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Transatlantic Cities of Tomorrow in Rostock, Schwerin, and Hamburg

From December 4 to December 10, 2022, the American Council on Germany wrapped up the fourth and final round of exchanges for its Transatlantic Cities of Tomorrow: Digitalization and the Future of Work initiative, a reciprocal exchange program for thought-leaders in small- and medium-sized cities in Germany and the U.S. to develop solutions to common challenges resulting from digitalization and to identify innovative approaches to turning these challenges into opportunities for their local workforce and economies.

In Rostock, the delegation started the week focusing on Rostock and Warnemünde’s innovation and startup ecosystem. At the Technologiezentrum Warnemünde an overview was provided of their services which includes TechnoStartup MV which provides support to young companies in the first few years with a customized training program, and the Enterprise Europe Network helps SMEs in the development of their business and technological cooperation in the European internal market. The group had the opportunity to also meet with four startups in the region: JobUfo – a career search portal; Artesa – a digital toolbox for planning in the handicraft sector; INOVA Protein – a sustainable producer of protein from insects for human and animal nutrition; and Hydronauten – a firm that has designed technology for quiet and efficient pump and piping systems. At the Universität Rostock, the Institute of Visual & Analytic Computing in the Faculty of Computer Science and Electrical Engineering and the Center for Artificial Intelligence in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern shared information about the research and products being developed to improve efficiencies in urban planning, healthcare, and other fields. The current and incoming rectors of the Universität Rostock highlighted and stressed the importance of the university’s interdisciplinary approach to merge scientific disciplines and address issues from a variety of perspectives. In a conversation with Steffen Bockhahn, Senator for Youth, Social Affairs, Health and Education and Deputy Mayor for the City of Rostock, the group discussed the city’s elementary and secondary education and efforts to increase the use of technology and ensure students learn critical digital skills and literacy.

The delegation then headed to Schwerin, the capital of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, for a series of meetings and visits focused primarily on the state’s efforts to promote digitalization in education, small- and medium-sized companies, schools, and the public sector. At the Digital Transformation Unit of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern’s Ministry of the Interior, Building and Digitalization, the group discussed the state’s digital initiatives called digitales MV which includes a digital agenda and strategy, digital ambassadors, and a Digitaler Innovationsraum – regional digital innovation centers located on university campuses that provide networking and consulting services to connect business, research/academic and the public sector. The Digitales Innovationszentrum Schwerin conducted a brainstorming exercise with the delegation to identify ideas and strategies to utilize digitalization tools to create efficiencies and improve services in smaller cities like Schwerin and presented a new initiative called GOVTECH Campus MV to provide digitalization training to the state’s public sector workforce. Lord Mayor of Schwerin, Dr. Rico Badenschier, shared his digital vision for the city and a representative from the MV Association of Towns and Municipalities explained the challenges which confront cities when striving to promote digitalization and develop more digital infrastructure. The delegation learned about the efforts of the Mecklenburg-Vorpommern Ministry of Education, Science and Culture to enhance digital tools and learning in teaching, improve digital infrastructure, and qualify teachers with the skills they need in a digital world. One highlighted project was the building of Germany’s first entirely virtual secondary school, which will offer teaching units that students can access virtually and use during short periods of distance learning or when classes are canceled, enabling them to connect to a range of lessons and subjects regardless of where they live in the state.

The delegation concluded the week with visits in Hamburg that touched on all three themes of the initiative. At the ZAL Center of Applied Aeronautical Research, which serves as the technological research and development network of the civil aviation industry in the Hamburg Metropolitan Region, the group toured the facilities learning about innovation in the aerospace industry. Also, at ZAL, the participants were particularly impressed by the discussion they had with the students and administrators of proTechnicale , a school to inspire and qualify more young women for technical studies and STEM professions. The Artificial Intelligence Center Hamburg (ARIC) provided training about artificial intelligence and machine learning and its impact. Presentations at the Handelskammer Hamburg shared information about Germany’s (and Hamburg’s) dual system of apprenticeship training which combines academic training at schools and practical training in companies, about the growth of dual study programs at the post-secondary level as exemplified by the HSBA Hamburg School of Business Administration, and about the activities of the Mittelstand-Digital Zentrum Hamburg which advises SMEs on ways to digitize their processes and services. The group wrapped up the trip with a visit to Impact Hub Hamburg, which provides support for social entrepreneurial start-ups. While there, the delegation engaged in conversations with the founders of Hacker School, which strives to provide coding training to every German secondary school student, and DayOff, which has created an e-learning platform to provide ongoing team training in essential skills.

During the week, participants were impressed by how much different stakeholders work together to promote education and the German culture that focuses on the well-being of society more than the individual. Additionally, members of the delegation were impressed by the systems in place to work on issues that receive significant financial support from the government. While this has limitations, it also provides a strong foundation of stability across German society. The participants will now develop community action plans to continue the engagement of everyone and to help ensure that there is a tangible impact from the exchanges in the participating communities in the future.