Harnack Medal awarded to German Chancellor Angela Merkel
For the first time, the highest award of the Max Planck Society for services to science goes to a female head of state
On 29 June, in a ceremonial event at the Humboldt Carré in Berlin, Max Planck President Martin Stratmann presented the Harnack Medal to German Chancellor Angela Merkel. On 12 March 2021, the Senate of the Max Planck Society decided to award the Chancellor the Harnack Medal “for her services to science and research and in recognition of her long-standing association with the Max-Planck-Gesellschaft”. It is the highest award the Max-Planck-Gesellschaft has to bestow. In 1953, the Max-Planck-Gesellschaft resumed the tradition of its predecessor, the Kaiser Wilhelm Society. Since then, 22 leading figures have received this award, including three former Federal Presidents, Theodor Heuss (1959), Heinrich Lübke (1964), and Richard von Weizsäcker (1990).
In his laudation, Stratmann emphasized that in the last two decades under Merkel’s leadership, science in Germany has been given a remarkable scope for development – both in an international comparison and in the context of Germany’s strong science tradition. Among other things, Stratmann referred to the three major initiatives developed in consultation with the Federal States – the Excellence Initiative or Excellence Strategy, the Higher Education Initiative, and the Joint Initiative for Research and Innovation. He said it was particularly to Merkel’s credit that in 2008, in the midst of one of the worst financial and economic crises, the Federal Government decided to increase funding for German science, thereby giving it long-term financial prospects. According to Stratmann, research in Germany now has a higher degree of excellence, is better networked, and is more international than ever before. “We have become visible. Germany is no longer a compromise. It has become a desired destination for both young and established scientists from all over the world”.
Stratmann referred once again to the difficult situations faced during the pandemic and praised Merkel as a voice of reason. Even outside of Germany, the German Chancellor is viewed as having a rational scientific policy. “A policy that looks facts in the eye and does not deny them. A policy that understands scientific findings and does not chase alternative facts”, says Stratmann.
The Harnack Medal was first awarded “for special services to the Kaiser Wilhelm Society” in 1925 to the Protestant theologian Adolf von Harnack, co-founder and first president of the Kaiser Wilhelm Society. The design came from the renowned and most successful German sculptor of the time, Georg Kolbe. Harnack’s profile and motto “Spiritus Creator” is featured on one side of the medal and Minerva, the protector of the sciences, on the other. Merkel is the first woman to receive this highest honour from the Max-Planck-Gesellschaft. But that is not an unusual situation for her. “You were the first woman to take on many roles, including that of Chancellor, and thus a pioneer for a new era”, said Stratmann as he presented the award.
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