The answer to each of these questions is “yes”. Our researchers are engaged with topics of the future such as the bio-economy; and our university has shown how to switch to digital teaching. “Incredible!” you might be thinking. Again, I can only agree. Before the lockdown in March 2020, we had no idea how quickly we could shift to new ways of doing things with our approximately 8,000 employees and 35,000 students. Yet it was not easy – and it took a lot of hard work.
And this has already changed us. We are no longer the people we were back in February when it was still possible to dream about that carefree summer holiday in the Mediterranean or that internship semester with a global company, or to plan that business trip to Australia. We have turned into people who convert lectures for large groups into digital formats, who work from home, who shoulder the burden of homeschooling, who create hygiene plans, who increase server capacities, who attend online meetings and who sometimes even conduct exams online.
Our world has imposed fundamentally different priorities, and this has opened us up to different options for action. “Different, but not better!” some would say. “Well, maybe they are?” others would reply. Despite the contact restrictions, despite closed restaurants, theaters and museums, despite the travel bans and the demonstrations against coronavirus regulations, something remarkable has crystallized in our minds, namely the insight that the opportunity lies in change, not in “more of the same”; in conservation, not in growth; in pausing, not in sprinting; in friendship, not in a me-first mentality; in networking, not in isolation. The more we become aware of this, the greater are our chances of finding our way out of this medical and societal crisis and stepping into another world.
Science is helping individuals and society to cope with the pandemic. Our colleague Christian Drosten from the Charité university hospital is an outstanding representative of thousands of other researchers. The value of science, I believe, has truly struck a chord with public consciousness.
But our research accomplishes so much more. It can show us the path our society could take post-corona – one that conserves our resources and promotes healthy coexistence. At our universities and research institutions, scenarios of the future are designed and analyzed based on examples. The topics include environmental protection, waste and plastic avoidance, new traffic concepts and modern water management. But concepts of spatial perception and social cohesion are also being explored. It is the essence of science to find different ways, to discover new things, to investigate phenomena and to point out alternatives.
Why shouldn’t we use mushrooms to build houses? Why not work from home for a while and avoid long business trips? Why not ask our neighbors if they need any help? Why shouldn’t we change our ways of thinking?!