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Staatssekretär Prof. Dr. Ingolf V. Hertel
Opening Address at the International Congress of Neurochemisty (Joint Meeting of the International and the European Society of Neurochemistry, ISN and ESN), 8. August 1999 (Freie Universität Berlin)

Mr. Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen,

it is a great pleasure for me to open this international congress on Neurochemistry which is a joint meeting of the International and the European Neurochemical Societies. On behalf of the Governing Mayor of Berlin, Eberhard Diepgen, who has accepted the patronage of your congress, I would like to welcome all of you here in the German Capital.

The government of Berlin considers it a great honour that you have chosen this city for your congress and we are happy that the local chairman, Prof. Hucho, has apparently convinced you that Berlin is a sufficiently respectable location for this important international congress. We are confident that after Kyoto (1996) and Boston (1998) you will find Berlin to also be very appropriate for your conference. Berlin is a city of Science and Research and is proud of its long tradition in a variety of subject areas of high current interest. This is particularly true so for Medical Research: 7 Nobelprice winners in medicine have worked in this city before 1933. Specifically, neuroscience has been a strong subject already in the past. Let me just mention three out of many famous names: Hermann von Helmholtz, the Physicist, measuring e.g. the speed of transport for nerve signals, worked here as well as Emil du Bois-Reymond and Rudolph Virchow. I think it is fair to say that these outstanding scientists were pioneers of modern physiology and science based medicine.

Today, one of the top research areas in Berlin is molecular medicine (as docu-men-ted by a recent study of the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Science) with one of the four major themes being neurosciences. This involves a broad collaboration of researchers at several institutions in Berlin: the Free-Univer-sity, who hosts your congress, the Humboldt-University, their respective clinical institutions and the Max-Delbrück-Centre for Molecular Medicine. The latter is located at one of our two big research and technology parks in Berlin-Buch (the other one being Berlin-Adlershof) which are the major innovation projects of the state of Berlin. Berlin counts on its scientific potentials!

Thus, we are very proud that several Special Research Projects and Graduate Education Projects have been granted to Berlin scientists in this field by the German Science Foundation DFG. We consider this, as well as your coming to Berlin as indicative for the quality of research done here in your field.
Neuroscience is and will continue to be one of the most exciting subjects of research at the turn of the millennium. I say this - personally being a physicist - with a slight touch of nostalgia and I am at the same time very happy to see that physical methods belong nowadays to the standard repertoire in this field of research - I already mentioned Helmholtz who pioneered this connection. On the other hand, neurochemistry, i.e. the biochemistry of the nerve system explores the molecular mechanisms of the basic functionality of nerve cells. Thus your subject illustrates very clearly, how important interdisciplinary co-operation is in modern science. Berlin, we believe, offers a rich research infrastructure for almost all subjects related to the most active areas of modern medical research.

More than 3.5 Billion DM per year are spent in Berlin on research in sciences and humanities and on tertiary education through my administration, the Senatsverwaltung for Science, Research and Culture, and we trust that this promotes both, fundamental knowledge as well as economic prosperity for our society. I think your all are aware of this twofold responsibility of modern, publicly funded research. And although the themes of your meeting are predominantly or even exclusively devoted to basic research, most of the problems treated are also of fundamental significance for neuropathological medicine. Thus their understanding forms the basis of future applications. Apparently this aspect is also reflected in the scientific exhibition which goes along with the congress. An impressive number of leading companies from the pharmaceutical and instrument making industry are represented here.

You expect more than 1000 participants from all over the world at your congress - with some concentration on Europe but also with a strong participation from Japan and Australia. Some specificity's deserve special mentioning: You may perhaps be aware that the development of carriers for young scientists is currently a subject of much political and public discussion in Germany: we feel - and international advisory committees tell us to do something about it - that our scientists grow too old before they are allowed to enter responsible positions. In this context, I think it is very remarkable that in your congress about one half of the participants may be considered young scientists - being below 40. And your "Young Investigators Colloquia" may be considered a really good example for the promotion of young scientists. This is, I believe, connected with a rather moderate participation fee as well as with stipends for travel and participation. In this context, I think, you will appreciate the hospitality which the "Freie Universität Berlin" offers to your congress - at a rate which certainly could not be maintained at a big conference centre. It has also its symbolic value to hold big scientific meetings at Universities, i.e. at the sites which are at the heart of the knowledge production and distribution process.

Ladies and Gentlemen, political and cultural conferences have a long and good tradition in Berlin. Your meeting of international neurochemists will continue this tradition in a worthy manner. I trust that your congress will significantly contribute to the free exchange of knowledge which is the basis of progress in science. I hope that you will be able to create many new research connections within your scientific community, strengthen the existing ones and perhaps you can use Berlin as a platform for cross disciplinary contacts and exploit some of its many respective resources.

But I also would like to invite you - as far as your challenging conference program permits - to get a little bit familiar with our New Berlin which is currently emerging at a tremendous speed. Please try also to make some use of the rich cultural scene which Berlin has to offer. And of course we hope that you return home from this city as a friend, perhaps as a Berlin fan and most desirable even as a new born "Berliner".

Prof. Dr. Ingolf Hertel, e-Mail: Hertel@mbi-berlin.de

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