What Kind of Digital Society We Want to Live In

by Maria Chotou

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re:publica is the largest conference about digital culture in Europe. It was founded in 2007 as a small-scale meeting for digital creators and today marks a wide-ranging conference of digital culture representatives. During a three-day festival in Berlin, artists, activists, scientists, entrepreneurs, NGOs, journalists, scholars, and social media experts converge to share knowledge. 

Arena Berlin and Festsaal Kreuzberg hosted for the first time re:publica22 on the 8th-10th of June. The reconnection with the community was an absolute thrill after the two years of the covid19 pandemic and the online execution of the festival. The Glashaus, the Arena Club, the Flutgraben, the Hoppetosse, and the Badeschiff – including beach areas – were also used as exhibition spaces.

This year’s digital conference focused on acute social, digital, and political grievances in the face of several crises: the climate crisis, Russia’s attack on Ukraine, the Corona crisis, and the fight against hatred and agitation on the web.

Anyone who has ever attended re:publica knows that the festival always ends with the celebratory and collective singing of Queen’s “Bohemian Rapsody”. With over 400 workshops and programs on ten indoor and outdoor stages and more than 700 invited speakers, re:publica22 opened this year’s ceremony with the last line of the same song: “Any Way The Wind Blows”. Since these were the last words spoken at the pre-pandemic get-together of re:publica19. “Never again war” – the performance by Tocotronic marked the end of re:publica22 in the year of the war against Ukraine. 

The main takeaways from re:publica22

A series of discussions and lectures explored the question of what kind of digital society we want to live in and how we can shape it together. 

The major debates of our time around climate, the war in Ukraine, and Corona were discussed, as well as technological evolutions and advancements such as Metaverse, the Web3, NFTs, and artificial intelligence, and their economic and social impact.

This year’s focus also included civil society strategies for combating disinformation, ways to curb hate on the web, and new ways of limiting the power of large tech companies through platform regulation.

The German writer, Sascha Lobo, in his talk “Any Way the Wind Blows,” reflected on current social developments while keeping a close eye on the media, politics, and the audience. Bringing together digitization, globalization, and moralization, he invoked the power of the network, but also the dangers of Alexa and China’s TikTok. 

Marina Weisband, a German-Ukrainian journalist and activist, raised a critical voice – virtually connected – in an appeal to the audience about German hesitation and reaction to the Ukraine war. ‘Democratic states need to stick together now more than ever’ she said.

Olaf Scholz was the first German Chancellor to take part in the event. The German Chancellor from SPD, during his visit at re:publica, described the war in Ukraine as a turning point “because a single country, Russia, is breaking international law in the most brutal way with the power of its military apparatus and without any cause.”

All talks have been published online on re:publica2022 Youtube Channel: 

Volunteering for re:publica22 

Each year, re:publica is also accompanied by a group of volunteers. This is a great opportunity for those who are unsure whether to attend or cannot afford the relatively expensive ticket for this big conference. The tasks usually involve mainly press crediting and ticket checking. 

Students in HMKW’s master’s program in Digital Journalism also volunteered and gained insights from the conference. As a volunteer, I was mostly occupied with tasks related to the standard ticket stands, with plenty of time, however, to wander around the conference and explore the different stations.

There is a Facebook group that is been updated and all people are welcome to register for the next conference as volunteers. 

A flashback to 2019 

The re:publica19 newsroom was run by a student team from HMKW Berlin headed by Prof. Dr. Ranty Islam and operated by the Department of Journalism and Communication. As “Shifted News”, the students of the master’s program Convergent Journalism reported live and multimedia on behalf of re:publica. They were also supported by the teachers at the HMKW Jost Listemann, Sarah Meister, and Daniel Lehmann, and students from the design department.

As part of the HMKW MediaLab, a combination of teaching editing and multimedia newsroom, the group was able to prepare for the tasks. This was a unique opportunity for the students to use the skills they have learned during their studies in a live context at an event of this dimension.

Click below to view HMKW’s participation in re:publica: 

Here are some photographs from re:publica22:

The Interdisciplinary Nature Of The Humboldt Forum

A feature by Maria Chotou

What do Berlin and Intelligence have in common? Τhe answer may be revealed in the essence of interdisciplinarity that inheres on the first floor of the Humboldt Forum.

Two exhibitions that are currently taking place at the Humboldt Forum, Berlin Global and After Nature, mark an encounter between culture and technology. The two are inextricably bound with the involvement of experts from various fields of science, artists and Berlin-based initiatives in both exhibitions. A cultural-scientific dialogue is fostered by the Stadtmuseum behind Berlin Global and the Cluster of Intelligence behind part of After Nature.

A Multiplicity of voices 

In July of 2021, the Berlin Global exhibition opened its doors to visitors with seven diverse themes: revolution, free space, boundaries, entertainment, war, fashion and interconnection. “The exhibition Berlin Global combines an interdisciplinary representation of the city’s history and culture, but also offers a unique participatory experience of interacting with this history using multimedia technology,” says Karsten Grebe, press spokesperson for the Stadtmuseum Berlin. The Stadtmuseum Berlin has been in charge of the communication for the Berlin Global exhibition since its opening.

The exhibition embraces the fact that there is not just one ostensibly objective presentation of history, but rather many histories. A team of political scientists, historians, communication scientists, musicologists, and gender studies scholars have been working to achieve this goal.

On account of such involvements, visitors have the chance to come across aspects of the multifaceted Berlin, reflect and construct their own views through a participatory experience and interactive technologies. Visitors choose a path when going from one station to another. And at the end of the exhibition, they receive a summary of their input and decisions, enabling them to challenge further their critical view and recognise the multitude of diverse opinions from other visitors. 

The possibilities of interactivity in the museum are so open-ended that their conceptualization and design are what make the experience special. Touch, feel, critique, and create, but, most importantly, be asked questions. 

Grappling with colonialism

Going back now to the museum’s view, the heterogeneity of its contents can already be seen on its façade. A merge of modern architecture with baroque construction. 

The new museum stands on the site of the demolished East German parliament building alongside Berlin’s Cathedral and has been dubbed one of the largest cultural developments in Europe in recent years. The Berlin palace was damaged during WWII. It was demolished and replaced by the Palace of the Republic, which housed the parliament of the German Democratic Republic (GDR). 

The decision to rebuild the baroque Berlin palace, which is now forming the Humboldt forum, has been undoubtedly a controversial topic. Inhabitants of Berlin have been debating about the reconstruction of a royal palace, which has associations with Prussia and the monarchy, and the Forum’s intention to host non-European cultural themes. 

The Humboldt forum was built and its content, rather surprisingly, challenges and advocates a new way of acknowledgement and discussion around the colonial past. 

“The Berlin Global exhibition seeks to engage critically with the history of Berlin and Germany. What underlines the whole concept is a critical view on the colonial structures of power in the present,” Karsten Grebe says. 

In fact, there are plenty of examples in the exhibition that show gestures of openness and dialogue, but also recognition of the past. The exhibition opens up with an art piece by duo artists How & Nosm that depicts the history of European world views and exploitation since the early modern age. The topic of colonialism is also found in the station “Boundaries” and “War” where they address the invisibility of Germany’s colonial past in the country’s culture of remembrance and call upon political leaders and the public to take a new look at colonialism.

The performative work produced by contemporary artist Philip Kojo Metz called SORRY FOR NOTHING takes place in the “War” room and points out the German silence regarding the country’s colonial past. It is one of the main works at the exhibition that highlights this new stance of the forum to challenge the past. 

From the exploration of Berlin’s society to what intelligence is 

As we progress through the interactive wanderings of the Berlin Global exhibition and gather a sense of the museum from the outside, we are transported to a different room on the first floor. The After Nature exhibition room has a similar design with the rain of matrix and installations that challenge our sense of human existence. Large floodlights hang from the ceiling and hold glass boxes exposing all sorts of objects from history. The exhibition, however, begins with an emphasis on sustainability and a reference to the human mind. The Cluster of Intelligence in Berlin curated part of the After Nature exhibition and exhibited precious findings from their work. 

“Members from different subject areas such as robotics, biology, and philosophy work together towards an interdisciplinary understanding of intelligence. The aim is to identify general principles of intelligence as well as technological applications that make use of these principles’’ says Prof. Dr Jens Krause, a scientist at Leibniz Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries. Prof. Dr Krause’s research is part of the behavioural biology component of the Science of intelligence cluster.

A prominent part of the After Nature exhibition highlights our connection with the natural ecosystems. The exhibition starts with a massive installation of moving fishes, that just like humans, move around in swarms. Our collective actions and decisions have consequences for others. This is the power of collectivity. 

The science of intelligence cluster is a joint cluster of excellence of the Technische Universität Berlin and Humboldt-Universität in Berlin. This interdisciplinary outlet focuses on research about collective intelligence and presents an experimental setting of RobFish at the After Nature exhibition. 

One of the glass boxes mentioned above hosts the RobFish. Visitors of the exhibition come closer to a little robotic fish which is placed in a real-life simulation environment and through interactive technology tries out behaviours in a collective concept with other simulations of fishes. 

The robotic fish is anticipating the behaviours of its conspecifics and the aim of the experiments is to use such insights for improving collective robotics.

Why collective intelligence matters

Studying how humans or animals process information and make decisions collectively can identify new principles based on which experts can address important problems in society. The study of anticipatory strategies and social responsiveness with AI models is at the core of current research by the cluster of intelligence regarding collective intelligence. 

“Some of the mathematical models which are inspired by social decision making in animals were capable of providing algorithms for cancer diagnosis which are better than the human doctor,” says Prof. Dr Krause. 

“Collective Intelligence is the ability of a group of animals or humans to make better decisions than a single individual could. An important prerequisite is that individuals independently gather information from their environment. This information is processed through social interaction and leads to the solution of cognitive problems that single individuals cannot solve in this way,” he continues. 

The interdisciplinarity behind the exhibitions

The After Nature exhibition belongs to a part of the Humboldt Lab within the Humboldt forum, which aims to make science more accessible, bringing experimental work such as the RobFish closer to people. The Humboldt Lab is a great place to show visitors what goes on in the excellence cluster in Berlin and illustrate how interdisciplinarity, even in the most complex scientific fields, is necessary. 

“The Humboldt Lab is a place for science communication and we look forward to creating more content in the future,” says Prof. Dr Krause 

From Berlin Global to After Nature, it makes perfect sense to believe that all fields of life are interconnected. From culture to science and art to technology. The Humboldt Forum in Berlin at last is offering the space to experiment with those connections. 

The city derives intelligence and intelligence derives the city.

If you want to learn more about the ongoing exhibitions, please click the links below: 


All photographs were taken by Maria Chotou.

The Resurgence of Curated Newsletters for Journalists

A blog by Maria Chotou

Media outlets today provide journalists with multiple ways to distribute their work. While social media has grown in terms of user numbers, email still has the largest number of users. News writers might want to consider creating newsletters to expand their reach.

During the Culture and Entertainment module taught by Prof. Dr Tong-Jin Smith, students in the Digital Journalism master’s program at HMKW learned how and why newsletter journalism is becoming increasingly relevant. Following the theoretical seminar, they were exposed to e-newsletter creators and were able to develop a free format newsletter of their own.  

The curated box that changed newsrooms

A newsletter’s design and distribution are vital, and the tools that are used by networked journalists are fascinating in terms of how they need to think creatively and openly to inform their audience. So, how have newsletters changed the online newsroom?

The resurgence of newsletters shifted the online newsrooms in the way of disseminating curated news content and controlling incoming traffic on news websites. They became a new way of discovering how to inform the public. A curated box that is delivered to our digital letterbox just like newspapers were thrown in garden yards once.

In recent years, we have seen the emergence of affordable, user-friendly software such as Mailchimp and Substack that make newsletters more feasible. Both of these services offer plenty of design tools, a simple interface, and the option for paid subscriptions. Adding a newsletter to the news experience added a personalized touch and curated content aimed at encouraging recipients of newsletters to consume the news. 

Newsletters can serve as an excellent engagement tool, delivering valuable journalism content. As journalist NiemanLab staff writer, Christine Schmidt, emphasizes in her article about the shift from newsrooms to newsletters, newsletters seem like a “one-person-show reporting operation”. Her concept diverges from the idea that newsletter journalists are turning to readers instead of advertisers for support through subscriptions and the establishment of a personalized journalistic presence online. 

The fact that freelance journalists can establish their journalistic brand presence is creating a convenient marriage between entrepreneurship and journalism. The encounter of the two fields combines journalistic skills with marketing, communication, audience research, and business. 

Keeping it up with newsletters 

No matter how fascinating these new possibilities might be, it can be difficult for journalists to get familiarized with the different tools and software necessary for newsletters. For those interested, we have put some useful information below for you about how to start creating newsletters and curating the current news 

Knight centre offers a self-directed course about newsletter strategies for journalists and will be more suitable for anyone who focuses on the strategic aspect of newsletters. The newsletter guide is ideal for journalists that want to find their niche and understand how they can curate news on their matters. Lastly, an online journalism blog embraces the success potential of a newsletter with an informative video and the 19 essential newsletters for every journalist are undeniably a good inspiration thread. 

Newsletters from Berlin

As for local newsletters, tipBerlin is curating news from the city in German and Exberliner offers a newsletter for English speakers as well. Students from HMKW also tried to produce content for the city and the result is worth having a peek at. 

Michael Grubb and Reuben Holt, master’s students in Digital Journalism at HMKW produce newsletters about Berlin’s political news and Berlin’s dancefloors: The Hauptstadt Update and Offbeat.

If you want to read more about newsletters, you can click on the articles below: 

Listen Here, Queer!

A podcast by Alejandro Sandoval, Brandon Drake, Michael Grubb and Reuben Holt

With the closure of establishments due to the Covid-19 pandemic, many people lost the only space where they could freely express themselves and create community bonds. 

This was the case with Sonntags Club. Originating in the former East Berlin, for years the club has provided a space of visibility and safe gatherings for queer people. It has also expanded into a mental health clinic and counselling services in the Prenzlauer Berg neighborhood. 

We spoke with Michelle Hartman, Peter Rausch and Jan-Jules Zimmer, who told us about the importance of the club and the adversities they faced when they had to close their doors during the pandemic. Listen Here, Queer, is a podcast dedicated to the spaces that make Berlin a place where queer people can call this city “Home.” 

“How often have I heard in discussions, ‘I thought I was alone, that I am the only one who is like this.’ And then they realize there are others, but they have to find them first. We wanted to create spaces where people could go.” said Peter Rausch about Sonntags Club. 

For more information about Sonntags Club, the activities there or the counseling services, please visit the following link:


To listen to the podcast, follow the link below:

The NeoZoa Digital Magazine

A blog by Maria Chotou

According to NeoZoa’s own description on its website “Each issue of NeoZoa combines a poignant topic and ‘identity’, with the aim of uncovering how we are defined by cultural intersections and societal ideas”.

NeoZoa is a student-run online magazine written and produced by master students studying the MA in Digital Journalism at HMKW. Students began the magazine as part of their classwork for the module Culture & Entertainment in the summer semester of 2021 and it became a Minor Project in the next winter semester as well, both classes being taught by Prof. Dr Tong-Jin Smith. The main editors of the magazine were Alice Preat, Paul Krantz and Raf Yengibaryan, with everyone else in the class contributing as writers. The project’s idea was to rotate the roles and to give everyone the chance to become an editor, as explained by Airine Nuqi, one of the magazine’s writers and  designers of the magazine.

Prof. Dr Tong-Jin Smith encouraged the students to work collectively in launching an online magazine which they would then be capable of enriching further with their creative stories and journalistic works. They had to share roles regarding editing, design and web assistance. The first edition of the online magazine concerns issues of Language and Identity. The magazine is divided into features and multimedia, revolving around the concept of fear from different aspects.

Contributors were Alice Preat, Airine Nuqi, Carina Sheen, DJ Coffey, Hannah Atteneder, Hannah Reiss, Julia Merk, Leo Frick, Paul Krantz, Raf Yengibaryan, Stephen Benkert, Nadine Allgeier and Will Bryan.

Multimedia section from NeoZoa’s website
Features section from NeoZoa’s website

NeoZoa..but what is it?

“NeoZoa are animals that have been introduced into an area that’s not their native habitat. Since we all moved to Berlin from various places and had to find our ways in this new habitat, the name was very fitting. We all had to adjust to a new culture of sorts. Plus it sounds cool.” — Leo Frick, a NeoZoa writer.

“One of the ideas behind NeoZoa was to explore the theme of identity in relation to other issues that play a big part in our lives: language and fear for example. Our identities are complex and influenced by so much, and we thought it would be interesting to investigate some of these relationships and their impact on our lives. In the magazine, you’ll find pieces about the US military complex, phobias, voice actors, and more.” — Alice Preat, NeoZoa’s editor and writer. 

Challenges and advice

Regardless of which digital storytelling tool we use, it can always be challenging to learn and compress your ideas to create a web magazine. Student-run magazines like NeoZoa are always tricky to manage since they are operated by students for students.

According to the students: “everyone has different editorial and management styles and reacts differently to feedback and criticism. It’s always an opportunity to learn in the end.”

As for the last piece of advice for those who have the idea of creating an online magazine, but do not feel confident enough to do so, the secret is to not be afraid of the challenge and go ahead find your team, theme and get it started.

“Even if your magazine has only one or two issues and never continues on, it will be a valuable experience for all who participate. It will teach you how to work as a team, how to follow editorial visions, and how to follow up on your investments” says the NeoZoa team. 

To read the full first issue of NeoZoa magazine, click the link below:

The Berlin Housing Crisis and The Right of First Refusal.

A short film by Michael Grubb, Maria Chotou, Merve Kartal, Reuben Holt (MA Digital Journalism), produced as part of the Media production module with lecturer Patrik Baab.

This short report takes a close look at the current housing crisis in Berlin, taking as its focal point the Vorkaufsrecht (right of first refusal) – a legal mechanism that has been utilized by the different federal states (Bundesländer) to intervene in the sale of apartment buildings. The goal of the Vorkaufsrecht is to protect the socioeconomic diversity of different neighborhoods. 

Berlin is famous for its socioeconomic diversity within the city. Plenty of Berlin areas still retain a sense of community that has been destroyed in many other gentrified European capitals.

The use of the Vorkaufsrecht was recently severely restricted by a ruling of Germany’s highest administrative court leaving many groups of renters in a sort of limbo. This film highlights the situation of renters who are, or were, in the process of organizing themselves so as to be able to utilize the right of first refusal.

The report seeks to establish a portrait of those renters directly affected, and tries to elucidate what this means for the protection of renters’ rights vis-à-vis those institutions that hope to profit from speculation in the Berlin real estate market. 

As with all video productions, it required a lot of background research, interviews, investigations, mapping and (lots of late night) editing.

Here are some images from our production journey and please click on the link at the end to see our report:

All images were taken by members of the production team. 

To watch the full movie click the link below: 

If you want to know more about the Berlin Housing Crisis visit the link of the Deutsche Wohnen Enteignen Campaign:


Lesbian Couples in Germany Are Waiting For The New Government to Make Good on Its Promise to Reform Parental Rights Laws

The ‘traffic light’ coalition has promised to bring an end to the practice of subjecting same-sex families to an adoption process before the state will recognize both partners as the legal parents of children born into their relationships.

A profile feature by Michael Grubb

On a rainy December evening Emma and Jolanda sit across the dinner table from their daughter Irma. The bubbly two-year-old alternates between enjoying her apple slices and insisting on participating in the conversation, unphased by her underdeveloped sense of grammar and syntax. Her interjections command the attention of the room, her parents nodding affirmingly to the baby babble. She has lots to say and seemingly strongly held opinions – the coherent, adult conversation can only continue once she is satisfied that her point of view has been taken into consideration. 

She is also a dancer, born with an innate appreciation for music, which is a constant feature of the household. An eclectic, tasteful collection of vinyl records occupies a portion of the long wall in their living room. Jolanda throws on an album of classic reggae, and Irma begins to dance almost immediately. A wiggle of her hips, sometimes a tap, or stomp of her feet, hands clapping to the beat. Her dancing is improvised and joyous, and it continues for the entirety of the song that flows through the speakers.

Emma and Jolanda met in 2011 while working at the same institute in Berlin. They are molecular biologists, and at the time were conducting basic research – Emma as a postdoctoral fellow, Jolanda as a PhD candidate. While searching for answers to the fundamental questions of biology, they also found each other. 

Both have since continued to excel professionally. After defending her PhD, Jolanda spent some time in the administration of a prestigious research institution in Berlin, and for the past few years has been working with a software provider that helps laboratory scientists more efficiently manage their resources. 

Emma has reached a level of success as a molecular biologist that very few achieve. Highly awarded and respected in her field, her list of publications in prestigious journals is extensive. The European Research Council now provides the funding that supports the laboratory she oversees.  

It was after the pair purchased and moved into an apartment in Berlin that they began contemplating children. “Once we had a home, we felt that we were ready to start a family,” Emma said.

They decided she should be the first one to carry. “It was clear that Emma wanted to have the first baby, because she is older.”

In the summer of 2019 Emma and Jolanda married. In November of the same year Irma was born. Raising her over the last few years has been a joyous experience, accompanied by the crocodile tears and sleepless nights that all new parents endure. Their non-traditional family has also been treated with respect and acceptance in their community.

However, their most significant source of stress and insecurity has been the fact that until very recently, Jolanda was not Irma’s legal parent.

“We have a marriage for everyone, but it’s not complete,” Jolanda said. “No one that I’ve talked to – even the butcher in my parent’s village, or my 80-something year old aunt, no one has anything against our family. And yet nobody knows that we have to go through this. Everyone is happy with the two of us having a child, but nobody knows that we have to adopt.”


When homosexual couples decide to start a family, the decision is always explicit. There are no accidents. For lesbian couples becoming pregnant often involves sperm donors and fertility clinics. Health insurers in Germany will cover initial fertility treatments for heterosexual couples, but not for women in same-sex relationships, meaning they must bear the full cost. For many it is prohibitively expensive.Depending on the length of treatment, it can cost anywhere between €10,000-20,000. The process can take years, and the decision to go about it is never taken lightly.  

According to German law, when a child is born to a married lesbian couple, only the woman who gave birth to the child is considered the legal mother. The other woman in the marriage must adopt the child before the state will recognize her as its legal parent. This process is arduous and intrusive, and its outcome is subject to judgements of both the Child Welfare Office and the courts. 

Heterosexual couples, whether married or not, are not subject to such institutional oversight. When a married woman gives birth to a child, the husband is automatically recognized as the legal parent, even if he is not the biological father. For unmarried couples, the woman can simply declare her partner the father. In both cases parental rights are granted with the stroke of a pen on the day the child is born. 

From the day she was born, and for the following two years, Irma had only one legal parent. 

“I was treated nicely by everyone at the hospital,” Jolanda said. She was allowed to be present for the birth. “But I am not mentioned in the birth certificate. I was basically nothing to her legally.”

Childbirth comes with obvious risks, and the laws governing the allocation of parental rights are meant to ensure that a child will be cared for by a second parent in the event of the mother’s death. In Germany, obligations of care and inheritance are predicated upon legally recognized parental relationships. Because parental rights are not allocated to the second partner in a same-sex relationship at the time of a child’s birth, those children come into the world without the legal security afforded to children born into heterosexual relationships. 

This fact was a primary concern for Emma and Jolanda before and after Irma’s birth. Jolanda’s lack of legal status vis-à-vis her daughter restricted her ability to take full responsibility for her, at the pediatrician for example, or in other contexts where important decisions must be made on her behalf. If something had happened to Emma, if she were killed or incapacitated, Jolanda’s right to continue parenting Irma would not have been assured.  

“A woman can die during delivery, and you don’t want a child to be orphaned right away, so you need a second parent,” Julia said. “This should apply to us as well. If Emma had died Irma would have been an orphan. But I’m there! I’m married to Emma! I went through the pregnancy with Emma, I’ve been in Irma’s life from day one. Where is the difference?”

Two German courts, as well as the new German government, would seem to agree. 

Nodoption (a play on the words ‘no’ and ‘adoption’) is a non-profit legal advocacy organization that has helped same-sex families challenge the laws governing parental rights in German courts since 2018. They argue that the law fundamentally discriminates against same-sex couples, and endangers the children born into those relationships. Though most of their initial cases were lost on procedural grounds, they have succeeded in two instances in the past year. 

In March 2021 both the Regional High Court in Celle, Lower Saxony, as well as the Superior Court of Berlin ruled in their favor. 

The law states that only a “man” can be the “father” of a child, thus excluding the possibility of the second parent being a woman (or non-binary person). Both courts ruled that as such it discriminates against same-sex couples. The rulings have been bundled together and sent to Federal Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe, which will decide on the constitutionality of the law. When the case will be heard and decided upon remains to be seen – the process can take many years. 

In a statement given after the ruling of the Superior Court in Berlin, Lucy Chebout, the lawyer who represented the plaintiffs in both cases, called it a historical moment and a clear call to action for the federal legislature. “Two high courts have stood on the side of same-sex families and are supporting them in their fight for equal rights. The legislature should seize the opportunity and finally institute reforms to the laws governing parental rights,” she said. 

If one is to take the newly installed German government at their word, then they intend to do just that. 

The “traffic light” coalition of Socialists, Greens, and Free Democrats included in their governing contract the statement that, “If a child is born into the marriage of two women, both are automatically the legal mothers of the child, as long as no other legal agreements have been made.”

Governing contracts are of course not the law of the land – they simply lay out the intentions of the coalition for the coming legislative period. The former “grand coalition” government of Christian Democrats and Socialists had similar language in the contract they signed in 2018. The effort to turn those promises into legislation never made it to a vote in the Bundestag. 


The adoption process involves two institutions: The Family Court, and the Child Welfare Office. The party in the marriage who did not birth the child must first petition the court, stating their intention to adopt (a document which in Germany must be produced by a notary), and the party who gave birth to the child must give consent for the adoption to the court (also via a notary).

The court will then ask the Child Welfare Office to make a “judgement” of their situation – it is this part of the process that, for Emma and Jolanda, felt the most intrusive. It means submitting to interviews, the purpose of which are to elucidate deficiencies in one’s character. It means allowing a stranger into your home so that they might scrutinize the setting in which you raise your child, and pry into your routines and methods of parenting.  

They would not be subject to such scrutiny by the state if they were in a heterosexual marriage.

Their adoption process was complicated by two outside factors; the onset of the corona pandemic, and that nine months after Irma was born, they had to move cities. Emma was to start her own research laboratory in Cologne, a move that was in the works even before her pregnancy. The home visit was thus delayed, stretching the entire process out beyond the normal time parameters.

A man from the Child Welfare Office, similar in age to themselves, came to evaluate their home a few months after they moved to Cologne.

“I was nervous, obviously, because I felt like I was being tested. He is coming to judge – based on one visit, during lockdown, after we have moved and are not in our normal environment, wearing masks – if I am a good mother, or potential mother to my child, that I have raised since birth and who he doesn’t know. It feels so shitty.” Jolanda said. 

“You think all kinds of things – should I have her in my arms? What if she doesn’t want to come to me and only wants to go to Emma because of, whatever, and how will he judge me because of it? These things are obviously totally unnecessary to think, but still you do this.”

The Child Welfare Office found them and their home to be suitable to raise their daughter, and in November 2021 the adoption became official. 

This recognition of their family changed little for them in a practical sense. In an emotional sense, it represented the long-awaited end of a journey they felt they shouldn’t have had to be on in the first place. 

 “It has done something to me. I’ve loved Irma always, in ways you can’t express in words, and it hasn’t changed anything in terms of my relationship to her or Emma, but I feel better. I know now that the German state recognizes that legally I am her mother. It’s a big deal, a huge deal.”

The last 16 years of conservative led governance in Germany has meant stagnation in the march towards equality for sexual minorities; Angela Merkel’s government was not explicitly homophobic, but certainly wasn’t ready to expend political capital addressing the issues facing same-sex families. The new government under Olaf Scholz has made it clear they intend on making up for lost time. Whether reform of the laws governing the allocation of parental rights for lesbian couples comes of legislative initiative or is ordered by the highest court in the land remains to be seen. 

“Let’s see how quickly they change the law,” Jolanda said. She is currently pregnant with their second child, a boy. The pace of reform will determine if they once again must ask permission to be recognized as a family.

Strategic Communication Concepts Delivered With a Smile

This winter term, Master students of Public Relations and Digital Marketing at HMKW worked on a strategic communication concept for Amazon in Berlin.

Amazon Development Center Berlin, Germany 

Amazon has been firmly rooted in Germany since 1998. The Company is not only delivering packages to customers throughout Germany, but also research and development in Germany, the largest of them in Berlin. In Berlin alone, more than 2,000 employees have been working since 2011 on artificial intelligence, automated translations or the improvement of services such as Alexa, Audible, Amazon music, or Amazon Web Services (AWS). 

After a briefing by Amazon, the third semester students, under the guidance of HMKW’s Prof. Dr. Christian Möller, spent their semester researching Amazon’s current situation and developing strategic communication concepts for corporate citizenship and outreach activities. Eventually, this week, they had the opportunity  to present their concepts to the Amazon Communication team at one of their offices in Berlin.

Here are some pictures from the presentations: 

  “The concepts and presentations by the students were very professional and highly relevant for our corporate communication work here in Berlin”, Amazon spokesperson Silke Goedereis said. “I was impressed by the student’s ideas, creativity and the maturity of their concepts.”

Master students of Public Relations and Digital Marketing at HMKW

These photographs were taken by Prof. Dr. Christian Möller. 

Justice For Syria

A short movie by Lukas Kolig, Celia Penning, Laura Bohorquez, Erasmus Kalenga Hamunjela (MA PR & Digital Marketing), produced as part of the module Media Production, with lecturer Patrick Baab.

The Background

This investigative report is based on the story of Anwar al-Bunni and how a chance encounter in a Berlin grocery store helped bring about a historical trial, on German soil, against Anwar R. and Eyad A., for crimes they committed against humanity on behalf of the Assad regime in Syria.

Anwar al-Bunni is a Syrian lawyer and human rights activist, who was arrested and charged in his home country Syria in 2007 for disseminating false information about the Syrian state. After serving five years, he decided upon his release from prison to flee to Germany in 2014.  In Berlin, in an incredible twist of fate, Anwar al-Bunni happened upon Anwar R. in a grocery store right next to his refugee home in Marienfelde.

Anwar R., who worked for the intelligence services in Syria, is the man who al-Bunni alleges abducted him in front of his apartment in Damascus and interrogated him in prison. He was part of the Assad regime in Syria, from Branch 251, who allegedly oversaw the murder, rape and torture of at least 4,000 people. Also part of the regime was Eyad A., who arrested people at protests and brought them to Branch 251. Both men flew to Germany in 2011 and 2014, and arrived in the same refugee home in Marienfelde as Anwar al-Bunni.

After the encounter in the supermarket, Anwar al-Bunni started working together with state prosecutors collecting evidence of the crimes against humanity committed in Syria. In large part thanks to his efforts, Anwar R. and Eyad A. were finally arrested in 2019 in Berlin. 

The steps involved

The goal of this investigation was to create a report around the story of Anwar al-Bunni by finding out how Berlin became a battleground for the fight against humanity crimes in Syria. There were many steps involved in bringing this report to life. The first step of the report consisted of a detailed fact sheet about the protagonists and the war in Syria. From this a hypothesis was formed, which needed to be tested by carrying out interviews with the most important protagonists in this story. In order to do these interviews, first the sources to contact potential interview partners needed to be collected and divided into victims, neutrals and responsible people. The most important interview partner was  Anwar al-Bunni, as well as Syrian activists in Berlin. After setting up the possible sources, the questionnaire was developed for the interview partners. In the last step, the outline for the visual and production-related inquiry was decided.

The biggest challenges

Some of the biggest challenges we had to overcome in conducting this report was the fact that this was a very sensitive topic. It was hard to find interview partners and also find questions that wouldn´t trigger them. Another challenge was that there had already been many reports about al-Bunni. So we didn‘t want to copy all the existing ones and had to come up with a new angle. Additionally, it was a big challenge trying to secure interview partners, especially from the legal side, since the trial was still ongoing. And finally, there were many organizational and technical challenges in organizing shooting locations, a functional timetable, and working with the equipment without any preexisting experience.

To watch the full movie, follow the link below:

A Guide To Journalistic Writing and Practices with Andrew Curry

A blog by Maria Chotou

Berlin based journalist Andrew Curry has more than 20 years of experience reporting from five different continents. In his eyes, he feels very privileged to get to ask questions and share stories as a journalist. His reporting agenda is diverse and impressive. He regularly writes about science, archeology, culture, politics, business, and even cycling. Curry has written for a wide variety of publications, from Architect and Bicycling to National Geographic, The New York Times, Rouleur, and Wired. He is currently a contributing correspondent for Science magazine and also a contributing editor at Archaeology.

Since October 2021, he has been teaching the module Journalistic Writing, together with Dr. Martina Kohl, to students attending the Masters in Digital Journalism at HMKW Berlin. Curry aims to provide students with the key concepts of journalistic writing and reporting, from the basic elements of a news story to pitching, reporting and writing. His reporting principle is that there is no one correct way of writing a news story. Instead, he encourages students to tell readers in a news-y way about who was there, what they said, why it was newsworthy, where and when the event took place, and what the audience reaction was (the so-called essential five Ws).

As a kid and university student, Curry lived in California and Washington, D.C., where he used to bike around a lot. Still today, he perceives cycling as a symbol of relaxation and inspiration. It helps him think and enter a different mind space. Cycling in Berlin radicalized him and made him aware of traffic, dangers and other aspects that need to be improved in the urban space of the city. Cycling is a precious time for the mind to zone out.

“One of the great things about cycling is the rhythm of the year: The ride that leaves me barely able to climb the stairs afterwards in March will seem like an easy jaunt in October, when the leaves fall once again, and then winter will come, and the wheels will turn once more,” Curry said in an Instagram post.

These impulses for wandering and mobility but also a sense of time and rhythm find expression in Curry’s curiosity with scientific topics, more specifically, archeology. He did not study history but he was always interested in it and archeology is a big part of history. “It is hard to find news in history. Archeologists make discoveries which are news but the narrative around them is the news story,” Curry explains.

Coming to Germany, Curry thought that he would write about politics. But eventually he developed his interest in science and history and decided to embrace it in his journalistic work, as it requires some background knowledge on the topics, and the fact that science publications actually pay well. “Science reporting is like any reporting,” says Curry. So even if science is not your thing, but reporting is, here is some invaluable advice from Curry to keep in mind:

The Five Ws – Accuracy and Clarity

The goal of the coverage of any event, talk, or speech as a news story is to give readers information about what happened at a specific time and place. Readers need to know the who, what, how, when and why. Who was there? What did they say? How did other people who were there react to what happened? When and where did it take place? Why should we care? News coverage requires close attention to accuracy and balance. The five Ws are the most newsworthy elements of a report and will keep the facts straight.

The Headline

The key point of a headline is to say what matters and tell the readers briefly what the story is about. Ιf you had to imagine that you knew nothing about the story, what information would motivate you to read more about it? What is the information that will catch the eye? Being conversational is very important. You are naturally trying to communicate with others after all. As Curry says, avoid quotes, colons and journalese.

The Lead

Τhe structure of the lead varies depending on the content, purpose and audience of the story. There are certainly different ways to start a story and the lead will set the tone, mood and direction for everything that follows. If there are no unanswered questions in your reporting and the ultimate goal of accuracy and clarity have been achieved, an emerging lead that reflects your story will appear.

The Nut

News stories often follow the inverted pyramid structure that weighs facts according to newsworthiness based on the journalist’s judgment. The nut is the main core of the report. It is up to the writer whether the basic information of the five Ws will come before key quotes or after. Key quotes and interesting facts summarize, analyze and give relevant details to the readers. It is essential to get quotes and interview participants for reaction during the reporting.

The Kicker

The kicker is the last sentence of the story and aims to surprise, amuse, get the reader to ponder, -or summarize the story. It can be a quote or a simple conclusion.

Practice and enjoy it

Andrew Curry might consider journalism to be a lucky job, but he would not deny that journalistic writing requires practice and careful analysis. He suggests that reading other people’s work, questioning the way the details have been collected, considering the reader’s interest and the sources is the key to success.

To check out Curry’s recent publications click on the links here: https://www.andrewcurry.com/