With a refreshing, beautiful weekend in Berlin behind us, we headed on to our next destination: Greifswald. We got an early start from our hotel in Berlin and took off on the 2.5 hour drive to North. After encountering some early morning Berlin traffic, it was a welcome change of pace to get outside of the city and see open countryside full of windmills and rapeseed fields ready to bloom. The number of windmills and occasional solar panel arrays in the German countryside is truly astounding! On our way, we made a stop in a village in search of a WC/”water closet”/toilet, only to find a small village with no public facilities. Fortunately though, veterinary school teaches us to problem solve, and we managed to talk a friendly fireman into letting us use the firehouse WC.
After a quick stop to drop off our luggage at the Mercure Hotel in Greifswald, we made our way to the Restaurant Langes Landhotel for lunch. Dr. Hoenig had made reservations weeks in advance, however the restaurant seemed to have forgotten! They were fortunately able to serve us, even though we were the lone patrons. We sat outside to eat- in what must have been a warm day for the surrounding coastal area (approaching 26-27C!).
Before eating, we were reminded that today was Memorial Day and we remembered those who have served or are serving in the armed forces, and most importantly those who have paid the ultimate price for our country.
The meal that followed was excellent, and perhaps, my favorite meal of the trip: wilde schweinefleisch bratwurst mit sauerkraut. We’ll see if I get trichinella. . .
After lunch, we made our way to our primary destination for today and Tuesday, the Friedrich-Loeffler Institute (located on Insel (island) Riems). On the way to the Institute, we passed through Riemser, and stopped at the Pommershe Evangelical Kirche Klaus-Joachim Freese. This old church is located right on the coast of the Baltic, on the way out to Insel Riems. The church has a very tall bell-tower, which we were able to climb, and afforded stunning views of the coastline.
We arrived at the Friedrich-Loeffler Institute (FLI) in the early afternoon. Once there, we were met by Dr. Helmut Surborg (a veterinary school classmate of Dr. Hoenig) and President of the FLI, Prof. Thomas Mettenleiter. We were honored to not only be greeted by Prof. Mettenleiter, but he also gave us an introduction to the history of the Institute and an introduction into the work that is done at the island today.
The FLI was founded in 1910 and is currently controlled by the German Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection. It is widely considered to be the first virology research facility. Friedrich Loeffler began his career working with Robert Koch under whose direction he made many important discoveries, including the causative agents of glanders, diphtheria, and erysipelas. He was then appointed Chair of Hygiene to Greifswald University and he soon thereafter described the causative agent of foot and mouth disease (FMD)- a virus. In the early years of Loeffler’s research, animals were housed in barns in the middle of Greifswald and animals infected for research were frequently leased from local farmers, meaning infected animals were being sent back out into the production livestock population. This apparent lack of biosecurity likely led to some outbreaks of FMD in local herds, and he was ordered to stop his studies. His experiments continued at the Island of Reims.
In 1938, the first successful FMD vaccine was created on the island and used successfully. Current research on-island includes relevant, infectious disease research- including classical diseases, zoonoses, emerging infections, endemic infections, vectors, etc.
Following Dr. Mettenleiter’s introduction, we were invited to listen in on a weekly institute-wide seminar. This week, the seminar covered mosquito monitoring in Germany. The topic was fascinating, and it was impressive to hear about current efforts that are being made to identify new populations of mosquitos and the associated pathogens that they risk carrying. This monitoring has been stimulated by past outbreaks of blutetongue (in 2006-2009) and the emerging mosquito diseases in Europe (West Nile Virus, malaria, Rift Valley fever, filarioses, etc.).
This was our final presentation for the day, and the remaining time we had the island included a general tour of facilities and overview of animal populations on the island for research. It was interestilng to hear that the FLI will be one of only a few places in the world with a BSL5! The FLI has recently gotten approval and installed an alkalinizing digester to safely dispose of all animal carcasses used on the island for research.