I Did Not Know How a Researcher Can Pack Words Like Sachertorte, #Aufschrei, Wanderlust and Paradigm Shift into Five Paragraphs. And Then I Read This Text.

I spent last summer in Berlin as a visiting research fellow at Humboldt Institute for Internet and Society (HIIG) (documented here and here). They now asked me to contribute to their annual report with a short account of my experiences. The challenge: It would have to include the following words: Sachertorte, fellowship, hiig, berlin, paradigmshift, currywurst, #Aufschrei, Wanderlust. This is what I submitted. 


The visiting research fellows Han-Teng Liao (Oxford Internet Institute), Ulrike Klinger (University of Zurich), me and Giovanni Navarria (University of Sydney) (f.l.t.r.) in front of the Humboldt Institute for Internet and Society. Photo: Elena Pfautsch.

If this publication would be Buzzfeed, Upworthy or another one of the countless websites that seek our attention with touching stories and incredible videos, the headline above would just fit. But this is not a new Reddit thread or the next lifehacking tip collection. Instead, I will briefly recapitulate my last summer in Berlin as one of four visiting research fellows at HIIG, where I stayed from July to September.

Some of my friends call me the “the permanent tourist”. That is because I use to spend my spare weekends in Vienna like a visitor (although I have been living in that city for years). I read newspapers in cafes, on every possible occasion I order Austria’s most famous boiled beef, the Tafelspitz, and I go to the former imperial zoo as often as possible. And, above all, I love Sachertorte, probably the world’s best cake.

My addiction to Sachertorte also found me a room in Berlin last summer. Getting a suitable accommodation in Berlin can be difficult. I wanted to avoid nerve-tracking castings, complicated landlords and sharing an apartment only on economic reasons. Therefore I set up a Tumblr, introducing myself and a competition: I would give away two original Sachertorten; one would be for my new interim flatmates, one for the “broker” who would find me the apartment. The result was astonishing: Dozens of people shared my offer via mail, Twitter and Facebook. I received e-mails from people I had never met before. And few days later I had found a room and even a bike – right in the heart of Hipster-Kreuzkölln.

Although I had seen a lot of Berlin during my previous trips to the city, I stayed a “permanent tourist” during my three months as a fellow, strolling through the streets and backyards without aim, purely driven by wanderlust. My workplace at HIIG also contributed to  that feeling: From where I sat, I could see the TV tower and the German flag on top of the Federal Foreign Office. Berlin visitor, what can you want more?

Apart from the touristic aspects: What is it like to spend a summer at HIIG? We research fellows were welcomed with tremendous hospitality and were quickly integrated into the institute’s teams and routines. When we did not work on our own research projects we participated at the weekly journal club or took part at one of the many excursions that were organized for us. Not to forget: The many spontaneous meetings at lunch where we discussed data-driven paradigm shifts in the social sciences, calculated publics like #Aufschrei and – the best Currywurst in town. Summa summarum: An unforgettable summer.