October 10, 2022 10:00am, Galerie Dechanatstraße
Dear Students, dear Colleagues,
I extend a cordial welcome to all of you for the start of the winter semester 2022/2023.
The beginning of an academic year is always a special occasion and a highlight for me personally.
It is always a real pleasure to see all the familiar people.
But of course, we are looking forward to get to know all of the "fresh faces".
All of us are truly proud that you have decided to attend our university! Because we obviously always compete with other art and music universities for motivated and talented students.
But as members of the freshman class start here, all of us at the HfK roll up our sleeves as we set out anew. Much quoted as it may be, there is magic in a beginning, a spirit of enterprise and optimism, curiosity, energy and openness as we set out to discover new opportunities—this kind of zest and vigour inspires all of us. And this atmosphere that makes the start of a semester into such a special occasion—and a personal favourite moment for myself—this atmosphere speaks of the opportunities to create, shape and design, as well a momentum of togetherness that is particular to our university.
Therefore: Dear members of the freshman class: Thank you for gifting us this momentum! I extend a cordial welcome at the University of the Arts to you!
In the same, joyful and appreciative spirit we also note that we can welcome new members of our faculty that will contribute new impulses: Dr. Christoph Prendl, who has started as Professor for Music Theory Early Music this summer; Dr. Felix Elsner-Siedenburg, Professor for Instrumental and Vocal Pedagogy; as well as Andrea Diefenbach, Professor for Photography. On this occasion I would like to again welcome you warmly and thank you for enriching our community.
I am also happy to report that Füsun Türetken will join the HfK as Professor for Design and the Future. She will tackle the highly topical and relevant subject of the role design may have at times of multiple crises around the globe. This groundbreaking chair is being facilitated by the Petra und Dieter Frese-Stiftung.
And so new people, characters, ideas and interest are meeting the established structures and the unique spirit prevalent at our university.
I consider this atmosphere—the spirit—a dimension of weightier importance than qualities that can be measured by numbers, such as those of students, chairs at the departments and membership of the faculty, or the kind of equipment or buildings we have.
The particular atmosphere at the HfK is often described as "familial"—I regard this term as an honour and also as proof that we manage to turn our aspirations into a working reality in our daily work and practices. Because it is the human dimension, they way people encounter each other here, the attitude and the ways we interact with each other here that provide the basis for students to evolve and progress as artists. And at no time is this atmosphere more crucial than during the first, sensitive first phase of studies.
To work together constructively, to engage in free experimentation, open communication and fair criticism: I mean all of this when I speak of "familiarity" and these qualities are key components of the identity of the HfK. Of course, we do not always live up to those goals and ideals. But failing to do so should be a wake up call for putting our principles back into focus.
What are our defining qualities as a university?
The HfK is a university of seeming opposites.
We want to provide each and every one of you with an environment that fosters your development and helps you to sharpen your profile—an environment where every member of our community is recognised, where people can experiment and embrace making mistakes along their way.
To study means to think for the future—to work on your own, as well for our common future.
As nice as this sounds—this project asks each and every one to become and stay engaged. Our university is no service facility.
As a community, we all have the opportunities and the freedom to shape how we want to study and teach together.
Universities of the Arts and Music are self-governing, democratic institutions imbued with a freedom and independence that has been achieved over decades of struggle. But: Democracy will wither without participation.
This brings me to the central issue of this welcoming to all students and faculty beyond the freshman class:
What are the requirements to make democracy and participation an everyday reality at the HfK?
How can we take on the tasks presented by the democratic processes and the self-government in a serious manner and also in more effective ways and with a stronger participation?
I am asking this because we all are impacted by the so called "service society" we are living in:
In our society, the capitalist system we live in, there are many mechanisms at work that makes us feel that someone else will take on work and challenges. Many times we do not feel that we have been asked to step up ourselves.
But you have chosen artistic freedom, which demands independence, self-definition and personal responsibility.
Yet some of the terms used here at the HfK might obscure these basics:
"Self-government"—the word might make one think that the HfK is somehow administrating itself. And people tend to tune out if they hear the boring term "administration." But do focus on "self": that word packs freedom to shape and create!
A university of the arts is an art and a design project by the very nature of the institution.
We can—and have to—keep questioning ourselves, make changes and improvements. Nothing has to be and stay the way it is at any given moment. We are all challenged to participate. And there is a structure to facilitate this kind of engagement:
Just to name some elements of this structure: there are study commissions, department´s councils, dean´s offices, students' parliaments, the students' union (AStA) and the Academic Senate.
Yes, these terms sound complicated and evoke boring meetings and piles of paperwork. But these are the democratic institutions and platforms to shape opinions and make decisions at the HfK. What is being debated there are your issues. And in the end, engaging with processes and platforms also means designing. But it does take your engagement to make these processes productive. Democracy is an everyday practice and has to be learned and exercised just like an instrument, drawing or coding. I would very much like to invite you and challenge you to engage in this part of your studies here.
Who still believes that the goings on around the world do not need to bother us? I hope that merely a few people cling to this utterly naive belief.
Democracies world wide are under heavy pressure and highly endangered. The recent success of the rightwing AfD in our neighbouring federal state of Lower Saxony is certainly no cause for mental tranquility. Let us exercise our democracy together and make solidarity a lived reality. And as we mention solidarity, we have to talk about measures to safe energy. Because: this winter will be an unusually cold one.
Owing to mistaken policies that went on for years and the failure to transition to regenerative sources of energy in a timely fashion, we now are forced to find drastic reductions in the use of energy on an adhoc basis.
If we manage to reduce our energy consumption by a fifth, we should be spared of the worst of the natural gas shortages ahead of us nationally. We absolutely have to avoid a worst case scenario of becoming a country that is staring into empty storage facilities for natural gas because we have failed to reduce our energy consumption sufficiently enough at an appropriately early point in time.
We can only do this together as a community. We can only succeed if all of us realise that each one of us is part of a larger "us", as each community is made up of many individuals. And one of these persons is always our own self. If that does not hold, solidarity will just remain an empty word. We all have to gear up for cold days ahead in a very real sense and will have to turn off lights were they are not needed and turn down the thermostat. And you know what: We will have to do all of this even if nobody else might be around the observe or commend us. And these are just the most obvious examples.
This brand of solidarity is one of our basic attitudes here in Bremen. And because people here tend to stick together and stick up for each other, Bremen did become the champion relating to vaccinations in Germany: we had the highest participation and the highest rate.
The idea that "we are all in the same boat" and share our destiny is deeply embedded in our DNA in this city of seafarers.
But I do not want to close by uttering stern appeals. It is my task—as well as the task of the leadership of the university, our administration and faculty to provide you students with every opportunity to blaze your own artistic paths.
You are entitled to challenge your university.
You are entitled to the presence and the availability of your teachers.
You are entitled to feedback and individual support.
You are entitled to your own grades.
You are entitled to transparent decision making.
Turn the HfK into your project!
Thank you very much!