by Jürg Brunnschweiler, Head of Office of the President, 7 Januray 2021
It feels like ages… but it was only a year ago that life was truly very different. My team and I were in the final preparations for our annual ETH Meets Davos flagship event. RETHINKING Creativity was the theme of the exhibition in the ETH Pavilion in Davos, during the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting 2020. If we had only known how much creativity all of us soon would need in dealing with what became an unimaginably difficult year…
But first, we went to Davos to make particles dance, demystify quantum, explore the interface between science, technology and art, and investigate creativity more broadly. I remember that it was during those beautiful days up in the Swiss mountains that I started reading about the outbreak of a new virus in China on CNN. Not yet worried too much by the news, I was looking forward to my annual escape to Fiji right after Davos. It was on the flight from San Francisco to Fiji when I started to realize that what was coming, was closer and coming sooner than I thought: all the Fijian cabin crew wore face masks. A sight that is now part of everyday life. While playing with sharks in Fiji, worrying news started to pile up from around the globe, including Switzerland. I barely made it home before COVID-19 was declared a pandemic in March 2020. ETH closed, and we all started working from home. Schools and (almost) everything else shut down. And many aspects of life really changed, came to an almost standstill.
The first few weeks and months in crisis modus were actually quite exciting. Life needed to be reorganized, new routines had to be established, one had to find new ways to get common things done. Almost everything was postponed. It was spring, and then summer in Zurich. Life wasn’t that bad, just different. I say this fully aware of my privileged situation, and knowing that there were many people suffering severely from the situation.
However, it wasn’t before long the realization kicked in that things were not just different or postponed for a few months, but most likely for a very long time. Life would never be the same again. I started to miss certain things. At the Office of the President, we support and are responsible for projects, events and activities that increase the positive perception of ETH Zurich globally. We nurture an international community of stakeholders that contributes to enhancing the visibility of the institution at home and abroad. All of which largely relies on bringing a diverse group of people together in one place to experience ETH. At the Schiffbau in Zurich, at the Musikbrauerei in Berlin, at the National Sawdust in Brooklyn, in our RETHINKING Pavilion in Davos.
All of that was 2020 and before. Today we are in the middle of a global pandemic that has forced us to change our daily life routines. Some of us are desperate to go back to their lives as they were before 2020. But as always, the future will look different from the past. We have decided to embrace the opportunity to rethink our way of living. RETHINKING Living not as a stand-alone exhibition like in previous years in Davos, but rather an overarching theme that will guide our outreach activities in the next two years. Stay tuned for more exciting news on how we will explore this topic during the course of 2021 and beyond.
About the author
Jürg Brunnschweiler is the Chief of Staff to the President of ETH Zurich and heads the Office of the President.