M’21 students arriving in Berlin this fall were greeted with canvas tote bags and a new idea to ponder: regeneration. The concept permeated welcome events and other SXP activities as a reminder of the potential of optimistic activism, especially with regards to environmental activism.

Every Minerva city’s SXP team has emphasized at least one theme: jugaad (innovation within constraints) in Hyderabad, rapid development in Seoul, and the Silicon Valley ethos in San Francisco. What makes Berlin’s theme of regeneration slightly different is its emphasis on activism and the humanities rather than technology and business. 

For Henning Gärtner, the Minerva City Experience Manager in Berlin, regeneration is about reframing catastrophic problems, like the climate crisis or the lingering trauma of the Holocaust and the Berlin Wall, in tractable, hopeful ways. Ultimately, he hopes students move away from thinking, “it’s all going to end so I can just have fun,” and towards the idea that “hopefully, we can change things; how can we do that?”

“Rather than having you guys feel like the superfluous generation, the generation that isn’t really needed because you don’t have jobs or a future, I like the idea of you being the generation that can change the course of how things are going,” Gärtner said. 

As Minervans you have a very extreme footprint because you’re jet-setting around the world on airplanes… I don’t want to be moralistic and say we should fly less, but I think it’s important to be aware of our own imprint and [think about how we can give back.]”

Henning Gärtner, Minerva’s Berlin City Experience Manager

In relation to environmentalism, regeneration could be seen as one step beyond sustainability. The latter focuses on maintaining the current status quo for future generations rather than restoring ecosystems back to older, healthier states. The green movement is everywhere in Berlin, and staff have tried to incorporate it into the Minerva experience by eliminating disposable plastic from feasts, providing communal bulk spices, and giving every student a reusable shopping bag.

“As Minervans you have a very extreme footprint because you’re jet-setting around the world on airplanes and there’s a lot of consumption involved,” Gärtner commented. “I don’t want to be moralistic and say we should fly less, but I think it’s important to be aware of our own imprint and [think about how we can give back.]”

But Gärtner also connected regeneration to the idea of “composting history,” or taking the city’s tortured past and turning it into something beautiful, or at least educational. During the SXP-led Exploration Day event, for example, many students visited the site of a church that had been bombed during World War II. Today, the space is filled with a huge, open metal sculpture commemorating the community that worshipped there rather than ruins.

“We did not want to limit Berlin to be about remembrance and so on, because it tends to be the cliche about Germany, that it’s all about the Holocaust and the Wall,” Gärtner said. “It’s this kind of sinister image and it leaves Berlin in a kind of time capsule. But I see Berlin as the city of the future.”

He hopes that Minerva students will be a part of building that future during their four months in Berlin, with the idea of regeneration as their guide.