Mayor of Berlin visits UCLA, announces new research fellowship

The new fellowship will enable UCLA and UC faculty to conduct research in Berlin on climate, environmental change and sustainable urban planning.

“[T]his is a time when cities need to do more on the national level — we need to not hang back, but to go one step further and do even more.” Michael Müller, mayor of Berlin

UCLA International Institute, October 10, 2017 — German and English were heard in quick succession last week when a large delegation from the city of Berlin, led by Mayor Michael Müller, visited UCLA on Friday, October 6.

Their visit was part of a trip on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Berlin-Los Angeles sister-city partnership. Among the many events organized around LA to celebrate the anniversary this month were a dinner hosted by Sister Cities of Los Angeles (and attended by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti), art exhibits in downtown LA and at the Wende Museum in Culver City, and German film showings at the Hammer Museum organized by the UCLA Film & Television Archive. A nonprofit, Sister Cities of Los Angeles is the main organization responsible for managing the relationship with Berlin on behalf of the City of Los Angeles.

A number of city and university officials made up the Berlin delegation, including Björn Böhning, head of the Senate Chancellery; Prof. Dr. Peter-André Alt, president of the Free University of Berlin; Claudia Sünder, Senate spokesperson; Esther Keller, deputy head, division for international relations, City of Berlin; Ralf Wieland, speaker of the House of Representatives of Berlin; and Hans Jörg Neumann, consul general of Germany to Los Angeles.

The visitors were particularly interested in learning more about UCLA’s research on the environment and climate change, as well as city planning and sustainability. In a brief campus tour — punctuated by LA's trademark weather — the visitors from Berlin saw UCLA's cityLAB in Perloff Hall and the Institute for Pure & Applied Mathematics in the IPAM building.

At cityLAB, the delegation examined a range of its publications and listened to a presentation on the work of both the lab and the UCLA Center for Digital Humanities (CDH). Dana Cuff, cityLAB director and professor of architecture, and Todd Presner, chair of CDH, director of the Alan D. Leve Center for Jewish Studies and professor of Germanic languages, comparative literature and Jewish Studies, hosted the visit and narrated a concise slide presentation.

Mayor Michael Müller, Todd Presler, Dana Cuff , Prof. Dr. Peter-André Alt, president,
Free University of Berlin; and Hans Jörg Neumann, consul general of Germany to
Los Angeles. (Photo: Peggy McInerny/ UCLA.)

Of particular interest to the Berlin visitors was the Urban Humanities Initiative’s historical mapping of cities — which allows viewers to see the same location in a city at different points in time — as well as cityLAB projects focused on sustainability and livable cities in Los Angeles. Both Cuff and Presner were eager to have the City of Berlin be included in their ongoing projects.

At the Institute for Pure & Applied Mathematics (IPAM), the delegation was met by IPAM director, Dima Shlyakhtenko (UCLA professor of mathematics), and associate director, Christian Rasch (teaching faculty, department of mathematics), who gave the Berlin visitors an overview of the institute’s work, particularly its mission of connecting mathematics more closely to other disciplines and to industry.

Dima Shlyakhtenko, Mayor Michael Müller, Prof. Dr. Peter-André Alt and Christian Rasch.
(Photo: Peggy McInerny/ UCLA.)

Chancellor and faculty meeting

At their last stop, the delegation met UCLA Chancellor Gene Block, Vice Provost Cindy Fan and UCLA faculty members, including Mark Gold (associate vice chancellor, environment and sustainability), Harold Monbouquette (associate dean, research and physical resources, Samueli School of Engineering), Laure Murat (director, Center for European and Russian Studies), Christian Rasch (IPAM, see above) and Yasemin Yildiz (associate professor, German and comparative literature).

After welcoming the delegation, Chancellor Block noted that UCLA placed a great deal of emphasis on sustainability and the environment. “We've launched a large project which we call a ‘Grand Challenge’ [The Sustainable LA Grand Challenge],” he said. “The grand challenge is really developing the technologies, the policies and the culture to make this part of California more sustainable.

“In the long run, Southern California has to figure out new techniques to become more sustainable in water and energy and to protect the environment,” said Block. “We look forward to opportunities to collaborate and to share best practices, because this is a global issue and it requires global solutions… we'd love to explore ways to work more closely with Berlin.”

Mayor Müller noted, “In Europe and maybe even in the whole world at the moment, we are seeing that the freedom of research and the freedom to question has been challenged… and that scientific findings are being questioned.” Müller said that he and Eric Garcetti, mayor of Los Angeles, agreed “that this is a time when cities need to do more on the national level — we need to not hang back, but to go one step further and do even more.”

Vice Provost Cindy Fan, Chancellor Gene Block, Associate Dean of Engineering Harold Monbouquette, and
Associate Professor of German and Comparative Literature Yasemin Yildiz. (Photo: Oliver Chien/ UCLA.)

Müller then announced the “Berlin-California Visiting Fellowship,” which seeks to boost research in Berlin on climate and environmental change as well as sustainable urban planning. The new fellowship will enable researchers from UCLA and other UC universities who work on these issues to conduct research in Berlin either for several months or several shorter stays.

The city has committed €150,000 annually to the program for the next two years, which is expected to cover one to two fellowships each year. The fellowship program will be administered by the Einstein Foundation Berlin, with the first request for proposals expected to be announced in late 2017-early 2018.

The ultimate goal is to make Berlin a major location for research on these topics and, ultimately, create collaborative UC-Berlin research projects. “The funds may be used to fund collaboration with taskforces in Berlin,” remarked Müller, “but I want to emphasize that it is important to us that junior researchers on both sides benefit from this program.”

Prof. Dr. Peter-André Alt, president of the Free University of Berlin (FUB), added that the University of California had played a special role in supporting FUB when it was founded in 1948, for which FUB remained grateful. He noted that the three main universities of Berlin (FUB, Technical University and Humboldt University) are forming an alliance and looking forward to gaining insights from the UC group of universities.

In the faculty remarks that followed, IPAM Associate Director Rasch noted that he had spent the first 25 years of his life in Berlin and the second 25 in Los Angeles, making him the personification of the partnership between the two cities!

Chancellor Block and Mayor Müller then exchanged gifts of appreciation and the delegation departed to another venue to continue their commemoration of the Berlin-LA sister-city relationship.

*Originally published on October 10, 2017; updated October 17.