Interview: Leipzig Gears up for ISC'13

Interview: Leipzig Gears up for ISC’13

Mr. Uwe Albrecht, deputy mayor of Leipzig

This year the International Supercomputing Conference moves on to a new location in the the city of Leipzig, Germany. To learn more about what this historic city has to offer, insideHPC caught up with Uwe Albrecht, the deputy mayor of Leipzig.

insideHPC: What natural advantages does Leipzig enjoy that has made it a major center of trade and commerce in Europe? During the DDR era, Leipzig remained the primary city for commercial exhibitions in Eastern Europe, continuing its historical legacy as a trade center. How has that shaped the city of today?

Uwe Albrecht: International commerce and trade fairs go back a long way in Leipzig. Being at the crossroads of two major trade routes, the east–west Via regia and the north–south Via imperii, Leipzig began to flourish 850 years ago. In 1497, Emperor Maximilian I passed an edict protecting the Leipzig Fair. Over the centuries, people from different places met up here to exchange not only goods but also ideas, a process which molded Leipzig into a cosmopolitan city.

In the mid-nineteenth century, Leipzig developed into a major industrial centre, chiefly thanks to industrial pioneer Karl Heine. The construction of machinery factories as well as railway lines, roads and canals prompted rapid growth. By the early twentieth century, Leipzig had become the biggest industrial location in Saxony and one of Germany’s key cities.

The end of East Germany was quickly followed by economic collapse in the early 1990s as long-standing markets mainly in Eastern Europe disappeared. Heavy industry largely ground to a halt and industrial jobs declined by about 90pc. Employment in mainly new industries had to be created for thousands of people.

As a result, a massive shift to the service sector took place. Leipzig is now still the foremost financial location in central Germany.

Nowadays, Leipzig is the vibrant centre of a thriving region characterized by innovative processes of transformation and with a population of 1.7 million. With the European Union expanding to the east and south-east, Leipzig suddenly found itself at the centre of the EU and is increasingly acting as a hub between east and west. The roads, rail links and airways have all been improved thanks to foresighted planning – and are now coming into their own.

On the basis of a study carried out by the Office for Economic Development and HHL Graduate School of Management, economic sectors with especially strong potential were identified. Under the motto ‘strengthening the strengths’, emphasis is placed on developing five high-growth clusters: Automotive & Suppliers, Media & Creativity, Healthcare & Biotech, Logistics & Services, and Power & Environment.

There’s been no shortage of good news lately regarding the region’s economy. BMW’s Leipzig car plant for instance is currently being turned into the electromobility hub of the entire BMW Group, creating 800 new jobs in the process. Porsche has decided to build its latest model, the Macan, in Leipzig, which means 1,000 new, high-quality jobs for the region.

DB-Schenker, a subsidiary of Germany’s national rail operator Deutsche Bahn, is expanding its logistics terminal and almost doubling its 800-strong workforce. Meanwhile Haema (Germany’s biggest independent blood donor service), Vita 34 and c-Lecta are all continuing to expand, bolstering Leipzig as a medicine and biotech powerhouse.

Other successes include investments by Amazon, DHL, Aerologic and Future Electronics, the expansion of the German Biomass Research Centre, and the opening of the new technology centre for Yamazaki Mazak – the world’s largest manufacturer of machine tools.

insideHPC: Prior to World War II, Leipzig was also a major center of music, education and publishing. And even though it remained as an economic powerhouse under the East German regime after the war, its cultural importance appears to have declined. What happened?

Uwe Albrecht: Answering your previous question, I mentioned successful examples which put your assessment of Leipzig’s economic development in a different light. But although I’m an official representative of Leipzig, that’s not just what I think! The future of our region has been assessed very positively by external experts, too:

  • The latest ranking by prominent business magazine Capital placed Leipzig in first place in Germany for its dynamic economy spanning a decade. The study explored how Germany’s top sixty towns and cities will develop until 2017 in terms of economic muscle, jobs, population and purchasing power.
  • It concluded that Leipzig’s economic output will climb by a fifth by 2017. With the population rising by 1.6pc over this time, the number of jobs is expected to increase by 7.2pc, causing spending power per head to rise by a tenth.
  • In the Capital ranking in 2011, Leipzig was rated the city with the fourth-strongest economy in Germany, only eclipsed by Hamburg, Munich and Frankfurt. Leipzig has risen 45 places since 2001.
  • Leipzig garnered top positions in the Financial Times Group ranking in both 2010/11 and 2012/13.

Leipzig is no longer the city that it once was in the nineteenth century. After all, the world has moved on. But since German reunification, many visitors have come to Leipzig. They want to meet the people who took part in the Peaceful Revolution, to be in the city where Johann Sebastian Bach directed St Thomas’s Boys Choir for twenty-seven years, and to simply enjoy Leipzig’s lively, varied atmosphere. Every year, the city invests a sizeable chunk of its budget in the Gewandhaus concert hall, Leipzig Opera House and Leipzig Ballet, and also supports organizations staging plays, concerts and festivals.

Leipzig was and remains an important centre of education and vocational training. Research institutes and establishments of higher education with internationally acclaimed expertise strengthen Leipzig’s healthy reputation in academic circles as well as among captains of industry and the general public.

As far as internationality is concerned, Leipzig International School including an international preschool and the Reclam School offering the dual Franco–German baccalaureate known as the Abibac are hard to beat.

Leipzig has Germany’s second-oldest university with uninterrupted teaching and has a proud pedigree of science and scientific training. By the way, German Chancellor Angela Merkel took her physics degree in Leipzig.

The written word enjoys special status in Leipzig. Historically rooted in the flourishing publishing sector during industrialization and a pioneering newspaper market, Leipzig’s role as a city of printing and publishing has since changed. In recent years a number of young publishing houses with very different profiles have emerged.

Local training in printing technology, publishing and journalism sets the standard throughout Germany. Literature plays an important part in local education and culture, large printing companies and small firms produce high-quality printed products, and publishers are tackling the challenges of digitization and design. It’s an exciting industry in exciting times!

The high status attributed to the written word by the public is demonstrated every year by the popularity of the Leipzig Book Fair, which was held from 14 to 17 March, accompanied by the festival Leipzig Reads. A year ago, the German National Library in Leipzig and Frankfurt celebrated the centenary of its foundation in Leipzig with a magnificent extension augmenting the main building.

Leipzig became the cradle of the world’s first daily newspaper upon the publication of Einkommende Zeitungen in 1650. Just under 250 years later, local paper Leipziger Volkszeitung was printed for the first time. The Leipzig newspaper market is now facing fresh challenges with the advent of digitization. All publications in Leipzig benefit from well-trained new recruits. The Department of Journalism at Leipzig University and the Leipzig School of Media enjoy an enviable reputation in the industry. And to encourage good journalism, every year the Sparkasse Media Foundation awards the Leipzig Media Prize in a number of different categories.

With establishments of higher education such as the HGB Leipzig Academy of Visual Arts, Leipzig University, HTWK Leipzig University of Applied Sciences, and Leipzig School of Media, the city has developed from the centre of the German-language publishing industry to the foremost centre of training in the world of publishing.

insideHPC: What is Leipzig doing today to reinvigorate its image and cultural heritage?

Uwe Albrecht: Leipzig’s great musical heritage continues to have the biggest international impact. But Leipzig’s cultural image should by no means be confined to its history! St Thomas’s Boys Choir, once directed by Bach, can be heard performing the weekly motet at St Thomas’s Church. The buildings where Mendelssohn, Schumann and Grieg once lived and worked have been painstakingly restored and now also serve as concert venues. Along with five other places, they make up Leipzig’s application to become designated a World Heritage Site. And whenever you walk through the city, you’re bound to see someone carrying an instrument or hear young musicians practicing through the open windows of the municipal school of music. A few years ago, we launched a very successful campaign to get primary school children interested in singing. Leipzig may have a long history, but it’s also a young, vibrant city – with a university right at the city centre.

insideHPC: Bach, Mendelssohn, Schumann, Wagner, and others established a rich musical tradition here. What is the music scene like in the city today and what does the future hold?

Uwe Albrecht: Leipzig is one of Europe’s foremost cities of culture. Highlights include the Gewandhaus Orchestra and St Thomas’s Boys Choir, the city’s vibrant arts scene, and a wide variety of fascinating museums. And this exceptional diversity is continuously fostered by above all Leipzig’s citizenry and farsighted business classes.

insideHPC: Leipzig University, one of Europe’s oldest institutions, has nurtured some great scientists, including Nobel Prize laureate and physicist Werner Heisenberg. What role do you see for science and technology?

Uwe Albrecht: The economic region of Leipzig has enormous R&D potential at its disposal thanks to Leipzig University, 10 other colleges and universities, 3 Max Planck Institutes, 2 Fraunhofer Institutes and a host of non-university research centres. Leipzig University cements its reputation as an important centre of research with its interdisciplinary research activities, including in 5 collaborative research projects, 7 postgraduate research units, 3 international postgraduate programs, 3 international Max Planck research schools and 4 DFG German Research Foundation groups. Particularly important are the almost 450 joint projects with industry, including 72 with regional companies as of 2011, ensuring that research findings are swiftly put to practical use.

BIO CITY LEIPZIG, including Leipzig University’s BBZ Centre for Biotechnology and Biomedicine, thrives on its stimulating atmosphere for young firms and successful start-ups. Six distinctive inter-faculty research departments have been set up Leipzig University to encourage cooperative research projects. They are entitled ‘From molecules and nano-objects to multifunctional materials and processes’, ‘Mathematics and its applications in the sciences’, ‘Molecular and cellular communication: biotechnology, bioinformatics and biomedicine in therapy and diagnosis’, ‘The brain, cognition and language’, ‘Risky orders’ and ‘The changed environment and disease’. And they are joined by concentrated research into biodiversity.

Apart from Leipzig University, various other institutions such as HTWK Leipzig University of Applied Sciences, HfTL Deutsche Telekom University of Applied Sciences for Telecommunications, and HHL Graduate School of Management have made a name for themselves far beyond Leipzig as important research centres. Examples of its internationally renowned research institutes include the three Max Planck Institutes, and the institutes in the Fraunhofer Society and the Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Scientific Community.

insideHPC: In general, where do you think Leipzig’s future economic growth will come from?

Uwe Albrecht: The future has already been mapped out. Until 2020, we will consistently execute our cluster strategy, which is currently being revised.

  • In the automotive industry, Leipzig will become the foremost location in Germany and Europe for premium-segment electric vehicles.
  • Leipzig will continue to strengthen its position as a European hub of goods and services. Logistics and Internet retail are set to play a lasting role in the region.
  • The Alte Messe biotech campus will be reinforced by additional investment by both commercial enterprise and research institutes.
  • Leipzig will be an important centre of excellence for energy – especially renewables – and the environment.
  • The new media and above all the creative sector will spark developments in more traditional sectors and become an important driving force for Leipzig and its economy.

Although major investments are important for the city, the backbone of economic development in Leipzig is made up of its wealth of small and medium-sized enterprises. These SMEs drive innovation, account for the bulk of jobs, and contribute the lion’s share of vocational training. Therefore, the framework needs to be improved in particular for this group of companies.

insideHPC: Clearly, with the new Congress Center, Leipzig is positioning itself as a tech-savvy host for conferences such as the International Supercomputing Conference (ISC’13). Can you talk about the role of technology in the region and your views on Silicon Saxony? How important is it that high-performance computing experts from around the world will get to know Leipzig, and vice versa?

Uwe Albrecht: I think that Congress Center Leipzig is a great choice for the International Supercomputing Conference ISC’13. In 2012, the CCL Congress Center Leipzig was voted ‘Best Congress and Convention Centre’ by readers of British trade magazine Business Destinations and corporate travel centre directors of the world’s top 500 companies. And last year it hosted over 100 congresses and conferences attended by more than 100,000 participants.

As the Deputy Mayor of Economic Affairs and Employment, I’m of course proud and thrilled that the main supercomputing conference will be held in Leipzig and that 2,500 system managers, researchers from higher education and business as well as developers from 50 countries will be meeting up to talk shop in keynote speeches, panel discussions and workshops. I see this as a show of confidence in Leipzig.

Saxony has a unique concentration of companies with expertise in the fields of micro- and nanoelectronics, photovoltaics, organic and printed electronics, energy-efficient systems, telecommunications technology and networked sensors. Silicon Saxony, Europe’s biggest network in these industries, links up more than 300 members in Saxony, including manufacturers, suppliers, service providers, universities, research institutes and public institutions.

The dovetailing of research, development and engineering taps important potential for the innovative power of our region. Research working hand in hand with industry goes back a long way in Leipzig.

The latest gratifying example is the press release from HTWK Leipzig University of Applied Sciences, according to which researchers from the iP³ Institute are participating in the Organic Electronics Saxony network, incorporating their expertise in printing technology to develop organic electronics to market readiness.

The conference will address topics such as petascale computing, big data, exascale architectures, cloud computing, network technologies, the state of the art in HPC applications and data management. The Department of Computer Science at Leipzig University explores some of these topics and their usage in business.

The field of service science – researching the service sector – is also playing a growing role in Leipzig. Its task is to develop innovative, knowledge-intensive services supported by high-technology in conjunction with industry. This is an area whose international importance is climbing and it’s ideally represented by the universities and research centres in Leipzig.

Leipzig’s training opportunities are a big advantage for the city. Graduates from Leipzig help their employers keep their business on track. And they’re one reason why the ICT industry is such an important driving force in Leipzig’s economy.