#DigitalMindsKA - the people behind karlsruhe.digital: Gabriele Luczak-Schwarz

The karlsruhe.digital initiative unites Karlsruhe stakeholders from science, business, culture and administration with the aim of advancing Karlsruhe as a driver of digitalization – for competitiveness, quality of life and sovereignty. It pools expert knowledge, promotes networking and deals with topics holistically in order to actively shape the digital future of the city.
And there are people behind it. People who are committed, who are passionate and who use their time, their ideas and their expertise. We want to make visible who these people, the digital minds, are. Once a month, we ask the Digital Minds about their motivation and their visions
In the second eidition of our series, we visit Gabriele Luczak-Schwarz, First Mayor of the City of Karlsruhe and one of the chairs of the karlsruhe.digital initiative, at her workplace in the town hall on Marktplatz.

The last rays of sunshine of the year are still shimmering through the branches, but it has become noticeably colder as we make our way to today’s appointment with Gabriele Luczak-Schwarz. As we leave the underground station and enter the market square, we immediately see the beautifully decorated little houses of the Karlsruhe Christkindlesmarkt, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary, and of course the Ferris wheel, which is set up on the market square. There is a lot of hustle and bustle and we briefly enjoy the Christmas atmosphere as we walk past the little houses, the pyramid and the magnificent Christmas tree to the town hall. We make our way through the entrance hall of the neoclassical building to the First Mayor’s office on the second floor – with a direct view of the market square.
As we are a little early, we are asked to be patient for a moment: Ms. Luczak-Schwarz is still in the middle of an appointment – and she has a lot of them every day, as she will tell us later. While we wait, our gaze wanders through the corridors of the 200-year-old town hall. We look at the paintings on the walls, which immortalize historical figures from Karlsruhe politics, and ask ourselves how one becomes a politician in the first place. At this very moment, Gabriele Luczak-Schwarz invites us into her office, the perfect opportunity for us to ask our question directly.

“I was already interested in politics when I was at school, but not in any Party active. We moved here from Cologne in 1989. But honestly: If someone had told me back then that I would one day be the first female mayor of the city of Karlsruhe, I would probably have asked him in astonishment, how he comes up with it. I simply didn’t have any connection to this position yet.” says Luczak-Schwarz. Since 2014, the Rhinelander has been Finance and Mayor for Economic Affairs and since 2018 First Mayor and thus permanent representative of the Lord Mayor of the City of Karlsruhe. In addition to the Finance, it is also responsible for the business and science location Karlsruhe. The topics of IT and digitalization are particularly important in this context. relevant and both are part of the city’s DNA, so to speak: In 1972, the the University of Karlsruhe (TH), the first faculty in Germany for Informatik and the first e-mail in Germany was received there in 1984. This gave rise to a strong IT cluster very early on, which now includes numerous universities, research institutions and, of course, companies. Not Without reason, Karlsruhe is one of the most renowned cities in Europe today. IT regions alongside Munich, London and Paris – especially in terms of innovative strength. “Overall, we can speak of a real win-win situation, because there are 4,800 IT companies with 30,000 employees in the region and in Karlsruhe 10,000 students are enrolled in IT-related degree programs. The Companies naturally benefit from this excellent pool of specialists,” says the First Mayor.

The city presented its digital side at the town hall during the city festival "Bunte Nacht der Digitalisierung" on 1 July. Photo: Frank Feil and Sascha Gloede
The city presented its digital side at the town hall during the city festival “Bunte Nacht der Digitalisierung” on 1 July. Photo: Frank Feil and Sascha Gloede

Standstill is out of the question

Resting on this success story is not an option for Luczak-Schwarz, however, is not an option. Quite the opposite: the legacy in the future, she sees it as a central task: “You must never and must always continue to develop. Because standing still means ultimately a step backwards. In Karlsruhe, for example, we have therefore developed the Germany’s first Office for Information Technology and Digitization, which has been working from home with remarkable speed during the corona pandemic. or has implemented a variety of digital formats. Our Showcase Karlsruhe with perhaps the most digital tourist information Germany and the multifunctional app as well as the realization of the #SmartProductionParks, a start-up and growth center for start-ups in the Smart Production division, I am very proud.” Her success proves her right, because Karlsruhe consistently occupies top positions in rankings.

The courage to tackle the future topic of digital transformation in such a into the administration and its work, finds Luczak-Schwarz in their many years of experience. “When I started my first job in the State administration as legal assistant at the Karlsruhe District Office I joined the Neureut local council just three years later”, she reports when we ask her how she actually got to the politics came, attacked. “That was my introduction to local politics and I started to deal with Karlsruhe topics.”
She pauses for a moment, smiles and then continues: “You know, actually my tax consultant in Neureut is responsible for me entering politics. have gone. As part of our discussions about my tax return, we have municipal policy issues were discussed in parallel. After all, he was the one who approached me and motivated me to get involved in local politics. to get involved.”

The Neureut local council sparked a passion for politics in Gabriele Luczak-Schwarz. Photo: Sabine Enderle, Press and Information Office City of Karlsruhe
The Neureut local council sparked a passion for politics in Gabriele Luczak-Schwarz. Photo: Sabine Enderle, Press and Information Office City of Karlsruhe

So it was this first stop on the Neureut local council, that sparked a passion for politics in Gabriele Luczak-Schwarz. “Back then I discussed many problems in dialog with the citizens and their solutions. developed. Through the fascination of this grassroots work in local politics, established politics became a hobby that I pursued with great passion from then on. It It was fascinating to see what great design possibilities the local politics offers. This has always been a key driving factor of my political work.” Further positions as a CDU city councillor followed, as energy and environmental policy spokeswoman for the CDU parliamentary group in Karlsruhe municipal council and later as its chairwoman. In 2014, Luczak-Schwarz finally profession and vocation together and took office as finance and Economic Mayor of the City of Karlsruhe. Thanks to her professional experience gained at various levels of the state administration. as well as her many years of local political activity in the local and local councillor, she draws on a wide range of extensive experience in her experience and different perspectives. “For me, that was and is the greatest professional position I can imagine,” reveals Luczak-Schwarz.

Strong networks are the basis for the cross-cutting topic of digitalization

However, and Luczak-Schwarz emphasizes this in our conversation as we repeatedly point out, all of this is only possible with strong partners at your side. This is how all Digital topics and projects relating to Smart City in the administration the department Luczak-Schwarz has already worked successfully with the Office for Information Technology and digitization in order to promote further development both within the administration and also for Karlsruhe as a digital location. The first The mayor is convinced that it will only be possible to go beyond this together. goes: “Digitalization is a cross-cutting issue. Therefore business, science and administration work hand in hand in Karlsruhe. Thanks to this ‘principle of short distances’, we are always able to quickly find common denominator and work together intensively. There is no competitive thinking, because everyone knows that what we achieve benefits the entire location. and therefore ultimately benefits each individual.”

The fact that this continuous cooperation, close communication and, of course, mutual trust are not a matter of course, shows a look outside the box. Karlsruhe was one of the first municipalities, who gave it an institutionalized form very early on. Already In 2018, the karlsruhe.digital initiative was founded to fulfill the mission of of the municipal council to strengthen the then “Internet capital Karlsruhe”, sustainable and viable. “For me, the initiative is a very important key to continuing the position that Karlsruhe has achieved. expand. It makes it possible to utilize our expertise and strengths within in the shortest possible time – and that makes us a pioneer,” explains Luczak-Schwarz, who as a representative of the city administration is one of the chairwomen of karlsruhe.digital. “A fundamental role is also played by the CyberForum. For example, the office of karlsruhe.digital equally by the CyberForum and the Science Office of the Economic Development Department of the City of Karlsruhe. Thereby ensures that the special cooperation is also maintained at the operational level. is lived”.

More than computers and tablets: humanoid robots, microcontrollers, CAD, CAM and an intelligent telescope at Lessing-Gymnasium in Karlsruhe. Visitors to the city festival "Bunte Nacht der Digitalisierung" were given an insight into how modern technology finds its place in the classroom. Photo: Frank Feil & Sascha Gloede.
How is it possible for 7th grade students to program humanoid robots? Pupils from Lessing-Gymnasium Karlsruhe enlightened visitors to the city festival “Bunte Nacht der Digitalisierung”. Photo: Netzoptimisten GbR.

Luczak-Schwarz looks through the window of her office onto the market square for a moment. The look on her face reveals that something has occurred to her at this moment. She puts down her cup, reaches into the drawer and places a flyer on the table in front of us: “For me, the city festival “Bunte Nacht der Digitalisierung” is a great example of what can be achieved when everyone pulls together. And above all, formats like this are fundamentally important for the development of the location. Because in order to further develop Karlsruhe as a driving force of digitalization, we need to enter into dialogue with the public. The town hall was packed at the first city festival “Bunte Nacht der Digitalisierung” in 2019. At 9 p.m., a grandfather was still standing outside the door with his grandson, eager to get in. At the time, I spoke to many citizens, most of whom were positive about the digital transformation. But there were also always critical voices, for example in areas such as artificial intelligence. I see it as our task to dispel fears in this regard and to take people along with us in this transformation process.” This is why the second city festival “Bunte Nacht der Digitalisierung” followed in 2022 and before that, InnovationFestival@karlsruhe.digital offered the best digital innovations from Karlsruhe and the TechnologyRegion a big stage in 2021.

Business development, finances, committees, evening appointments – good time management still allows you to relax

Suddenly our smartphone lights up and reminds us that our one-hour conversation with the First Mayor Karlsruhe will be over again in five minutes. Your next appointment is waiting already, so overdrawing is not an option. The First Mayor’s schedule is full, because digitization and IT location only make up part of their work: “I have had discussions with actors from the urban community, with the offices or companies in my department and many more. And Of course, economic development does not only consist of karlsruhe.digital. One of my other areas of focus is, for example the Crafts Action Program, as crafts are very important to me personally. Last but not least, I am the Mayor of Finance and the Market Office is also part of my area. And for the 50th time, it is responsible for the atmospheric Christkindlesmarkt responsible.”

The tasks of such a mayor’s office include also the committee and municipal council meetings, supervisory board meetings and of course evening events such as panel discussions or anniversary celebrations. We ask ourselves whether there is any time left to relax with this workload. remains. “Of course!” Luczak-Schwarz replies firmly. “The best place for me is at home Relaxing with the family is also extremely important to me. This is my A place of retreat,” she reveals. “And I’m a keen amateur gardener. I love nature. For some, gardening may be an annoying necessity, but For me, it’s relaxation and recreation at the same time.”

With this somewhat more personal insight, our time with Gabriele Luczak-Schwarz has already passed. Too bad for us, we could still speak forever. As we say goodbye, she gives us something else to take with us: “You always says that Karlsruhe is love at second sight. I think, There’s a lot of truth in that. It is not immediately obvious what the fan-shaped city is in it. You have to experience Karlsruhe – and then you don’t come back off.” A few minutes later, as we stand in front of the town hall, the sound of Karlsruhe carillon weighing 4,000 kilograms. And the sounds of the 42 Bronze bells mingle with the atmospheric Christmas music emanating from can be heard from the little houses of the Christkindlesmarkt. And while we we know what Gabriele Luczak-Schwarz meant with her last statement. meant. It is very special, the fan-shaped city.

Cover picture: Sabine Enderle, Press and Information Office City of Karlsruhe.