Ceremonial opening of Opening Week 2023

Freedom to Depth

2023-10-06 With a big backpack. With a pad, a pen and nothing else. On foot. By train, by car, by bike. In Lüneburg for a month already. In Lüneburg for an hour. With an application for Bafög, with an idea, with a question. More than 1000 first-year students came to the central building for the ceremonial opening of Opening Week 2023 on the theme of "Collecting". The event with many impulses and greetings was led by the full-time Vice President Christian Brei.

Lynn Rother, Lichtenberg Professor of Provenance Studies, in conversation with Barbara Plankensteiner, Director of the Museum am Rothenbaum – Kulturen und Künste der Welt ©Leuphana / Ciara Charlotte Burgess
Lynn Rother, Lichtenberg Professor of Provenance Studies, in conversation with Barbara Plankensteiner, Director of the Museum am Rothenbaum – Kulturen und Künste der Welt

"We live in times of multiple crises," Christian Brei began, "but also in times of hope." It is up to us what we make of it. "How do you envision your future?" The vice-president emphasised that the new students do not take part in any orientation week. Orientation was already provided by school as well as pre-university and non-university life. The coming days are more of an invitation to dissolve the orientations they have brought with them and to open up to something new - in other words, an opening week. Leuphana, as a university, offers the necessary space to discover oneself, one's topics and questions, and at the same time is a safe space.

"I assume you are full of expectations in view of your studies, which begin today," President Sascha Spoun addressed the new students, "You have the question in your mind: What will I get here at the university, what can I expect?" He promised, "Above all, you will get freedom here, freedom to depth." He invited students to use their studies to go into depth, to really engage with a subject, to devote themselves to it. What students can expect here is closely related to what they are willing to do. The set curriculum is only part of the study: "The biggest part is self-study, reading, writing, reflecting, discussing with fellow students." A university can give advice and feedback, but it cannot take away the most important part from the students: Going into depth and not getting distracted or losing heart.

Special guest at the Opening Week launch was Barbara Plankensteiner. As the academic director of the Museum am Rothenbaum (MARKK) in Hamburg and spokesperson for the Benin Dialogue Group, she initiated and was responsible for the return of the Benin bronzes, West African artworks from the 16th century, from European museums to their rightful owners. The bronzes depict kings of the Kingdom of Benin and were an important part of rituals and commemorative practices. Plankensteiner brought to the fore the fact that the bronzes ended up in museums due to theft. English soldiers committed perhaps the greatest art theft in history in 1897 and the works are loot. In the current process of restitution, Germany has taken on a pioneering role, encouraging other countries to follow suit. German museums have already returned 1000 art objects. "The whole museum system will change as a result," the ethnologist is optimistic, "from the current object-centricity to a human-centricity."

On stage, Brei asked two students who are currently in the middle of their studies about their experiences. "It's important," recommended psychology student Paul Sieber, "to have fun with the subjects you study. When you're excited and passionate about something, focused seriousness sets in on its own, as a welcome side effect, so to speak." "Studying can be a bit overwhelming," added Madelaine Stenger, who studies sustainability science, "so it's important that you trust yourself. Yourselves. Get actively involved in university life and also trust the people around you."

Referring to this year's Opening Week theme 'Collecting', the Lord Mayor of the Hanseatic City of Lüneburg Claudia Kalisch suggested collecting two things during your studies: "Knowledge and memories. But collecting is not always right. I would like to lose my mobile phone. It doesn't have to be for long. One or two days without a mobile phone would be enough for me. But there are things we should not - and never - lose: Hope. Cohesion. Democracy. Solidarity. They are the foundation of our society and we need them to find sustainable solutions to climate change." The city is proud to have the university, the mayor stressed.

"We see ourselves in the opposite role to all those," underlined AStA spokespersons Josephine Kiecol and Marius Michel, "who tell you how great it is to be a student." The social situation of students is bad, also due to rising living costs, and the pressure to complete their studies in the standard period of study is high. But they are not alone in this. The AStA offers help, from students for students. "We've got your we've got you. Have fun. It's your Opening Week - no one else's."

Jelena Bäumler, vice-president for the college, gave a very true hint: "You stay friends all through your studies with the people you met at Opening Week."

At the very end, Brei left the stage, approached the first-year students and asked them what expectations they had of their studies, what dreams they had and what questions they had. "Meeting new people, getting to know their lives and ideas," Annika answered. Another first-year student, Silian, said, "I think all those who are here right now want the same thing - to become a better version of themselves." She passed the mic to Aziz, who remarked, "I am excited to start studying. First and foremost, I want to gain knowledge." And, at the very end, another student came forward: "My name is Annabell. I come from Berlin. I wanted to move to a university town because here you can really meet new people and make real connections. At Leuphana, the sustainability aspect, which somehow runs through the whole university, was important to me. When I'm older, I really want to change the world. I want to implement my own ideas to make the world a better place. It sounds like a cliché now, but I mean it. You can't do that without compassion, too, so in community and with consideration for people who are struggling with mental health issues, I think. I don't want to be interchangeable."

Contact - Academic Events

  • Sven Prien-Ribcke, M.A.