Press release | 3 May 2023 | pp

Berliner Wissenschaftspreis Awarded to Two Women Researchers at TU Berlin

Bénédicte Savoy and Anja Maria Wagemans honored respectively for their important services to the study of looted art as well as the translocation of cultural goods and the development of innovative foods for the future

TU Berlin enjoyed a notable success on 2 May 2023: Both the main award and the award for junior scholars of the prestigious Berliner Wissenschaftspreis of the governing mayor of Berlin were awarded to two of the University’s researchers. The main award went to the internationally distinguished art historian Professor Dr. Bénédicte Savoy, who conducts research on historical translocations of cultural objects and plays a leading role in current debates on the history of collections as well as restitution. The award for junior scholars went to food technologist and junior professor Dr. Anja Maria Wagemans, who conducts research on novel biomaterials together with her team. In particular, she develops innovative and sustainable vegan and vegetarian foods. The Berliner Wissenschaftspreis is endowed with 40,000 euros, while 10,000 euros is awarded in the category for junior scholars.

“It is with great pleasure that I award the Berliner Wissenschaftspreis for 2022 to two women researchers whose work has achieved new milestones as well as provided new ideas and inspiration for society. Bénédicte Savoy’s contribution to European colonial history and an enlightened cultural policy is very important. In addition to providing historically significant insights into looted art and museum practices in Germany and France, her research has also inspired a long overdue debate. This has contributed to a significant rethinking regarding exhibitions of looted objects in Europe. In many cases, objects are now being returned to their country of origin. I am delighted that you have chosen to make Berlin your home; your research has greatly enriched the city’s scientific landscape,” said new governing mayor of Berlin Kai Wegner during the award ceremony.

The awarding of the Berliner Wissenschaftspreis was one of his first official acts as governing mayor. The award is intended to provide targeted support for outstanding scientific achievements in Berlin, thereby also creating a basis for the further economic development of the capital city. Thus, in addition to excellence, the possible practical application of research also plays a decisive role. The award in the junior scholar category recognizes innovative research approaches in a pioneering field in Berlin of particular benefit to the city as a center of science and business. The jury consists of members of the Senate responsible for science and research, the president of the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities Professor Dr. Christoph Markschies and up to nine other distinguished scientists.

“Both of the research prizes awarded by the governing mayor of Berlin this year go to TU Berlin. This is a wonderful recognition of the work of Bénédicte Savoy and Anja Maria Wagemans as well as a great honor for TU Berlin as a whole. My warmest congratulations and appreciation. The two very different areas of research, Bénédicte Savoy’s leading international role in the area of the restitution of cultural objects and Anja Maria Wagemans’ focus on new biomaterials, are proof of the wide spectrum of areas covered at TU Berlin. Both women are role models, not only as researchers and professors, but also as science managers,” says Professor Dr. Geraldine Rauch, president of Technische Universität Berlin.

Analytical precision and unconventional thinking

"In Bénédicte Savoy, the Berliner Wissenschaftspreis is awarded to an art historian with an outstanding international reputation and a leading researcher in the area of provenance research,” said Professor Dr. Peter-André Alt during his laudatory speech. “As a committed intellectual and unerring searcher for truth, she has opened our eyes to the dark side of national cultural history in the form of looted art and illegal appropriation. In her work, she brings together analytical precision and a passionate plea for unconventional thinking that enables science to critically examine traditional assessments, and by doing so forge new paths.” Literary theorist Perter-André Alt was president of Freie Universität Berlin until 2018 as well as president of the German Rectors' Conference until the end of March 2023. At the start of April 2023, he took over as managing director of Wübben Wissenschaftsstiftung gGmbH.

“The Berliner Wissenschaftspreis is a great honor for me and one that brings much responsibility,” said Bénédicte Savoy in her acceptance speech. As a tireless campaigner for a consensual and fair, ethically responsible handling of colonial-era stolen cultural assets determined by their country of origin, Savoy is currently working with her team on the stolen cultural assets of the former German colony of Cameroon.

Atlas of Absence - Cameroon's Cultural Heritage in Germany

In early June 2023, her work on Cameroon's material heritage in German museums will be published, a joint publication with partners from the Université de Dschang in Cameroon. More than 40,000 objects from the former colony - including weapons, musical instruments, statues, everyday objects, manuscripts and jewelry - are now held in public museums in the Federal Republic of Germany - the largest holdings worldwide. This is one of the key findings of the Cameroon-German research project on cultural property translocation “Collection History in Reverse. Art and Culture from Cameroon in German Museums” funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG). It also explores what the absence of cultural heritage means for Cameroon. The resulting work is an "Atlas of Absence" with maps, charts and graphics, photos of objects and biographies of key historical figures. Website

Professor Bénédicte Savoy

Art historian Bénédicte Savoy has won many awards at international level and is head of the Chair of Modern Art History at TU Berlin as well as a member of the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Science and Humanities and Chevalier of the Legion of Honor in France. She is also the author of numerous publications. As an expert on the translocation of works of art, she was commissioned in 2018, together with the Senegalese academic Professor Dr. Felwine Sarr, by president of France Emmanuel Macron to develop recommendations for handling cultural objects from former African colonies. Their work resulted in the report "Rapport sur la restitution du patrimoine culturel africain. Vers une nouvelle éthique relationnelle." As a result, France became the first European state to return 26 objects to the Republic of Benin, including monumental statues from the royal palace of Abomey.

The return of valuable cultural assets by Germany to Nigeria in 2022 is also directly attributable to Bénédicte Savoy's research and to the debates she initiated on art theft and cultural asset translocation. 

In recent years she has received numerous honors and awards, including Germany's most prestigious research award, the Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Prize, in 2016. In 2021, Time Magazine ranked her among the 100 most influential people in the world.

Her most recent awards include the 2022 Kulturpolitikpreis of the Deutscher Kulturrat (German Council of Culture).

Berliner Wissenschaftspreis in the category for junior scholars: Food of the future from plant-derived, microbial biopolymers - Professor Dr. Anja Maria Wagemans advances science in Berlin

The goal of the award-winning junior scholar and food technologist Anja Maria Wagemans (born 1987) is to elucidate the structure formation of alternative plant and microbiological biopolymers with a focus on highly functional and novel proteins and polysaccharides. These are major components of many foods and have a significant impact on their technofunctionality; their structure and functionality are also modifiable. They can also be derived from alternative resources to create more sustainable products. Currently, Wagemans and her team are focusing on innovations such as cultured meat and plant-based dairy, fish and meat alternatives. Anja Maria Wagemans has already documented the results of her research in many excellent publications in renowned journals as well as lectures and talks.

She has also established numerous scientific collaborations in a short time with countries including the Netherlands and Brazil - an important criterion for receiving the award. Additionally, she has established a strong network with small and medium-sized enterprises as well as with Berlin startups. Anja Maria Wagemans' junior professorship in food colloids and food biosciences has now been successfully evaluated. In her future work, she plans to further advance the development of innovative foods working together with experts from microbiology, process engineering, and the field of artificial intelligence, among others. Website