Berlin questions 2021 – the future today
In his opening keynote for Berlin questions, Berlin’s Governing Mayor Michael Müller took up the topic of The New Now, the common thread running through the entire programme of this conference held in Berlin in August 2021. Under the title Metropolis: The New Now, this year’s Berlin questions was dedicated to local solutions to global challenges and the future of cities after the Covid-19 pandemic – a future that does not begin tomorrow, but here and now.
Hybrid event formats: The future now
Berlin questions impressively showed how tomorrow’s conferences already start today. Launched in 2017 by the city of Berlin and visitBerlin, this was the first time Berlin questions took place in a hybrid format. In the city’s ewerk and at various other locations, conference guests could meet online, via livestream or in a 3D virtual environment.
The participants included international mayors, politicians, scientists and scholars, artists and architects from around the world, joining forces to discuss common ideas for a new now. Many attended virtually, in part due to the pandemic but also to avoid a long flight around the globe. In this sense, the conference also stands as a model for sustainable event planning in Berlin.
Sustainable Meetings: The way it works
Along with its range of options for digitally attendees, Berlin questions also provided a good example to follow for sustainable events in the city. The entire event took the Sustainable Event Guidelines as a basis for planning and realisation. For example, only vegetarian catering was provided for in-person participants. And rather than binning leftover food, it was saved and sold at attractive prices to the public via the Too Good To Go app. But cutting food waste was just one priority. The aim was equally to save raw materials and resources – so each in-person attendee received a durable and reusable ÖkoCup, produced in Berlin from recycled plastic. The focus was also firmly on regional services and materials, from interior designs to suppliers. In that context, it is hardly surprising to find public transport as the preferred means of moving around the city or in-person attendees receiving a digital transport ticket on their smart phones.
The need for transport was also cut by providing all on-site speakers with accommodation in a one-kilometre radius of their venue and so within walking distance. Anyone who nonetheless needed a shuttle could be sure of a climate-neutral journey with Fahrwerk GZR, a sustainable mobility provider in Berlin. After the four days were over, the event’s entire carbon footprint was precisely calculated. These findings enable the process of cutting carbon emissions to be further optimised in the coming years or compensated for under a carbon offset scheme.
After all, participants do not want to give up “real” encounters in future either. One of the most frequent sentences heard at the event was “oh, it’s so great to be here”. That sentiment illustrates how highly people in the MICE sector value meeting face-to-face – even if Berlin questions has shown such encounters can also be very close-to-reality in virtual spaces as well.
Avatar guests: A new way of participating at events
When presenter Sumi Somaskanda showed guests around the virtual event space, it was more than impressive. As an avatar in their chosen colour, guests could virtually visit the diverse conference locations at Berlin questions and interact with one another – whether in front of the TV Tower or on the “floating stage”.
In a different encounter – naturally in a small digital conference – Sumi Somaskanda was in conversation with Harry Moseley, Zoom’s Global Chief Information Officer. In this way, even on-site the borders between reality and the virtual world dissolved, giving a very vibrant idea of how people from around the entire world can meet and discuss at a hybrid event. Last but not least, quasi in person as holograms, architect Gustav Düsing and MoMA curator Carson Chan presented a virtual pavilion, offering a vivid example of another future space.
“We are not starting from zero”
This year’s edition of Berlin questions illustrated yet again the enormous spectrum of new, innovative, digital and sustainable ideas. As Berlin’s Governing Mayor Michael Müller pointed out, “We are not starting from zero. We have so much we can build on already in our networks.” And that makes inter-disciplinary exchange all the more important when dealing with the big questions of the future. These were also the questions asked live on-site and digitally by approximately 2000 participants at Berlin questions 2021 to learn from one another, strengthen networks, and help to shape the New Now. After all, as Michael Müller pointed out, this event is not just a four-day conference. It is a generator of ideas for the coming years.