Rebecca Powell, Germany, University of Illinois, May 22, 2014

We left Hannover this morning and spent about 3 hours driving to Berlin. It was a fairly uneventful trip through the German countryside. We passed many fields and through some lovely forests. Upon arrival in Berlin, we did not yet head to our new hotel, but drove straight to our location for the afternoon, the Bundesinstitut für Risikobewertung, or the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment.

We arrived half an hour early, and our contact person at the institute, Dr. Florian Höfer, was not able to meet with us yet. Our plan was to eat lunch at the cafeteria, and Dr. Hoenig got us started getting our food and eating. At noon, Dr. Höfer came and met us, with some menus translated into English for us, which I thought was very thoughtful of him and the BfR, even if we did not end up using them due to starting lunch early.

When we finished eating, we waited outside in the shade until 1, when our program was scheduled to start. It was very nice to spend some time out of the car in the fresh air, and the pleasant weather was enjoyed by everyone. When it was time, we headed inside and Dr. Höfer met us and led us to our meeting room. After a brief welcome statement, we were presented with a series of lectures that described the history and function of the institutes, as well as some specific examples of work that they do.

The BfR was founded in November of 2002, and works under the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture in Germany, and is independent in its assessments, research, and communication, being funded entirely from public sources, rather than industry. The idea behind the institute is the separation of assessment of risks from management of risks; the BfR works entirely on assessment and research, and then communicates its findings to those responsible for actually using the information to make management decisions. A lot of collaborative work is done with both German and international organizations. An international “summer school” program was recently implemented, for professionals working in similar institutions in other countries to come together and have an international exchange of knowledge.

May222014_1The two lectures presented to us on more specific work being done at the BfR talked about risk assessment of veterinary drug residues, and research on pathogenic vibrios in environmental, seafood, and clinical sources in Germany. I always enjoy learning about what the institutions that we visit are currently working on, and I especially was interested in the topic of veterinary drug residues, as that is a current concern for many people.

After the lectures, we were led on a tour of their facilities by Dr. Niels Bandick. We were shown a large lecture hall that they can use for conferences and meetings, as well as their laboratories. These included the usual labs for subjects such as microbiology, as well as their experimental slaughterhouse and butcher shop. These last two were something I had never seen before, and thought they seemed very useful for the risk assessment related to animal products that the BfR does. We were not able to be shown any live animal facilities for biosafety reasons.

May222014_2After the tour, our time at the BfR was done, and we left for the hotel. Our hotel had a very good location in the middle of Berlin, practically right next to Checkpoint Charlie, which was a prominent crossing point of the Berlin Wall between East and West Berlin during the Cold War. I was looking forward to learning more about such an important part of German history. After checking into our rooms, we had the rest of the evening to ourselves, including dinner.

After my roommate Kayleigh and I got settled, we went out at about 8 to get some food at a little plaza by Checkpoint Charlie that held numerous street food stands. We both decided to try the döner kebab pitas, since döner had been raved about by our fellow student Taylor from her previous time in Germany. Döner kebab is a Turkish dish made from meat cooked on a vertical rotisserie, and then shaved off and served in a sandwich or wrap, commonly. The meat is normally lamb, but can also be a mixture with veal, beef, or sometimes chicken. It was delicious, and we looked forward to eating more of these during our time in Berlin, since we would be in charge of our own food for our time in the city.

While we ate, we did some walking around the area, and found a section of the Berlin Wall that still stood, by an outdoor museum that appeared to be about the history leading up to the war, the wall, and the eventual fall of the wall. It was closed to the public, but we made a note to come back during our weekend free time. After maybe half an hour, we had circled back to our hotel, and went up to our room to get some rest before our first full day in Berlin the next day.