. Christopher Barner-Kowollik, who has been the host of seven Humboldt fellows so far. In a rousing speech, he acknowledged the incredible international “spirit” and enthusiasm of Annie Powell. Indeed, hosts are the most important links between the Foundation and the scholarship holders – and the most important prerequisite for the success of research.
At the end of the conference and prior to the start of the assembly of members, Professor Wentzel took over again. He cordially thanked all participants and speakers of the Humboldt Foundation, KIT, Regional Group, City of Karlsruhe, and his staff member Peter Vogel. In particular, he praised the high commitment of the International Scholars and Welcome Office Team, who decisively contributed to the success of the conference.