Nobel Prize winners, security luminaries, world-class professors: Munich has a lot to offer in intellectual capital terms. And best of all, many of the city's smartest people are also excellent speakers who can be booked to enhance any event. Here, we present seven of Munich's most exciting conference speakers.
What can be done to cool the climate? In Munich, no one knows the answers to this critical 21st-century question better than Julia Pongratz (*1980). As a climate researcher, she is an expert on the consequences of land use, a Professor of Physical Geography at Ludwig Maximilian University (LMU) and also a practiced lecturer. Something she has demonstrated, for example, at "Education for Climate Protection", a public lecture series staged at LMU. She also contributed to the chapter on the global carbon cycle and other biogeochemical cycles and feedbacks in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Assessment Report, the world's definitive account of climate research. Asked recently if someone like her is actually afraid of climate change, she replies: "I'm cautiously positive. We have the financial resources, the knowledge, and the technologies. So it's a question of whether we have the will."
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One of today’s notoriously underestimated mega-topics is IT security. Everyone knows it’s important not to leave digital data and movements unprotected – and yet everyone usually just that in one way or another for reasons of ignorance or convenience. This is where some change is urgently required. For Claudia Eckert (*1959) digital sovereignty is one of the decisive characteristics in the 21st century for self-determined action uninfluenced by third parties. As a research scientist, she heads the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied and Integrated Security and is a Professor of Security in Computer Science at Munich Technical University. There, she has also recently set up an innovation network for cybersecurity because in Germany, she says, the systemic backlog is huge: "We're not sovereign with regard to standard software and standard platforms." However, she is just as happy to share her knowledge with the public, for example as part of the "Science for Everyone" series at Munich’s Deutsches Museum. Moreover, the Information Security Hub is also an excellent location for all kinds of forward-looking events in the IT sector.
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Week after week, Samira El Ouassil (*1984) dissects the sayings and contradictions of Germany’s leading personalities ranging from politicians and journalists to soccer players, Youtubers and influencers – in podcasts and columns for the online portal Übermedien and the weekly magazine Der Spiegel. She is especially wide awake if terms are used too thoughtlessly and stories come across too smoothly. As a journalist who also understands the practice of storytelling as a gag writer and actress, she gives lectures on the curse and blessing of humans being creatures who live in and through stories, as she recently did at the Munich Media Days at the International Congress Center Messe München. Together with the author and podcaster Friedemann Karig, she has also written a bestseller on the subject called "Narrating Monkeys”, which is standard work for anyone who wants to better navigate the thicket of conspiracy myths, "alternative facts" and fake news we call the information age.
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Stefan Diez (*1971) learned his craft from the industrial design legends Richard Sapper and Konstantin Grčić. The first comprehensive exhibition of his own work was staged at the Museum for Applied Arts in Cologne in 2017. Besides his work on multi-award-winning designs for chairs, shelves, lamps and other everyday objects for manufacturers such as Hay, Rosenthal, Thonet or e15 in his studio in Munich's Glockenbachviertel, he now passes on his knowledge to the next generation as a professor at the University of Applied Arts in Vienna. This is a stroke of luck, because Stefan Diez is not only a resourceful industrial designer, but also an exceptionally circumspect explainer and critical thought leader in lectures and panel discussions. In this capacity, he is now primarily concerned with circular design, e.g. furniture systems made of cardboard, fully recyclable office furniture or a plastic chair made solely from used plastic: "Up to now, we designers have only thought about how to push a new product onto the market. But hardly anyone has thought about how to get it out cleanly."
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"The brain is an infinitely wide space. There are no limits," says Christiane Stenger (*1987). A native of Munich, she was a five-time junior world champion in memory sports from 1999 to 2003. She then made her talent her profession and has since been teaching amazing learning and memory tricks for everyone in workshops, TEDx talks and keynote speeches that are as entertaining as they are eye-opening. Her book "Don't Leave Your Brain Unattended! Instruction Manual for Your Head" was a bestseller. In 2021, she published "Don't Leave Your Time Unsupervised! How the Brain Shapes Our Future", which is all about the secrets of productivity – and what we should always think of first when managing our time. "Our brains are curious, but also lazy," she points out.
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Sober and clear-sighted analyses of the Russian war of aggression in Ukraine on talk shows, in podcasts and in newspapers have made Carlo Masala (*1968) famous. When he's not declaring war on the Germans, this native of Cologne is actually Professor of International Politics at the University of the Federal Armed Forces in Munich (where he also heads the Metis Institute for Strategy and Foresight) and a sought-after conference speaker. Unlike many other experts, however, he is less interested in telling us what we should think than in pointing out which contexts and backgrounds we should possibly include in our own reflections on a situation. He did this, for example, on the fringes of the Munich Security Conference, which takes place annually at the Bayerischer Hof, where he spoke directly to the opponents of the Security Conference who were demonstrating on site.
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In January 2023, Bruno Reichart turned 80, but he still stands in the lab almost every day or talks about his research in lectures – for example, entitled Herzensangelenheiten (“Matters of the Heart”). Since 1998, he has been working as a heart surgeon on a project that would revolutionize transplant medicine – genetically modified pig hearts that can be transplanted into the human body without being rejected. "We've got a long way already. In about two years’ time, we could be there," he said in an interview on his birthday. As a heart surgery professor, he first worked in Cape Town, as the specifically chosen successor to world-famous heart surgeon pioneer Christiaan Barnard, and from 1990 until his retirement in 2011 at Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich. He was the first heart surgeon in Europe to implant a partially artificial heart and performed the first successful heart-lung-liver transplant in 1997. That patient survived for twelve years. But he really doesn't like being called a star surgeon: "Surgeons are craftsmen. We need the help of others."
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