In the medium term, it is expected that several hundred staff will be working in and from the new premises in Bonn. We spoke to Hilda Carr, Head of Communications at ECMWF and one of the first employees to relocate from Reading in the UK to Bonn.
Could you tell us a little more about why Bonn was chosen as the new host for ECMWF?
It all started with Brexit…ECMWF, as an intergovernmental organization is primarily accountable to its Member States, but over the years, we have developed a very close and extremely constructive partnership with the European Union, on research projects, but also on the EU ground-breaking Copernicus Programme. It was therefore making sense that we should have offices in an EU country. ECMWF opened an international competition among its Member States, and Germany won with the Bonn proposal. All proposals were assessed by a panel of representatives of our Member States who had not bid. Selection criteria included financial aspects of the proposal, but also and importantly, its environmental credentials and how it would enable scientific collaboration. And that is how Germany, and specifically Bonn won!
For your scientific programme, will you be working with partners in the European Union? Will you also reach out to academia on site?
The key to ECMWF success has always been its collaboration with partners around the world, and that include obviously partners in Europe. COVID has shown us how much can be achieved virtually, but it has also highlighted the importance of face to face interaction, especially in the fields of science where physical interaction enables a different flow of information, exchanges of views and ideas that is incomparable with what you can have virtually. Having offices in Bonn is allowing us to be closer to colleagues in Bonn and its region, but also more broadly Germany, and Europe. As far as the region is concerned, we already have a programme of collaboration agreed including with The Center for Earth System Observations and Computational analysis (CESOC), which integrates research at the Universities of Bonn and Cologne as well as Jülich. We are also very excited to host a Fellowship programme due to start in 2023, and we are also setting up a new visiting scientist programme targeting our activities in Bonn which is due to start as early as next year. As you can see, there is already a lot going on!
As far as your new premises in Bonn are concerned: where are your interim offices and where will the new building be located? Is there a timeline for the growth of your operation in Bonn?
The ECMWF offices which will be located in the UN campus will be operational in 2026, so at the moment, and until 2026, we are being hosted at the BMU, which is great as their activities are very close to what we do ourselves, and the location is perfect as it positions us opposite the building of the BMVI, which is our sponsor Ministry. COVID has of course slowed our move so we are only going to be around 40 by Christmas, but numbers will grow over 2022 and 2023 as and when we go back to a form of normality.
What were the biggest obstacles for relocating and taking up your work here? We take it that COVID-19 was certainly one of them.
You are right, COVID has been the biggest challenge for us, but also, I am sure for our partners in Germany. As an organization, ECMWF could not ask any staff member to travel until it was absolutely safe to do so. This has meant that all of us who have been part of the ‘first wave’ of staff had to do everything virtually, including choosing a home! I have to say that we have all been very lucky in the sense that all of us are very happy with our new homes, as everything is as it looked through a virtual viewing. We have received a lot of support from everybody involved in the opening of those new offices, from national to regional authorities and of course the City of Bonn. As you know, I have myself contacted all of you on many occasions to help me with a few situations which were really simple and however quite stressful when you cannot travel and check things by yourself!
And from a personal perspective: What was it like to be among the first employees to relocate? Have you had the chance to explore a little of your new future hometown on the Rhine? And is it very different from your home in Reading?
It is great to be part of the team involved in the set-up of our activities here in Bonn, and that is why I volunteered to be part of this first wave The first few weeks have been madly busy with settling at work and at home, so I have not managed to do much, but I have explored my own area of Bad Godesberg, which is really lovely. I was also very keen to try the different ways to move around, so I have now experienced the bus, the tram and the train! It is a new life and it is of course different from my life in England, but it is also exciting to try new things, though I do get a bit confused when I go shopping to see so many different types of flour!
My plan is to try the ‘Rhine walk’ this weekend and of course I want to visit the Beethoven Haus…One of my sister’s friends is a conductor at the Gurzenich orchestra in Cologne, so I am looking forward to also going to listen to him…
A lot to do and explore and I am really looking forward to all of it!