This blog post was written by Minna M. Keinänen-Toivola, Satakunta University of Applied Sciences, Faculty of Logistics and Maritime Technology, Maritime Logistics Research Center and is a copy of the blog post originally posted here.
The coronavirus pandemic stopped business travelling in international projects for over one and half years. In international projects, the face-to-face meetings and events are critical in ensuring work progress in good cooperation.
My first international business trip during the COVID-19 times headed to the COST DAMOCLES Annual Assembly, in Leipzig, Germany. In COST DAMOCLES, European researchers cooperate in the field of compound events of weather extremes with the aim of minimizing the risks of these events (https://damocles.compoundevents.org/). The trip, the DAMOCLES meeting and Leipzig as a city, turned out to be colourful.
Long way to Leipzig
DAMOCLES Chair of the Action Jakob Zscheischler asked the core group members around midsummer 2021, if we had the willingness and the possibility to participate a face-to-face meeting in Leipzig in later in the autumn. I answered, “yes, if needed”. At the end of August, I received a confirmation that the DAMOCLES meetings will be organized during the last week of October 2021. Before making practical travel arrangements, I had to ask for a risk assessment and travelling permit from SAMK. Luckily, the COVID-19 situation was ok in Germany, so I got the permission to do travel arrangements, with a cancellation option, of course.
Due to the long pause in travelling, I needed to start with the basics – how is business travelling done actually…? I must arrange travelling to and from the airport in Finland, flights, hotel(s), and local travelling at the destination. The travel arrangements, which have been simple things earlier, needed a lot of extra thinking. Luckily, the COVID-19 vaccination passport was launched in Finland perfectly 1.5 weeks before my trip.
Travelling to Leipzig was not the easiest process, as the connections were not the smoothest. I had to travel to the airport hotel in Helsinki-Vantaa already on Saturday, as there was no Sunday morning connection to reach my flight at 1 pm. I had to fill in an electronic COVID-19 vaccination form and a vaccination passport to the airline company before I was able to do the check-in for my flight. In the plane, masks were obligatory, as well as at the airports in Germany. Travelling went smoothly, and when I got up from the escalator at the Leipzig main train station, I already saw the lights of my hotel.
The Satakunta University of Applied Sciences joined COST DAMOCLES with the Baltic Sea Region flood control project “NOAH” (BSR NOAH: https://sub.samk.fi/noah/). The key theme from the very beginning has been the engagement of stakeholders. In DAMOCLES, there is a work package on the topic, WG2 stakeholder communication and involvement. The leader of WG2 changed in 2021, and I started to lead the work. The Leipzig meeting was the first in my new position.
Recently, matters in the work group WG2 have been handled and discussed in emails and online meetings. The meetings in Leipzig started on Monday with a core group discussion on: ”What is the current project status?”. The DAMOCLES Annual Assembly was held on Tuesday and Wednesday with about 50 participants. The Annual Assembly consisted of several presentations, tasks related to work packages, discussion on upcoming funding possibilities and planning of the project’s last activities and responsibilities.
The meetings were not just about scientific success cases and planning, but also about meeting people face to face. We had a lot of discussion on COVID-19, how students have been handling the situation, how long each expert has done distance work, what is the vaccination situation and how people are reacting to the pandemic. A lively discussion fulfilled the coffee, lunch and dinner breaks. I got to enjoy a vegan lunch twice during the meetings.
Culture in a colourful city
Business travelling is work from morning to evening: first you travel to the meeting venue, then you have a full day meeting, then you take your computer to the hotel and find the official dinner restaurant to eat the dinner during while it is nearly bedtime in Finland. Luckily, the meeting dinner in Leipzig was a cultural experience. It was in the Auerbachs Keller restaurant, which was Goethe’s favourite bar in 1765-1768.
I had some time to explore the city on my way to the meeting venue, and had also about five hours free time during my trip. I did a two-hour visit to the Leipzig Zoo on Monday in sunny weather. The most interesting place was a huge dome, which had tropical climate and various plants. On Wednesday, before leaving to the airport hotel in Leipzig, I visited Johan Sebastian Bach’s workplace, the St. Thomas church (Thomaskirche). The church is home of the St. Thomas choir (Thomanerchor), which has started operations in year 1212. I also visited the famous art museum Museum der bildenden Künste, which has master pieces from many centuries, but also a few contemporary art pieces.
The sun was rising as my flight from Leipzig to Munich was landing on Thursday morning. My thoughts were on the song ”The world is beautiful”, versioned by the Rauma-origin baritone Aarne Peltonen and pianist Iiro Rantalainen. The lyrics say ”The World is beautiful and a good place to live for a person who has time and space for dreams and freedom of mind”. The COVID-19 situation is not over globally, but in that moment, I saw a ray of hope on the recovery of international cooperation during these uncertain times.