#DigitalMindsKA - the people behind karlsruhe.digital: Professor Dr. Thomas Hirth

The karlsruhe.digital initiative unites Karlsruhe stakeholders from science, business, culture and administration with the aim of positioning Karlsruhe as a driving force 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 about something and who invest their time, their ideas and their expertise. We want to present these people, the digital minds. Once a month, we ask the Digital Minds what drives them and what visions they have.
In the third edition of our series, we visit Professor Dr. Thomas Hirth, Vice President for Transfer and International Affairs at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) and one of the chairmen of the karlsruhe.digital initiative, at his workplace in the KIT Presidential Building.

Students who attend lectures a lecturer who is locking up her bicycle – and in between a Squirrel that has just grabbed a nut and is climbing a tree. climbs up: the south campus of KIT is a hive of activity when we arrive at the central Adolf Würth building near the center of Karlsruhe. Here, in the former chemical engineering building dating from 1881, our present-day interviewee Thomas Hirth his office.

We are going to the second floor of the historic brick building and still enjoy for for a moment the view over the KIT grounds. At this moment Thomas Hirth comes around the corner, greets us in a friendly manner and takes us straight into his office. He hangs his jacket over the back of his chair, takes a quick look at his e-mail inbox and then joins us at the conference table. Only now Take a deep breath and have a sip of coffee.

The view from the bird’s eye view of the South Campus site, we want to learn from Professor Hirth to find out what he thinks of first when he hears the word Karlsruhe. “Well, that is simple: when I hear Karlsruhe, I first think of an excellent science city, with a high level of dynamism and incredible cohesion. That is at least what I perceive.” He sets down his coffee cup and smiles: “And You know, it wasn’t always like this. When I lived in Karlsruhe in the early 1980s I was still studying at the University of Karlsruhe (TH), everything here was in Karlsruhe – to put it casually – a bit ‘dusty’.”

Karlsruhe one of Europe’s most attractive digital locations for Hirth

After studying chemistry Hirth spent many years at the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft, where the now 60-year-old was most recently the director of a Fraunhofer Institute and Professor at the University of Stuttgart. When, after eight years, he finally in Stuttgart returned to KIT on January 1, 2016, the change that had taken place in of the city was clearly visible and perceptible to him. Hirth looks at us and grins: “And I’m not talking about all the building sites in Karlsruhe, which, by the way, should not be seen in a negative light. Because when everything the city will be even more liveable”. Rather think he reminded the audience of Karlsruhe’s transformation into one of Europe’s most attractive digital locations with a flourishing start-up scene, he adds while he suddenly saw the karlsruhe.digital sticker on the back of our laptop discovered.

“As someone who years outside of Karlsruhe, I think that the change within the city has a lot to do with the self-image of the various players. and players. This is because digitalization is a cross-cutting issue that affects all areas of life. For this reason, the interaction of economy, science, administration and culture are indispensable for the major social challenges that will confront us in the coming decades. are imminent. But that only works if you know and trust each other.” emphasizes Hirth. “This is exactly the case in Karlsruhe – and initiatives like karlsruhe.digital, which unites all players under one roof, play a key role in this. key role. For example, when a new project format is advertised we can exchange information within our network over short distances and can react quickly. That makes us strong.”

Der Tulla-Hörsaal wird bestuhlt für eine Veranstaltung. Foto: Netzoptimisten
Der Dialog mit den Bürgerinnen ist ein Fokusthema des Vizepräsidenten. Foto: Netzoptimisten GbR

Digitalization only works with people

That alone is enough However, not. During our conversation, Hirth points out a topic several times that is very close to his personal heart: “The digital transformation can only succeed if we manage to take society with us.” So dedicated Hirth’s first term of office as Vice President at KIT until the end of 2021 to the topics of innovation and international affairs. In this role, his focus was on primarily on cooperation with the business community. With his second term of office, which he took up this year, he has assumed the function of Vice President for Transfer and International Affairs, thereby extending his Extended area of responsibility. The aim of his second vice presidency is therefore to to address the interaction with society more strongly. “We have to Make digitalization visible to citizens, explain it to them, why we do what we do – and how it benefits us as a society.”

How this works in the formats such as the KIT Science Week and the city festival “Bunte Nacht der Digitalisierung”. The former combines a high-ranking scientific Conference by and with internationally renowned scientists with events for the public and thus transports the major events of the science topics into society. The city festival “Bunte Nacht der Digitalisierung”, on the other hand is using hotspots and events throughout the city to promote digitalization for the Citizenship can be experienced. “This is where we find out what moves people, where they opportunities, but also what they are afraid of. Because only if we know what people, we can shape digitalization together,” says Hirth.

All at once it gets brighter in the room. The gray clouds in the sky have disappeared and the Afternoon sun shines through the large windows of Hirth’s office. This is what we have been waiting for! Time for photos. Hirth takes us to the spacious Roof terrace used by the KIT for receptions and other events. Today it is empty and the impressive view is ours alone.

Professor Dr. Hirth sitzt an seinem Schreibtisch und arbeitet am Computer. Foto: Netzoptimisten
Kein Tag gleicht dem anderen. Ausgleich findet Professor Dr. Hirth im Privatleben. Foto: Netzoptimisten GbR

It’s all in the mix: It’s important to maintain a balance in both professional and private life

While we pictures, we talk to Hirth about his day-to-day work. He stops short pauses, lets his gaze wander over the city and then tells us that there are There is no such thing as a “normal” working day for him. “No day is the same. In my role as Vice President for Transfer, I deal with and International Affairs with many different topics and must therefore deal with a wide variety of Keep appointments. Earlier I had a conversation with a foundation, tomorrow I’ll be in Paris at a major start-up trade fair.” We listen intently to his words and only notice in passing how Hirth takes us on a brief ramble about the campus. He leads us through the foyer of the Tulla lecture hall, which is being set up for an evening event. At the place where the symbiosis historic building, contemporary architecture and the most modern media technology, he continues to report on his everyday life. “The The only thing that is the same every week is the Executive Committee meetings every Monday. and the Senate meetings once a month. Otherwise, meetings alternate and events at KIT with those at other research institutions, associations, companies, foundations, politics and administration. There is always something to do – and I really appreciate that. That’s what makes the job interesting. And you can certainly imagine how much is currently happening in the areas of such as mobility, energy, information and sustainability.”

Our appointment is with the short tour is almost over. We accompany Thomas Hirth to his office to pick up our things. While we are doing this, the PhD in chemistry, sits down at his desk and points to a globe that stands right in front of him next to a miniature glass version of the periodic table. “People tend to forget that many activities in the area of Digitization is taking place internationally. The exchange with other players and actors is therefore important not only at local but also at global level. immensely important. This not only teaches you about your own strengths and weaknesses better, but can also work together to solve problems faster and more efficiently. If we continue to take this to heart in the future, a comparatively manageable city like Karlsruhe an international Lighthouse of digitalization for mobility, production, administration and naturally become science.”

Before we go, we take one last look at our notepad. We notice, that we have forgotten one more question that we ask all digital minds: With all the daily commitments, how do you actually switch off? Hirth smiles: “It’s not always that easy. But if I have the time I enjoy going to concerts and exhibitions, traveling to France – and I like working in the garden. This is my personal oasis and gives me the Opportunity to switch off from everyday working life.”

With these words, Hirth shakes our hands and we say goodbye. His next appointment is already waiting outside his office. His last one for today, as he then has to pack for his trip to Paris the next day. Meanwhile, we stroll across the KIT South Campus back to the streetcar and ask ourselves whether a digital mind can ever completely switch off and leave everyday life behind.

Titelbild: Netzoptimisten