Culture fair

Young Max Planck researchers at the "Cultural Week" in Oviedo, the capital of Asturias

October 30, 2013
One week per year, the Spanish city of Oviedo sparkles with life - right before the Prince of Asturias awards are presented by the Spanish crown prince. At this time of the year, market squares turn into colourful street festivals, and the prize winners – artists, scientists, charities and sportspersons – present themselves and their work. This year, four Max Planck researchers, two junior scientists and two PhD students, also embarked on an exciting week-long trip to the province of northern Spain, together with President Peter Gruss, as representatives of the Max Planck Society.

“During those five days, I was most amazed by how genuinely warm and friendly the people of Oviedo and the prize winners were”, says Ali Shahmoradi, Ph.D. student at the Max Planck Institute for Experimental Medicine in Göttingen. “After all, we were just guests, not actual prize winners, but we were treated just the same. Wherever we were, whether it was on a short trip to the sea or a visit to a restaurant with delicious Spanish food, we always received first-class treatment.”

The programme wasn’t only about recreation, of course. Together with three junior scientists from Spain, Austria, and South Korea, Ali was directly involved in the official events of “Award Week” - a week of cultural activities preceding the presentation of the Prince of Asturias award - for example, during a panel debate with students in the crowded auditorium of Oviedo University. “We presented the research of the Max Planck Society together with Max Planck director Ignacio Cirac and answered questions about our institutes and the application procedures.” A special stage was found for the Images of Science of the Max Planck Society, too: in copper frames, they were displayed in the city's park, where everyone walking by could admire them.

Since everyone stayed at the same hotel, Ali didn’t only meet the Crown Prince at the reception, but also spotted him when “he cheerfully paced through the floors and chatted with the guests.” It was practically impossible not to come into contact with him or the other laureates. “On a hike in the mountains of Asturia, we talked to Michael Hanecke about the film industry, and Peter Higgs even had time at the conveyor belt of the airport luggage claim to talk to me.”

As every year, the highlight surely was the awards ceremony at Teatro Campoamor, together with 1,200 guests in the audience. “Every time, I am asked what I liked best, I say something else”, Ali says. “But to walk down the blue carpet, while traditional Asturian music was playing in the background, was surely one of the highlights.” Maybe it was also the morning after the gala, when the Max Planck researchers had got comfortable in the hotel lobby. Early bird and star photographer Annie Leibovitz asked them, quite surprised: “Wow, did you guys work through the night?” “That’s just how it is in the Max Planck Society”, Ali laughed.


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