Olaf Scholz

Grundsatzrede zur Wissenschaftspolitik vor dem Überseeclub: Hamburg – a Science Metropolis of the North (englisch)

Die Rede auf deutsch: Hamburg – eine Metropole der Wissenschaft im Norden


Mr. Behrendt,
Representatives of the consular corps,
Senator Fegebank,
Senator Stapelfeldt,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

On 1. September 2017, the European XFEL commenced its scientific activities at the DESY site in Hamburg-Bahrenfeld. Since the X-ray laser operates primarily underground and is therefore out of our sight, at the inauguration ceremony we brought the XFEL to light quite literally: in the form of a green laser beam shining across Hamburg from the Elbphilharmonie all the way to Schenefeld.

This green light connected the port to science and tradition to the modern age. And both shone brighter in each other’s light.

In Hamburg, more so than in almost any other city, the best of the old and new world have found their way to each other. For centuries, our port has formed the heart of the city. It is a powerful heart, strengthened by the global flow of goods and free trade, by modern logistics and new technologies. Nothing symbolises Hamburg’s tradition and identity more than its port. But what would this port be without automated terminals and the progress offered by smart technologies? And just imagine all the opportunities that await this port when emission-free cruise ships dock there and electric vehicles drive along uncongested roads.

“We have our best years ahead of us. Hamburg’s calling lies in the future. There is no state of affairs that would allow us to rest on our laurels and merely improve what already exists”.

This is what I said in my speech at the Übersee Club on 30 January 2013. And it still holds true today, almost 5 years in government down the road, not in spite of, but because of Hamburg’s progress along its previously determined path – towards an intelligently growing city – and it can continue along that path with optimism and confidence.

Improvements in the economic, social, ecological and cultural quality of life in our city can be seen almost everywhere. Hamburg’s increasing appeal is leading to even more growth, bringing new challenges and sometimes new burdens as well. But the influx of new citizens also means a livelier urban and more dynamic environment. The city is attracting qualified professionals, potential founders of companies and many highly-motivated young people with new ideas.

Ever since I became mayor of this city it has been my aim to not merely secure but also noticeably improve prosperity and the high quality of life standard in Hamburg. It is our common future and the future of our children that are important to me   a future marked by prosperity, freedom and peace, that allows every one of us to find employment and shape our life according to our own ideas; a future that creates more economic growth while producing less emissions and consuming less natural resources, and allows children to grow up knowing they are well prepared for the tasks ahead.

The point where the laser beam joined the port with the XFEL is exactly where this future will be decided. Will we succeed in reconciling traditional and modern values, ensuring that the laser beam symbolises a permanent bond?

International competitiveness is measured by the innovative strength of companies and their ability to position new technologies, products and services successfully on the global market. The older ones among us may remember the days when development departments were shielded from the public. But now, the global economy, including the SME sector, has realised that it must open its doors to science and research. Rapid access to new knowledge and findings is crucial in order to evaluate trends accurately and develop sophisticated products and services to a marketable stage.

Hamburg is doing everything in its power to facilitate the creation of successful innovation chains. This is the conditio sine qua non for the future prosperity of our city. It is these innovation chains which enable us to bring direct improvements to the lives of the people of Hamburg.

Innovation creates jobs and brings about new healing techniques; it makes transport more convenient and some day so quiet that people will be able to talk to each other while crossing a busy road. Innovation makes it possible to locate industry and commerce in the inner city without disturbing the neighbours; it allows us to heat our houses without wasting energy, and to keep Hamburg green, despite a higher building density.

Cities are the laboratories of the modern age. Cities are the places where economic, ecological and social challenges merge, and it is in the cities where solutions to the grand challenges of our day and age are found: population and urban growth, globalisation of the markets, global warming, flight and migration – the citizens of Hamburg are not oblivious to the consequences of these global challenges. But as opposed to many towns and cities all over the world, thanks to our economic strength, our high level of education and skills and the constructive participation of a resilient civil society, we are in a position to master these challenges.

Hamburg is predestined to be a laboratory of the modern day and age. Answers to practically all the important questions which major cities pose nowadays can be found in our city: how will we travel around in the future and how will we transport goods – in the city, by water and by air? How can we cure illnesses and what will tomorrow’s health care system look like? How should we build our cities to ensure that all inhabitants can perfectly live together? What values and skills do we want to teach young people so they can get on in life? What will the media landscape of the future be like? In Hamburg we are able to not only seek but actually find answers to all these questions.

For instance, we want to make Hamburg a model city for improved transportation and logistics. And for this reason, it is important to have research on autonomous systems, sensor technologies and robotics located in our city. The results of this research must then find their way into the companies, and the city must test autonomous vehicles and innovative drive systems and introduce them, for example, in public transport systems. We are expecting around 10,000 visitors to the World Congress for Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS) in 2021, and we will use this opportunity to implement our concept: driverless shuttles and other innovative solutions will be tested under real-life conditions in urban transport.

The new prospects for transportation clearly demonstrate how an innovation chain works and how crucial the research “link” is in this chain. We can see how innovative technology is able to reduce emissions and make transport more convenient, more effective and safer for the population in general. And we can also see how it boosts the city’s reputation as a business centre and increases appreciation of Hamburg as a transport hub and a gateway to Europe and the world, both now and in the future. Good for Hamburg’s economic strength, good for the quality of life of its citizens, and good for the world climate – we want to do good in a lot of fields.

It took Hamburg quite a while to realise that being a strong business location is not just a decorative accessory for a major modern international city, but a prerequisite for innovation, economic growth and solutions to global challenges. That is quite surprising given that precisely the port and trade in our Hanseatic city have shown, for example, with their digital applications in logistics, that it is only through innovation that Hamburg is able to secure its competitive standing on international markets.  

However, step by step Hamburg has been building on its standing as a science hub since the beginning of the decade. In the course of this process we have set our sights on a number of specific aims:

  1. Hamburg needs cutting-edge research facilities of international standing, as it is the case, for example, in structural and climate research. This is important to help our scientists gain international recognition. Not everything is top notch in Stanford and Boston, but these places live off the reputation they have gained through top-class scientists.
  2. Hamburg’s science facilities need excellence. Excellence in the STEM subjects as well as in life sciences, the arts and social sciences.  
  3. Hamburg needs research on practical applications. The entire range of this research – from basics right up to application – expands scientific opportunities, helps to advance society and strengthens the economy.
  4. Science ensures the future of generations to come. More and more young people want to study at university. We must ensure that they can do so. In our increasingly complex world, along with our outstanding dual vocational training system, a university degree is the main opportunity to finding employment and having a positive outlook on life.   
  5. Digitisation is also causing major changes in our university and academic research systems. Hamburg’s universities are actively addressing these changes.
XFEL, Bahrenfeld and the significance of top-level research


Ladies and Gentlemen,
Now that the European XFEL has been opened, Hamburg has finally reached the top level of international structural research. In this field of research, we now find ourselves on an equal footing with MIT and Stanford. This is a turning point for our city.

Put simply, the XFEL is the most powerful microscope on earth. Inside a 3.4 kilometre long tunnel between Hamburg-Bahrenfeld and Schenefeld in Schleswig-Holstein, electrons are accelerated to almost the speed of light. This means that the inconceivable number of 27,000 light flashes per second and their chemical reactions can be filmed at molecular level. One of the leading scientists called it “a molecule movie”.  

Using football as an analogy, the significance of the XFEL for the observation of molecules might be described as follows: until now, one knew which teams were playing and what the final result of the match was. Thanks to the XFEL, one can now follow the entire game in detail, when goals are scored and in what order, which shots were off-target, and whether the game could have taken a different turn. Projecting this onto the field of infection research means that, using the XFEL, one can watch the pathogens attaching themselves to human body cells and observe how the infection actually develops. This opens up previously undreamt-of possibilities for developing new forms of treatment.   

The European XFEL symbolises everything that top-level international research stands for: bold ideas and technical pioneering, teamwork and international understanding, not to forget high costs – these had amounted to 1.5 billion euros by its completion date. In addition to the German federal government, Hamburg and the state of Schleswig-Holstein, ten other European countries are involved in this project.

Nevertheless, the European XFEL is merely the visible top of the building; it has lots of different rooms on various storeys and by now it has quite a few beautiful halls as well. There is no better place to follow the progress of this highly complex building than on the research campus in Hamburg-Bahrenfeld with the DESY as its central element.

The German Electron Synchrotron – abbreviated to DESY in German –, which took up its work in the 1960’s, has always had an excellent reputation in scientific circles. But then it managed to transcend disciplinary borders when it was realised that the produced accelerator rings could be used in applications other than particle physics, and could serve as a kind of super microscope in many ways. Now, basic research into matter can be enhanced by new, frequently application-oriented fields such as material research and life sciences. This opens up a whole new world of possibilities.

During many years of research, the Hamburg-Bahrenfeld campus has worked its way to the top of the global research ladder by successfully generating X-rays of unprecedented intensity. This has significantly increased the attractiveness of the Hamburg-Bahrenfeld research campus. This summer alone two new institutes were opened and construction of a new building at the DESY site began:  

  • On 9 June 2017, the foundation stone was laid for the new Max Planck Institute for the structure and dynamics of matter. Research on the fundamentals of physical processes is conducted here.
  • On 29 June 2017, the Centre for Structural Systems Biology (CSSB) was opened. This biomedical research institute concentrates the know-how gained by various facilities in the north of Germany on infection research.
  • On 18 July 2017, we inaugurated the Center for Hybrid Nanostructures (CHYN) of the University of Hamburg. Scientists from the fields of physics, chemistry, biology and medicine are engaged in nanostructure research here. Maybe this research will make it possible some day to replace damaged sensory cells using tiny biomedical implants and thus, for example, give blind people their eyesight back.
The Center for Hybrid Nanostructures is another section of the University of Hamburg which is now located at the Bahrenfeld campus. In the future, a new building will house another research facility next to it, the Hamburg Advanced Research Center for Bioorganic Chemistry (HARBOR). HARBOR has committed itself to investigating molecular biological systems and will house some of the working groups of the Hamburg excellence cluster Hamburg Centre for Ultrafast Imaging (HCUI).

Excellence initiative

Ladies and Gentlemen,
The sustainability of both Germany and Europe largely depends on their contribution to cutting-edge research and their connections to leading centres of global science. That is why Germany needs an additional place of international excellence with a high level of user orientation in the country’s North. It is also the reason why Europe needs a powerhouse metropolis of science where the countries of the North can concentrate their strengths. We want Hamburg to take on that role.

Hamburg has set its sails to the right course over the past few years by expanding the research campus in Bahrenfeld. But we also know that a centre of science is only as strong as its individual universities. The University of Hamburg, together with the University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf, the Hamburg University of Applied Sciences, the Hamburg University of Technology, the HCU as a university of metropolitan development, the Academy of Music and Theatre and the University of Fine Arts form the heart of Hamburg as a metropolis of science, and they are excellently complemented by private institutions such as the Bucerius Law School, the Kühne Logistics University and the Hamburg School of Business Administration.

In 2018, the excellence strategy introduced by the German federal and state governments and aimed at giving additional support to universities will be extended into a third phase. An annual total of 533 million euros is being provided for this purpose. These funds are earmarked for the support of research projects (excellence clusters). In addition, the eleven best universities in Germany are to receive additional annual funding to the tune of 148 million euros.

It is of prime importance that we commit ourselves to excellence in the scientific field and actively strive to achieve this – and it is equally important for Germany to support its outstanding research sites.

We want the University of Hamburg to obtain the status of a centre of excellence as soon as possible. Its high success rate in the new cluster invitation to tender is proof that it offers ideal conditions: the fact that four of its five excellence cluster applications have been selected for the next round can be regarded as a major acknowledgment of the university’s good work. In addition to our current excellence fields in climate research and research into the structure of matter, our new applications in the fields of quantum physics and manuscript research are also still on the short list.

Incidentally, the manuscript research centre is located at the Asia-Africa Institute (previously the Colonial Institute) of the University of Hamburg. In the meantime, a highly distinguished faculty researching “manuscript cultures” has established itself there. This research field is particularly interesting due to the way several humanity disciplines work together, with the additional involvement of science. After all, when dealing with manuscripts, the focus is also always on the material used – whether limestone or papyrus. And this brings us back to materials research on the Bahrenfeld campus. This is interdisciplinary cooperation at its best.
With its support in the field of climate research, the federal government has also made a considerable contribution to the development of excellence in Hamburg. One of the fastest climate computers in the world (number 38 on the list of the world’s 500 most powerful computers) is located at the German Climate Computing Centre in Hamburg. This is able to develop highly sophisticated climatic models and thus forms the backbone of climate research in Hamburg. Without this computer, Hamburg would not be able to stay ahead in this top-level research field.

In order to keep pace with the state of the art, the climate computer has to be renewed every five to seven years. The last upgrade cost 45 million euros, and this was funded by the federal government. We are extremely happy that in future, two research institutes financed jointly by the federal government and the Länder, namely the Helmholtz Association and the Max Planck Society, will be providing most of the funds required to finance the computer. Hamburg will be contributing 15 per cent of the costs. This is a good financing model for the next acquisition of computers.

This excellence strategy paired with cutting-edge research will do a great deal to move Hamburg’s university landscape forward. But we have even more plans in the pipeline. We don’t just want the University of Hamburg to attain excellence status. In the coming decade we intend to expand the Hamburg University of Technology to make it one of the leading institutions in northern Europe, too. The key disciplines of this university include medical technology, renewable energy sources, as well as aeronautics, logistics and naval engineering. Hamburg’s University of Technology also plays a key role in the competition for qualified specialists, in particular engineers and IT experts. And for this reason, there are plans to expand the capacity of this university - initially to 10,000 students over the next few years. Perhaps we can even double the current capacity to eventually around 15,000 students.  

But quantity alone is not everything, of course. This growth strategy must go hand in hand with improving links between the University of Technology and key branches of Hamburg’s industry, and with ongoing improvement of teaching facilities and the exchange of scientific knowledge. In this respect, the University of Technology is already well positioned thanks to TUTECH and the Innovation Campus Green Technologies, which I shall refer to again later on.

Our future plans also involve medical research and the University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf, with whom we have reached an agreement on future developments. The first step involves the construction of new buildings with a modern infrastructure for the university’s heart centre, the Martini-Klinik and a second research campus. One of these buildings will house an extended infection research facility. We are pinning high hopes on this facility, because in our globalised world, pathogens can spread to even the most remote locations within a matter of days.

Hamburg is home to several outstanding infection research facilities: first of all the previously mentioned new Centre for Structural Systems Biology (CSSB) on the Bahrenfeld campus, then the university medical centre itself, including the Heinrich Pette Institute, Leibniz Institute for Experimental Virology, and the Bernhard Nocht Institute for Tropical Medicine, the latter being Germany’s major facility for research on tropical and new infectious diseases. It was this institute which made significant progress three years ago in the battle against the Ebola virus. And only recently the Heinrich Pette Institute reported a very special success story: the institute has succeeded, as a global first, in developing a method that might be able to totally cure people infected with HIV.  

In addition to constructing new buildings, existing ones are to be refurbished and their infrastructure is to be modernised so that the medical centre can continue to perform its excellent work. Our plans for the future will also enable the medical centre to increase its standing as one of the leading hospitals in northern Europe. This will also help to secure jobs. The University Medical Centre is currently already one of Hamburg’s largest employers, with approximately 10,000 employees and an annual turnover of around one billion euros.   

The medical centre has already achieved one important milestone in its top-level research, one which will benefit children: in September 2017, the new paediatric clinic was opened as one of the most modern facilities of its kind in the whole of Europe. A large part of the building costs was funded by private donors – something that was also quite exceptional and deserves our sincere gratitude.

Research for practical applications

Ladies and Gentlemen,
We are living in times of rapid change. In order to stay in step with the innovation dynamics arising from such change we must be able to fall back on scientifically underpinned knowledge. In times of great social upheaval, technical competence alone is not enough, we need empirical research into the social sciences and humanistic hermeneutics as well. Everyday enlightenment, as part of our modern era, is only possible if these fields interact harmoniously and wisely.

It is no coincidence that, in our modern society, we have ensured that the freedom of research and teaching is protected at constitutional level. Modern societies rely on the creation of free spaces for reflection and experiment – spaces that scientists can move around in without being tied to a specific purpose and where freedom of thought reigns. Human progress often begins in these spaces – both in the laboratories of scientists and in the libraries of humanities scholars and social scientists. These are the places where one is able to uncover nature’s causalities and deliberate on the meaning of life.

One of the essential tasks of politics is to protect the rationalising strength of science from biased functionalisation and to turn this strength into a resource of democracy and social prosperity in freedom. We can only hope for results that improve our everyday life and make the future look a little brighter if we ensure the freedom of science in our society.  

Anyone who thinks about Hamburg as a liveable modern city is inevitably confronted with science in one way or another – both in terms of content and structural requirements. These are the foundation both of an enlightened society and of a dependable path to growth that will help us develop our innovation capabilities even further in order to guarantee the economic power and prosperity of our city. Science is like a master key for innovation capability and the capacity to compete.

Not a single one of the major challenges facing us in the future can be adequately tackled without the aid of science. Hamburg recognises this by:
  • attaining a leading position in structure-of-matter research in Bahrenfeld;

  • supporting the University of Hamburg in its endeavour to achieve the rank of a “university of excellence”;

  • promoting additional sectors of future importance such as medical and infection research;

  • strengthening IT and natural science institutes;

  • furthering the humanities and social science sectors;

  • improving teaching and promoting digitisation in teaching;

  • promoting application-oriented research.  

A lot has happened in this field, too, since I held my talk at the Übersee Club in 2013. Hamburg has finally become home to the Fraunhofer Gesellschaft and the German Aerospace Centre, which have both established institutes here. This represents further acknowledgement of Hamburg as a location for science and learning.

With an annual research budget of more than two billion euros, with 69 institutes and research facilities and 24,500 employees in Germany, the Fraunhofer Gesellschaft is Europe’s leading and largest organisation for applied research. It is supported by the federal government and the governments of the Länder, including Hamburg, which, thanks to its powerful economy and strong industries, is a good and suitable home for the organisation. All the same, until recently we were the only federal state which did not yet host a section of the Fraunhofer Gesellschaft.

In order to correct this situation, we have been placing increasing emphasis on the Fraunhofer Gesellschaft:
  • In cooperation with Hamburg’s University of Technology we have founded the Centre for Maritime Logistics (CML). The CML conducts research for private and public shipping companies operating in the maritime industry, for example in planning port terminals and logistics processes in these terminals as well as in conducting research on autonomous container vessels. In 2015, the CML was also transferred to the Fraunhofer Gesellschaft.
  • We have integrated the European Screeningport, which handles pre-clinical trials of pharmaceuticals, into the Fraunhofer Gesellschaft.
  • Apart from this, we have set up a new Application Centre for Regenerative Energy Systems which cooperates closely with the Energy Campus Bergedorf in conducting research to improve electronic control systems for wind turbines, for instance. This centre is the result of collaboration between Hamburg’s University of Applied Science and the Fraunhofer Institute for Silicon Technology in Itzehoe.
Together with the Fraunhofer Gesellschaft, we have identified three further future-oriented fields. These are wind energy, 3D printing and nanotechnology. With Laser Centre North and the Center for Applied Nanotechnology, Hamburg has two other excellent facilities which will carry even greater weight when they are transferred to the Fraunhofer Gesellschaft, as planned.

We have managed to convince the federal government, as the Fraunhofer Gesellschaft’s main funding source, to increase its contributions in support of this expansion strategy. The Fraunhofer Gesellschaft’s budget for 2017 was greatly increased, something we had fervently lobbied for on the political stage. So now there is nothing left to prevent us from implementing our plans.

For a long time, the situation of Germany’s leading aerospace engineering research facility, the German Aerospace Center (DLR) in Hamburg, was similar to that of the Fraunhofer Gesellschaft. Hamburg is the world’s third-largest centre of civil aviation. The extremely successful Hamburg Aviation cluster encompasses not only Airbus, Lufthansa Technik and Airport Hamburg, but around 300 external suppliers and 40,000 highly qualified professionals as well. In March 2016, the opening of the Centre for Applied Aeronautics Research (ZAL) in Finkenwerder created a unique opportunity for scientists and commercial enterprises to work together under the same roof. Hamburg was clearly predestined to become one of DLR’s hometowns.  

This milestone has now been achieved, too. As of 2017, the federal government is providing an additional 42 million euros for aeronautics and aerospace research - another development that we pressed for in the early stages. Of this sum, nine million euros are earmarked for two new institutes in Finkenwerder. These were officially opened on 10 November. The new DLR Institute of System Architectures in Aeronautics focuses mainly on the digital development of new types of aircraft and novel production processes. The DLR Institute for Maintenance and Overhaul concentrates its research activities on aircraft maintenance, conversion and operation. 3D printing also plays an important role here. The DLR institute will find excellent venture partners for this innovative technology at Laser Centre North and the Fraunhofer institutes.   

Cooperation with the Fraunhofer Gesellschaft and the German Aerospace Centre is exceedingly important for our city’s reputation as a centre of science and innovation. Together with these partners, Hamburg has been able to improve its standing in the fields of logistics, marine ports, life sciences, wind energy, nanotechnology research, 3D printing and aeronautics and to expand its research focus along the lines of these successful clusters.

In principle, this networking of science and industry is not new in Hamburg. As early as 1908, eleven years before our university was founded, the Colonial Institute that I mentioned earlier was established in Hamburg, since it perfectly complemented the international activities of merchants and traders. This link with the past is also apparent from the renowned Max Planck Institute for Comparative and International Private Law and the Deutsches Überseeinstitut (German Overseas Institute), founded in 1964. The latter now continues its activities under the name GIGA - German Institute for Global and Area Studies, and concentrates scientific expertise on Africa, Asia and South America. In its role as a media hub, Hamburg can also boast a further academic centre in the shape of the Hans-Bredow-Institute, which we intend to transfer to the Leibnitz Association in 2018.

As one can see, cutting-edge research and its application are by no means the exclusive domain of technical, scientific and medical disciplines. Even if research in keeping with our commercial strengths – the port, trade, aeronautics and renewable energy – is a key part of Hamburg’s role in this age of globalisation, one thing should be clear: top-level research, basic research and academic excellence are just as possible and necessary in the humanities and the social sciences. These sectors are indispensable if we are to understand the social transformation triggered by globalisation and technical progress, and are to fashion this transformation to our own advantage.

Mature, marketable technological innovations are not developed overnight, they are the outcome of a lengthy innovation chain. This chain includes basic research, the results of which may, but do not necessarily become interesting through interaction with economic and commercial stakeholders. All the same, it is important that research results find their way quickly into innovative enterprises, or better still, that scientists and enterprises are able to conduct research on certain issues under a single roof – an idea which should be taken quite literally here.

Hamburg is expanding cooperation facilities of this kind, so-called “research and innovation parks” at four sites, and in doing so is creating a considerable number of future-oriented jobs:

  • the Centre for Applied Aeronautics Research (ZAL) in Finkenwerder, which I mentioned earlier;
  • the Energy Campus in Bergedorf;
  • the Innovation Campus Green Technologies in Harburg and
  • the planned innovation centre on the research campus in Bahrenfeld.
Two years ago, we established the Energy Campus in Bergedorf. This is a new technology centre that concentrates the expertise of the University of Applied Sciences and tests new energy storage concepts. To enable it to fulfil these tasks it has been equipped with a wind energy laboratory and a smart-grid laboratory for investigating the degree of intelligent interaction between all components.

Germany’s major wind energy research facility, the Institute for Wind Energy and Energy System Technology (IWES), in Bremerhaven, is also part of the Fraunhofer Gesellschaft. On the Energy Campus in Bergedorf, the IWES is currently building a test bed for large wind turbines, the only one of its kind in the entire world. Thanks to this cooperation, the University of Applied Sciences and the commercial wind energy sector in Hamburg will have direct access to a unique testing infrastructure and a network of more than 400 research workers.

In addition to Finkenwerder and Bergedorf, our focus also centres on Harburg. This is where early in 2017 we opened the Technical University of Hamburg’s new start-up centre, the Innovation Campus Green Technologies. This campus, a centre of innovation, is intended to serve as a launch pad for science-based start-ups emerging from any of Hamburg’s universities and colleges. The main focus here is on green technologies, life sciences and digitisation.

This start-up centre of the Technical University provides young scientists with the ideal environment and conditions for turning the ideas gained from their research into marketable products. Their rents are low, they can use the state-of-the-art technological infrastructure and they receive advice on how to set up a business.

This model – sometimes referred to as an “incubator” – is a tried and tested instrument for putting scientific findings to practical use. The same approach is also pursued by various enterprises in Hamburg:
  • A few weeks ago, Phillips Germany opened the Health Innovation Port on its campus at Fuhlsbüttel. Here, young start-up companies are given support in developing products and services for the healthcare sector.
  • The news agency Deutsche Presseagentur (DPA), in cooperation with other media companies, has launched Next Media Accelerator, a network of experts willing to provide support to young media companies in the form of start-up capital, advisory services and business contacts.
  • Airbus promotes creative business founders in the aeronautics field with its Airbus BizLab, only a couple of hundred metres away from the ZAL.
  • In the next few weeks, Next Logistics Accelerator is due to be launched with the aid of HASPA, a local bank. This, in conjunction with Digital Hub Logistics, will provide a vital impetus for potential start-ups and existing companies in the logistics sector.  
  • Last but not least, Hamburg businessman Arne Weber is building a private research and innovation park close to the Harburg inland shipping port, near to the University of Technology.
Needless to say, a joint research site for scientists and commercial enterprises is also planned for the campus in Hamburg-Bahrenfeld. Here, a large science and innovation centre is to be established for the whole of northern Germany, offering ample space for universities, research facilities and commercial enterprises to pursue their activities.

Indeed, Bahrenfeld is perhaps our greatest project of the future. Basic research, applied research and the exchange of knowledge in order to achieve marketable products – all these are to converge some time in the future at an International Science Park.

We also intend to set up a facility for companies keen on scientific research. This will be located in Lurup, in the direct vicinity of DESY. At the same time, we shall be strengthening the role of the science centre and expanding the research campus in Bahrenfeld.

We shall be concentrating Hamburg’s top-level research on the structure of matter at this campus. The University of Hamburg is contemplating moving a major part of its natural sciences faculty here. A new campus is to be built on the site of the former trotting track and this will probably be connected to the DESY campus by a pedestrian bridge. On the northern part of the former trotting track, auditoriums, research facilities, students’ quarters, guest houses and innovation centres are planned. When completed, this will be like a new city borough, a science district so to speak. This, too, will require appropriate surroundings and good public transport connections.  

The plans that Hamburg has for Bahrenfeld in conjunction with the University and DESY will definitely keep the city busy for the next fifteen to twenty years, but they will also make Hamburg one of Germany’s major science centres, on a par with Munich-Garching and Berlin-Adlershof. These plans will also assist the University of Hamburg on its way to becoming a “university of excellence”.

Incidentally, the effect that investing in science and research can have on the economy is strikingly apparent in Munich. We intend to leverage similar potential throughout the entire city of Hamburg.

Universities and teaching

Ladies and gentlemen,
A science metropolis needs excellent university teaching staff and learning facilities. Not just because industry will soon need even more highly-qualified professionals, but because first and foremost, universities guarantee the future of our children. More and more young people want to study at university. Besides having an interest in learning, they also want to find qualified employment after graduation. These young people have a right to demand that the state does all it can to help them realise their educational ambitions.

With its 19 colleges and universities and around 100,000 students, Hamburg is one of Europe’s major university towns. 70,000 young men and women are studying at the six public state universities alone. Around 10,500 students have enrolled for the winter term in Hamburg. And a lot more had to be turned down, because there are six times as many applicants as university places offered.   

Modernisation of university education – and also of our dual vocational training – is essential if coming generations are to receive an education which is suitable for the modern day and age and are to succeed in finding employment on tomorrow’s labour market.

We want to give every talented person a fair chance. And for this reason, one of the measures we have taken has been to widen university access for qualified applicants who do not have a higher school-leaving certificate. Hamburg has abolished university fees and has thus eliminated one major obstacle for highly-motivated young people without this being a financial disadvantage for the universities. The doctrine that access to education should be based on performance and not on the parents’ bank account now applies right through from nursery school to university in Hamburg. This policy is also in the interest of industry, which needs qualified specialists.

In order to be able to offer high-class teaching to large numbers of students we have seriously taken a repeated look at the entire university structure. One of the measures we have implemented is to ensure that junior professors can be directly promoted to the post of regular professor, without having to undergo a complicated prior selection procedure. In this way, the universities are in a better position to recruit top young scientists at an early stage. Extraordinary appointments of top-class scientists are now possible as well – since it is doubtful that they will choose to stay on if faced with long appointment procedures.

In the coming years the focus will also be on the humanities and social sciences. Around 65 per cent of all students at the University of Hamburg are enrolled in the humanities or social science faculties. A lot of them will be employed later in the media or cultural sector and/or as consultants or teachers. Here they will make an important contribution to self-reflection in our society, as well as to the historical understanding of our present age and our ethical orientation.

At our request, the scientific council carried out an assessment of the humanities and social sciences at Hamburg universities in 2017 and made concrete suggestions on how these might be improved by 2025 (a similar study on the STEM subjects was carried out in 2016). We will take their recommendations as our basic guidelines in the further development of this area.

Especially in these turbulent times we need to reflect on modernisation processes and their criteria from the perspective of the humanities and social-science sectors. We need a discourse between the various scientific disciplines as well as between science and society. It is a positive step that our Senator for Science, Katharina Fegebank, has made it one of her priorities to encourage the establishment of an institute for advanced study as a place where relationships between natural sciences and the humanities and between art and society can be discussed. The Hamburg Institute for Advanced Study is due to commence its activities in summer 2018.


Ladies and gentlemen,
The changes brought about by digitisation are more profound than humanity has ever experienced before, precedented perhaps only by the discovery of the printing press and electrification and industrialisation. Digitisation has created new access to knowledge and new ways of sharing this knowledge. The way teachers and their students communicate with each other has changed radically, too. If we take a look over the shoulders of students today we will see how well they are digitally connected, and how greatly they rely on digital research work. Contemporary teaching methods exploit this interest in IT and the opportunities it offers – after all, teaching is just another form of communication.

When we got together around one table with the six public state universities it soon became obvious that there are no easy solutions when it comes to developing digital teaching programmes. It is the platform owner who lays down the rules. If we don’t want our future university teaching programmes to be restricted by the regulations of a specific platform operator, who is usually located in the USA, we should not offer our teaching formats there, but must create our own platforms instead. This is the only way for our universities to retain total control of the structure and availability of the programmes they offer.   

At the beginning of 2015, the Hamburg Senate decided to implement a “strategy for a digital city”, in order to concentrate digitisation processes in the city and create sound structures for these processes. Part of this strategy is the founding of the Hamburg Open Online University, HOOU for short. At HOOU, all of Hamburg’s six public state universities develop new digital formats and content in cooperation with the universities’ own service and consulting centre Multimedia Kontor Hamburg (MMKH). On 19 September 2017, the prototype of a proprietary digital scientific platform made in Hamburg went online.

With the HOOU we are creating both a technological platform and a methodical-didactical concept for university teaching in the digital age. Thanks to the excellent inter-university cooperation Hamburg‘s six public state universities are genuine pioneers in this field.

An excellent culture of cooperation is also one of the main features of our new IT platform, which the universities have called “ahoy digital” to give it a maritime touch. This platform is intended to provide scientific support to digitisation in society and commerce and drive this forward through innovations. It supports the training of IT experts, is a competence centre and network and will provide a new impetus for start-ups. Inter-university co-operation on research projects is actively promoted, and the projects are selected by an external panel of experts.  

The Hamburg senate is equipping the “ahoy digital” IT platform with ten million euros start-up capital, and this is to be used for innovative research methods. But above all, we want to increase the number of professors and students in the IT field by up to 50 per cent. By doing this, Hamburg will be making not only a qualitative but also a quantitative leap forward and fully implementing one of the recommendations of the science council. The aim is quite clear: We want to make the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg one of Germany’s leading IT centres and attract as much top talent as possible to this city.

We already know that three out of eight jobs in the city are somehow IT-related. Hamburg therefore holds the German record in this respect. This situation has come about because IT jobs are not only created in IT companies, but in all sectors where practical applications emerge. It is our task to create and provide appropriate education and training capacities.

The third jewel in our digital crown – along with the HOOU and “ahoy digital” – is the Hamburg Open Sciences project, called HOS for short. This project is based on the idea that research which has been publicly funded should be available to everyone. Therefore, all scientific publications and the underlying data and research will be made publicly available in digital form.

At the moment it is difficult to predict how far the implications of this innovation in the world of science and knowledge will reach. It means that scientific publications now find an audience beyond the readers of established scientific journals, and that totally new forms of access to scientific research results will emerge. Making research data available to the general public will lead to new methods of verification and to further research using the same data.

Who is conducting research in Hamburg and on what topics? Soon, any person in any part of the world will be able to find this out. The HOS is an exciting project, both for interested members of the public as well as for research workers in Hamburg and the rest of the world.

Incidentally, the CityScienceLab of HafenCity University also belongs on this non-exhaustive list. This successful cooperation project with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is part of a global urban research network. At the CityScienceLab, urban data which are already recorded in administrative offices or companies or which come in in real time, are linked and evaluated. In this way we can collect substantiated findings on how large cities work and what developments are taking place in Hamburg. This kind of information is also of interest to the mayor of the city.

University building activities

It goes without saying, of course, that our universities need more than suitable software – they need appropriate hardware as well, in the form of modern buildings with laboratories and state-of-the-art technical facilities. However, a lot of our university buildings have seen better days. This applies particularly to those built in the 1970s, many of which are in urgent need of renovation.

Just take a walk or drive around the city and you will see that Hamburg is busy constructing not only apartments and new metro and suburban railways, but buildings, laboratories and new facilities for science and technology as well. These measures include:
  • construction of the new main building of the Technical University in Hamburg-Harburg (2012);
  • construction of the new HafenCity University (2014);
  • canteen and library extension of the Hamburg Media School in Finkenau (2015);
  • “Haus der Erde” – a new facility for climate research and the geosciences, along with modernisation of the science campus on Bundesstrasse;
  • next to this, the new building for the Informatics Department which will then be able to return from its current site in Stellingen to Hamburg`s main campus;
  • and directly adjacent to this, the MIN-Forum, a site earmarked to become the new heart of the science campus, housing a library, canteen, seminar rooms and cafeteria;
  • modernisation and improvement of the Music and Theatre Academy’s “Trautwein building”, with the “Philosophenturm” soon to follow;
  • from 2021 onwards, modernisation and improvement of the “Geomatikum” – anyone familiar with this building will approve this measure immediately.
This is the most comprehensive university construction and modernisation programme in decades.


Ladies and Gentlemen,
In 2019, the University of Hamburg will be celebrating its first centenary. A hundred years is not really old for a German university. Heidelberg University was founded in 1386, Leipzig in 1409, Rostock in 1419 and Munich’s Ludwig Maximilians University in 1473. Even Berlin’s Humboldt University, which is relatively young, has a 110-year head start on Hamburg, where the citizens’ parliament rejected the senate’s application to found a university as late as 1913, referring to “Hamburg’s brilliantly unilateral position as a city of merchants and trade”. Whoever would have imagined that as an argument? After the introduction of universal suffrage, the triumph of democracy in the Republic of Hamburg and – something I won’t shy from mentioning – with an SPD majority in the citizens’ parliament, the traditional city of merchants and trade finally took this long overdue step.

Now, shortly before the university’s hundredth birthday, the city’s historically determined status as a city of trade and commerce has shifted to that of a highly versatile city in keeping with the pace of the 21st century. Today, Hamburg not only has a state-of-the-art container port but is a haven of science and technology as well.

Hamburg continues to have clear objectives in the field of research: the city is concentrating potential, strengths and talents and networking researchers in science and industry. It is supporting its university’s efforts to achieve excellence in order to catch up with Berlin, Munich and other university cities in Germany’s south. It is concentrating on our economic strengths and setting its priorities on areas of xresearch which directly benefit the city, its economy and its quality of life. By expanding and enhancing the DESY centre in Bahrenfeld, we intend to draw level with the large innovation centres in Berlin-Adlershof and Munich-Garching. This would do justice to Hamburg’s economic significance for Germany and Europe.

Now more than ever before, both basic and applied research determine a society’s ability to ask the questions it considers relevant and to shape its own future. Even the most brilliant research can only have positive effects if society as a whole responds to its findings. This is why here in Hamburg we are investing in all forms of education – in child day-care facilities, schools, vocational training and university teaching, including digital qualifications. We are supporting ways to self-employment, promoting the founding of new companies and start-ups, for instance by facilitating access to venture capital via the growth and innovation fund to the tune of one hundred million euros. In order to ensure that SMEs remain the champions of our industrial and commercial landscape we are creating an environment where they can introduce digital processes and develop and market innovative products and services with the necessary speed.

In the past few years, Germany has gained ground with its science and high-technology strategy. The “excellence initiative” and “pact for research and innovation” were originally launched by ex-chancellor Gerhard Schröder and Edelgard Buhlmahn, Minister of Science and Technology at the time. These now serve as central instruments for strengthening our status as a science hub. Efficient programmes for the support of research and innovation have also been introduced in the European Union, where they are bundled in the Horizon 2020 programme. Hamburg has already applied successfully to this source for assistance in a number of scientific projects.

Generating scientific excellence, fostering key technologies and implementing these in industry, overcoming social challenges, for example in the field of access and mobility, in medicine or in healthcare, modernising education and schools, vocational training and university programmes, discovering and disseminating scientific knowledge – Hamburg intends to make relevant contributions to all these important challenges now facing Germany and Europe.

Ladies and Gentlemen,
According to the philosopher and science-theory researcher, Hans Poser, sciences are the “refuge of the best-guarded knowledge”. To quote Poser, “Science is characterised by systematic and methodical questioning and an argumentative structure of the answers claiming to provide new knowledge. Both methods and structures are essentially aligned to the regulative concept of truth. All of this is much more than just a structure of methods as expressed in the rules of first and second order, it is an attitude that can on no account be restricted to science but which will become the common attitude of individuals and a formative force within culture”.

Scientific thinking, with its methodical quest for knowledge and truth and with its criteria of refutability and verifiability, is enlightenment’s greatest gift to humanity and is deeply ingrained in everyday life.

Nowadays, this “determination of our attitude to life by scientific reason”, as Hans Poser puts it, is an indispensable foundation of our liberal democracy. This core idea should always be kept in mind along with everything else that can be said about developing our science location for the 21st century.

A city like Hamburg, which is aware of its tradition of enlightenment, which strives to achieve tolerant coexistence shaped by reason and considers itself to be a city of arrival, where those who come to us will find potential opportunities, just as those who have lived here for a long time – a city like Hamburg cannot move forward without also becoming a city of science. It was certainly no coincidence that at the opening ceremony of the European XFEL the green laser beam did not simply connect the port with science but, as it left the Elbphilharmonie building, connected culture with science as well.

Hamburg is a good city for science. We would be only too happy to see even more scientists and students coming to our city. They are all extremely welcome.

Hamburg has embarked on the road to becoming a metropolis of science of the North. I would like to thank everyone who is helping us on this path


Es gilt das gesprochene Wort.


Die Rede auf deutsch: Hamburg – eine Metropole der Wissenschaft im Norden

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Eine neue deutsche Wirklichkeit