Year in, year out, a week in early summer brings a crowd of geniuses to Lindau, rather than ordinary tourists. That marks the start of the Nobel Laureate Meeting.
Lindau is a small city situated at the meeting point of the German, Austrian and Swiss borders. It offers spectacular views over Lake Constance to the island of Mainau and the snow-covered Alps. It is a magnet for tourists, but once a year it attracts a very special group of visitors.
In early July – the loveliest time of the year – researchers from around the world throng the town on Lake Constance. Young scientists – the geniuses of tomorrow – whatever you want to call them, they all come to Lindau to meet the superstars in their fields. Not rock musicians or actors, but Nobel laureates. This year 34 prize winners attended the meeting. Among them were Mario Molina, Hartmut Michel and Harald zur Hausen.
The meeting has become a tradition since it began in 1951. At first it was intended to help German scientists out of the international isolation they had experienced since the Nazi period. Seven laureates attended in the first year, coming from Denmark, Sweden, Switzerland, the US as well as from Germany.
Generations in Dialogue
Today, dozens of Nobel laureates are joined by more than 600 international young researchers. The selection process is elaborate. Thousands of applications are sent in every year. This is something very special says Olivia Merkel. The 32 year old professor was chosen to attend last year.
What is so special about Lindau? Do people come just to hear lectures by respected scientists, whose works they can also read in academic journals? No; not even these ‘young geniuses’ are that thirsty for knowledge. It is the ‘spirit of Lindau’ that attracts these young people, and that they want to experience for themselves.
“I can understand them,” says Walter Kölle. “It’s a unique experience!” The retired water chemist is nearly 80, but he clearly recalls the time he took part in the Nobel laureate meeting in 1964.
The Nobel Prize winners were also the center of attention back in 1964, as Walter Kölle’s snapshot of Otto Hahn proves.
He was nearly finished with his doctoral thesis when he received the invitation from the Council. He was just 28 years old and it was a great honor for the up-and-coming scientist to be able to participate in the conference. Young researchers can only take part once in the course of their careers – unless they win a Nobel Prize, in which case they may return as laureates.
It was the unique atmosphere that made the event so special, says Walter Kölle. “Young and old come together in Lindau. The Nobel Prize winners are just like everyone else, relaxed and informal at lunch or at the evening student gala.”
Focus on "Green Chemistry"
The main theme of the meeting varies from year to year. Sometimes the gatherings feature the world’s greatest medical researchers, sometimes the best physicists or economists. In this year the focus is on chemistry – in particular “green chemistry” a field whose aim is to prevent pollution of the environment, to save energy and think ahead for coming generations. The young scientists contribute fresh ideas, while the laureates bring their wisdom and experience.
And there is no lack of entertainment and fun in Lindau. The meeting offers plenty of diversions, such as the Bavarian Evening, Grill & Chill, and the boat tour with sausages, beer, coffee, cake and lots of pleasant conversation.