30. October 2019

Science as a location factor

Michael Müller, Berlin’s governing mayor and senator for higher education and research, talked to us about recruiting new talent, how Berlin’s ‘Zukunftsorte’ bridge gaps, and how Adlershof is expanding its universities for future PE teachers

Michael Müller © Lena Giovanazzi

Michael Müller sees Berlin as well on the way to becoming a leading international research metropolis © Lena Giovanazzi

Adlershof Journal: Mr. Governing Mayor, please gaze into your crystal ball: what will the Berlin as hub for science and research look like in 2030?

It will certainly be more modern, more international, and more feminine. We are currently increasing investment into construction and renovation in the science sector from two to five billion euros across the next fifteen years, which will be highly visible on all campuses. The amount of international talent moving to Berlin is on the rise. And almost half of Berlin’s open professor positions were given to female scientists. We aspire to make Berlin one of the key global cities for science and research in the next ten years.

What can Adlershof and Berlin’s other ten so-called ‘Zukunftsorte,’ places of future innovation, contribute to these efforts?

Let’s be honest – how many of us believed, thirty years ago, that Adlershof would become an absolute textbook example of a successful science and technology park? This is where we are now, and it is clearly being noticed on an international level. It was no coincidence that, when I travelled to Australia last year as President of the German Bundesrat, we signed an agreement between Adlershof and the Tonsley Innovation District in Adelaide. Adlershof and Berlin’s other ‘Zukunftsorte’ are pivotal to the city’s development as a place for innovation and indispensable for bridging the gap between science and private enterprises.

How many high-tech locations are good for Berlin and what is Berlin prepared to invest in them?

We have the advantage that our science and research activities are spread out all over the city. There are universities and research institutes in almost every district. Consequently, and rightly so, Berlin’s eleven ‘Zukunftsorte’ – Siemensstadt being the most recent addition – are also spread out all over the city and each location can develop according to its own goals and needs. They are creating an economic dynamic that benefits the whole city. When it comes to investment, Adlershof has different needs and factors compared to FUBIC in Dahlem or the future TXL Campus. Berlin’s government is investing heavily here. We see innovation as the most important pillar for a positive and sustainable development in Berlin.

Why is science so crucial to Berlin’s economy?

Without science, we would not have successfully halved Berlin’s unemployment rate, would not have become Europe’s start-up capital, and international companies like Siemens and SAP would not have invested hundreds of millions of euros into this city. Without it, there would not be 90 companies in Adlershof who count as world market leaders in their fields. Our universities and research institutes are fuelling innovation, founding companies, and educating thousands and thousands of highly skilled staff.

Can science and research revive Berlin’s industrial heritage?

Quite frankly, only science and research can do that. Many recent studies confirm that Berlin is picking up steam as an industrial location because manufacturing companies can tap into its diverse research landscape. Moreover, the city also boasts the expertise these companies need to become fit for the digital age. Berlin’s Senate is fostering these processes with its ‘Masterplan Industriestadt’ and many other specific measures, including additional professorships for fields like additive manufacturing and novel materials.

The science capital of Europe needs smart minds. How do we succeed in attracting these smart minds to Berlin – and in keeping them here?

We are succeeding more and more, even though we have a hard time competing with multi-billion-dollar universities in America. German universities work within the confines of civil service regulation. However, by investing into research infrastructures and universities, we were able to catch up in many areas and are also seeing increasing investment from private foundations, for example, the go-ahead of the Damp-Stiftung to invest 30 million euros towards attracting top-level lecturers last summer. We are creating more legal leeway, most recently, by adjusting regulation for civil service salaries and giving universities more options for junior professorships and for negotiating with professors. Personally, I believe we should start talking more about tenure-track professorships. There are legal precedents in place and our universities recently attracted 79 additional professorships as part of a federal programme. We should continue down that road and make the tenure track the new norm in Berlin.

Berlin is investing billions in science and research. The new Integrative Research Institute for the Sciences IRIS Adlershof will open very soon. Are there other science-related construction projects planned in Adlershof?

Please let me highlight one project here, because it is close to my heart. Together with Humboldt-Universität, we will build new buildings for teacher training in Adlershof; specifically, we are planning seminar rooms and a gym for prospective PE teachers. That is probably a side of Adlershof that not many people are aware of but one that is nonetheless essential for the needs of our city.

Berlin excels at teamwork as shown by the Berlin University Alliance’s success in the German government's Excellence Strategy. How can we further improve cooperation between non-university research the Berlin University Alliance within Berlin’s integrated research area? Which structures does this require?

The other day in ‘Süddeutsche Zeitung’, I delighted in reading that Berlin’s team spirit and our sweeping success in the excellence competition have somewhat alarmed my Bavarian counterpart. I am firmly convinced that the idea of an integrated research area and cooperation on a structural level between Berlin’s universities and non-university research institutions are the logical next step in making Berlin a global research hub. This leads to other central issues such as nurturing talent together, attracting top-level professors together, and setting up research infrastructures together. There is a lot more work to be done here, and we must work towards further reducing obstacles.

Berlin’s Science Week will take place in November and Adlershof again hosted the qualifying round of the Falling Walls Lab. How important are such events and competitions for Berlin?

First, I wish to congratulate Adlershof on hosting the most successful Falling Walls Lab qualifying round ever. Events like the Science Week and the Falling Walls conferences increase Berlin’s international visibility as a location for science and innovation. Together with the Long Night of the Sciences, they also give the people of Berlin an opportunity to experience research first-hand. It is important for our citizens to experience the wealth of research our city produces. For this reason, the Senate also financially supports these events.

Adlershof is growing and so is Berlin. The infrastructure is having a hard time keeping up. Even today, a third of the people working in Adlershof are suffering from commuting stress. What is the Senate doing to support a transformation towards modern transportation in Adlershof?

Adlershof has developed rapidly and is continuing to grow. This is a positive development but also increases the strain on public roads and transportation. The planning for the extension of the M17 tram line from Schöneweide via Groß-Berliner Damm to Karl-Ziegler-Strasse in Adlershof is currently underway. This will create an additional and effective link to the regional and S-Bahn train station in Schöneweide – and a direct line to Karlshorst and Hohenschönhausen. We must keep a close eye on the developments in Adlershof and the needs that arise from them.

Teenagers, researchers, and entrepreneurs are coming together for Fridays for Future, the Researcher’s Strikes, and Entrepreneurs for Future Berlin to precipitate a change in climate policy. What is your approach?

I am convinced that there is no magic formula. We need to join forces on various levels to bring about change. The city, individual institutions, and every one of us will have to contribute. Last year, the Senate agreed on a range of concrete measures as part of the Berlin Energy and Climate Protection Programme 2030, which will help us reach our goal of making Berlin carbon-neutral by 2050. This includes ending the use of coal and expanding use of renewable energies, further developing public transportation, and creating more bike paths. We have also found an agreement with Berlin’s universities to reduce their carbon footprint. These are important steps. However, we will also have to intensify the dialogue between policy and research so that we can meet future challenges based on knowledge, develop new technologies, and respond to the effects of a changing climate. Our universities are planning to focus their competencies in this field in a new climate research centre, which will be an important partner in this process. It goes without saying that Adlershof and the other central projects of our city are playing and will continue to play an important role in this.


Interview by Sylvia Nitschke for Adlershof Journal

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