For peace: human chain in Dresden

Around 10,000 people joined the human chain through downtown Dresden on February 13, 2023. In doing so, they expressed their solidarity with the victims of the bombing of Dresden and the millions of victims of National Socialist tyranny. At the same time, they drew attention to the victims and suffering of current wars and set a resolute sign for peace and freedom in Europe and in the world.

Human chain on February 13 in Dresden. © Photo: Michael Kretzschmar

As the leader of the human chain, Ursula Staudinger called on the participants in the human chain: “Let us stand up together for a democratic society where human rights are practiced. Let’s raise our voice together when the crimes of National Socialism are relativized. Let us stand up together for peace and solidarity when the roles of perpetrator and victim are twisted, to the point of legitimizing wars that violate international law.”

At 6 p.m., the people of Dresden, guests of the city, strangers and friends, neighbors and families shook hands and formed a human chain around the entire city center under the motto “Peace! Shaping the future together”. For ten minutes all the bells of Dresden’s inner city churches rang.

Human chain in Dresden for peaceful coexistence

On Sunday, 13 February 2022, more than 3,000 people joined the human chain under the motto “Remembering for a future of peaceful coexistence in diversity” in Dresden’s old town. Together, the participants commemorated the destruction of Dresden 77 years ago and set an example against hatred and violence and for a democratic, humane and diverse society.

The event was opened in Dresden’s Kreuzkirche. TUD Rector Ursula Staudinger, who had also registered the human chain, spoke after the speech by Dresden’s Mayor Dirk Hilbert. “With the symbol of light and the human bond, we take position – in the very literal sense – against social division and hardened fronts on the streets and squares of our city,” she said.

Human chain in Dresden 2022 (Photo by Michael Kretzschmar)

In her speech, Staudinger emphasized that the rupture of civilization, which resulted in millions of murders, had taken place in the middle of society and had also been part of everyday life in Dresden. “In remembrance of this horror, we stand together again today and form a human bond as a symbol of our common memory and draw strength from it,” Staudinger continued. “It doesn’t matter where we come from, what worldview we have, what language we speak or what customs we cultivate. On the contrary, I think that it is precisely this diversity that is part of our strength.”

“But remembering, also remembering together, loses its constructive power, if it encrusts,” Staudinger said. That is why Dresden has been renewing its common remembrance for some time now. Remembering does not belong in the museum but arises through new life. In this way, fears of strangers could be overcome, solutions to problems could be found, differences could be used, and protection could be offered.

After the event in the Kreuzkirche, those present moved to the “Altmarkt” and joined the human chain. Distance bands between the participants ensured the necessary distance for infection protection. The approximately four-and-a-half-kilometer-long human chain through the old town closed punctually at 6 p.m. Acquaintances and unknowns, neighbors, friends, families, Dresden’s inhabitants, and guests joined hands while the bells of Dresden’s inner-city churches rang.

Ursula Staudinger at ROSA’s Inaugural Annual Symposium on Successful Ageing

The Centre for Research on Successful Aging (ROSA) of Singapore Management University (SMU) held its first annual symposium on 30 November, 2021. Ursula Staudinger was invited to hold the keynote lecture and participate in the panel discussion. Due to the uncertain developments surrounding the Omicron variant, she was not able to travel to Singapore but participated online.

The theme of the event was “New beginnings – enabling older adults to flourish in phase endemic”. It focused on how older adults can be supported to not only adapt to but excel in treating COVID-19 as endemic. As Singapore transitions into a new phase of the global pandemic, there is much uncertainty regarding what the future holds. Singapore has a rapidly ageing population and many older adults have found it difficult to cope the pandemic so far. Thus, a proactive approach to shaping the future for the advantage of society is needed.

Ursula Staudinger holds keynote lecture at ROSA’s Inaugural Symposium

More healthy years

In her keynote lecture Staudinger emphasized how honored she was to be affiliated with ROSA and to have been able to contribute to the development of the Singapore Life Panel over the years. “For me, Singapore has always been a model community and nation in how to approach aging and how to optimize it,” she said.

Staudinger shared her latest research findings with the audience in her presentation titled “The Positive Plasticity-Paradigm: Re-Thinking Human Aging”. “If we increase public health measures, there is still enormous potential in optimizing human aging with regard to average life expectancy,” she noted. “And we are not just talking about more years, but about more healthier years.” Yet Staudinger also mentioned that there was great variability in terms of gains within countries depending on socioeconomic conditions. “It shows us how modifiable human aging is.”

Societal setup is pivotal for old adults

“Human aging is not determined,” Staudinger continued. “Rather, it is a very complex, multilevel dynamic system.” To understand human aging, one must investigate the three components “organism”, “person” and “context”. These three factors interact with each other and influence the aging process. “The settings we create in our societies have a massive impact on how we are aging,” she emphasized. Contrary to popular belief, genetics only influence aging by approximately 20 percent.

For instance, interaction between younger and older adults, according to Staudinger’s research, is an important motivational booster that increases brain functioning. As humans grow older, they like to pass on their experiences to the younger generation. Therefore, societies of longer lives and, more specifically, employers should also provide such settings. However, it is important that in creating intergenerational work settings older adults feel valued and not debilitated or “outdated” as this would have a demotivating effect.

“Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic is a factor that destabilizes human aging,” Staudinger expressed. “It is not only a big risk to the physical health of people, but it also influences our societal setup and leads to isolation, particularly of the older ones in our society.” When old-aged people are lacking social stimulus, emotional support, and physical contact, their wellbeing and survival is jeopardized. Therefore, particular attention should be paid to this last phase of life while mastering this pandemic, especially since it will not likely be over any time soon.

Today’s older adults feel greater time pressure

A new study by an international team of researchers including Ursula Staudinger reveals that older adults feel more rushed today than 25 years ago. Due to economic growth and modernization the perceived sense of time pressure has increased – a phenomenon known as “social acceleration”. So far, this has mostly been studied in younger and middle-aged adults who are still in the workforce. But the new study makes it clear that this is also the case with adults in their 70s and 80s.

Why time perception matters

How one experiences time has implications for health and wellbeing. This is why the ten co-authors wanted to find out whether sociohistorical changes in time perception also extend into old age. They looked at two dimensions of time perception: the subjective “speed of time” and the perceived “time pressure”. While speed of time is about the perceived pace at which time proceeds in everyday life, time pressure can be understood as a sense that the time available to do necessary things is running out.

According to previous research, time pressure can lead to poorer physical health, a sense of exhaustion, elevated blood pressure or symptoms of depression. Up to now, the focus however has largely been on young and middle-aged adults in the work context. “It is important to consider the implications for the whole adult lifespan,” says Staudinger. “People don’t stop being part of society when they retire. And they still have a lot of life-time available.”

The new study reveals: Older adults feel more time pressure, too

The Berlin Aging Studies

To find out more about the implications for older adults, the researchers used data from matched samples drawn from the Berlin Aging Study in the early 1990s and the Berlin Aging Study-II in the mid-2010s. The rapidly developing metropolitan region of Berlin offered an ideal setting for studying social acceleration as it has experienced extraordinary socioeconomic and political changes over the last 30 years.  

What the research team discovered is that the later-born older adults reported more time pressure than their same-aged peers in the 1990s. On the other hand, perceived speed of time did not differ significantly across cohorts although earlier-born older adults’ perceptions were more varied.  

Possible explanations for greater time pressure

“Our research shows that societal speed-up also affects older people long out of the workforce,” reports Staudinger. One explanation proposed by the authors is the so-called “bucket list effect”, referring to a recent historical trend that older adults pursue more leisure-related and social goals they had put off during middle adulthood. Furthermore, today’s older adults spend more time volunteering than their earlier peers.

“We definitely need more research in this direction to better understand these factors as well as other possible causes leading to greater time pressure among older adults,” Staudinger emphasizes. “With the adjustment of the legal retirement age in Germany the number of older people in work will increase. Therefore, these questions concerning accelerative trends could gain crucial relevance.”

Research Article:

Sociohistorical Change in Urban Older Adults’ Perceived Speed of Time and Time Pressure

Ursula Staudinger at Congress for University Innovation 2021

On June 14, 2021, the Congress for University Innovation 2021 took place in the Amerikahaus in Munich with high-ranking experts from politics, science and business. Together, they discussed the core elements of a future-oriented university system and wanted to set impulses for political decisions.

Panel discussion at the Congress for University Innovation 2021 © Andreas Gebert

The event – with an audience on site – was organized as a “hybrid future workshop” by the Bavarian State Ministry for Science and Art, the Heinz Nixdorf Foundation and the “Stifterverband für die Deutsche Wissenschaft”. Around 600 interested people took part. Together with Prof. Dr. Peter Frankenberg, Dr. Muriel Helbig and Prof. Dr. Rolf Tarrach Siegel, Prof. Dr. Ursula Staudinger participated in the panel discussion on internal university management. The focus was on the comparison of governance models and the question of power.

More participation for a variety of perspectives

“The strength of the university in its autonomy lies in the freedom of teaching and research – both in its smallest unit and in the aggregate as an institution,” said Staudinger. Through participatory processes and a change in the university culture at TU Dresden, she wants to contribute to turning the nucleus of autonomy – the professors – into agents for the future of the entire institution. “It not only sounds difficult, it is difficult,” she reported. It meant to stay in constant conversation with different status groups and hierarchy levels. The aim was to use the resulting diversity of perspectives as a strength and innovation driver.

Ursula Staudinger at the Congress for University Innovation 2021 © Andreas Gebert

An important aspect was also an existing error culture and the associated willingness to take risks. “We haven’t learned that making a mistake or failing is the beginning of success,” she said. This had to be carried into the institution much more strongly, because in Germany, and especially at universities, people were still more risk averse.

Business intelligence for further development

“If we want to improve our strategy and control capabilities, we have to develop systematic business intelligence,” Staudinger continued. The universities could only develop further if they had permanent access to the most important information at all times. It was not just about classic performance parameters as they were used at the universities of excellence, but about individual control parameters against which one would like to be measured.

“To define and anchor higher education and research as a public good should be of great value to us,” emphasized Staudinger. It was important that universities have planning security from public sponsors. However, it should not be about full financing. “I believe that there is also an innovative strength when we develop further sources of funding as a university.” In addition to working together with commercial enterprises, this also included constructive cooperation with society in order to open up new financing opportunities and, at the same time, to assume responsibility as an active participant in civil society.

The range of topics at the Congress for University Innovation 2021 was broad. Experts from several federal states as well as the federal government answered numerous questions during the panel discussions in the morning and parallel forums in the afternoon. In view of the upcoming federal election in autumn, the political framework conditions required for universities to thrive as places for innovation were repeatedly discussed. A summary of the results of the congress will be published in autumn 2021.