Three women win Hamburg scholarship awarded to those who plan to ‘do nothing’

The winners of a Hamburg scholarship awarded to people who plan to “do nothing” as a demonstration against the pressures of modern society have been announced, after applications came in from across the globe.

Three women win Hamburg scholarship awarded to those who plan to 'do nothing'
Is doing nothing virtuous? Photo: DPA/Roland Holschneider

A Brazilian activist who planned to collect plastic waste in her village, a television reporter who wanted to stop announcing negative news for four weeks, and an American pastor who wants to stop hating were among the applicants for the award. 

The worldwide response to the scholarship for doing nothing set up by the Hochschule für bildende Künste Hamburg (HFBK), and endowed with a one-time payment of €1,600, came as a surprise to initiator Friedrich von Borries. 

“I’m really happy,” Borries said on Thursday. “The scholarship is aimed at questioning the mechanisms of achievement-based thinking and invites people to think about how their own reality connects with climate change and social and political structures.” 

From some 2,900 applicants from 70 countries, the jury selected three winners – all women, and all from Germany. 

Their projects and all other submissions can be seen until July 18th at the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg as part of the exhibition “School of no consequences. Exercises for a different life”.

For the three winners, “doing nothing” meant doing without something that would have social or financial consequences for them.

One of the winners, Muslim feminist Hilistina Banze, said that: “I won’t wear my headscarf for a week.”

An integration counsellor from Hamburg, she wants to show her hair, which is three millimetres long, and thus counteract several clichés simultaneously. In doing so, the 31-year-old – like many other applicants – wants to confront the expectations that are placed on women by modern society. 

The jury said it was impressed by “the radicality and the complexity of the experiment and is curious to see what Hilistina Banze experiences as a woman, a Muslim, and a feminist.”

The second winner, Mia Hofner, a student from Cologne, plans not to generate any usable, personal data about herself for a fortnight.

In practice this means no smartphone use, no checking emails, no online shopping – all activities that many other applicants wanted to do without because they consume too much energy, put a strain on social relationships, and tempt them to consume.

Lastly, Kimberley Vehoff, a food technology specialist from Bad Fallingbostel in Lower Saxony, is going to give up her job because her social relationships are suffering under the rotating early, late and night shifts she is required to work. 

“Kimberley Vehoff speaks for many of us when she expresses a fundamental dissatisfaction with the economic constraints and pressure to achieve placed on us by contemporary society,” said Tulga Beyerle, jury member and director of the MK&G.

“We live in a time in which we are trained to succeed. Everything we do should be as consequential as possible,” says Borries. “But this way of thinking has led to the ecological and social crisis in which we live today, and due to which a great many people are suffering.” 

“That’s why I think it’s important to at least critically question this path, and to ask ourselves what a life would look like that doesn’t have negative consequences for others.”

SEE ALSO: 10 German words you need to know to engage in the climate debate

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‘No longer pushing the burden into future’: German govt approves more ambitious climate targets

The German government on Wednesday approved a new law setting more ambitious targets to reduce CO2 emissions, after the country's top court declared a flagship climate law "insufficient".

'No longer pushing the burden into future': German govt approves more ambitious climate targets
German environment minister Svenja Schulze holding up the country's new emissions targets at a press conference on Wednesday. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Kay Nietfeld

“We are setting the framework for the next years and decades,” said Environment Minister Svenja Schulze, adding that the reform was a “fair offer to the younger generations” as it “no longer pushes the burden into the future”.

In a sensational ruling last month, Germany’s Constitutional Court said the current climate protection law threatened to “irreversibly offload major emission reduction burdens” onto the period after 2030, thereby “violating the freedoms” of future generations.

READ ALSO: ‘Exclamation mark for climate protection’: How Germany is reacting to top court’s landmark ruling

Already under electoral pressure from the Green Party, which currently leads opinion polls ahead of September’s general election, the ruling left-right coalition has since moved quickly to tighten the law.

Under the new targets approved by Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cabinet on Wednesday, the government expects to slash emissions by 65 percent by 2030 compared to 1990 levels, going further than the current 55 percent reduction target

The cut will reach 88 percent by 2040, with the goal of bringing Germany to carbon neutrality by 2045, five years earlier than previously expected. Schulze added that Germany would also now aim to record negative emissions from 2050 onwards, by absorbing more greenhouse gases than it produced.

“We are talking about nothing less than a doubling of the tempo when it comes to climate protection,” she said.

“That is a huge task, but I am optimistic,” she said, adding that the government planned to see the law through parliament before September’s elections.

Yet critics argued that even the more stringent targets did not go far enough.

Speaking to public broadcaster ARD, Green Party leader and would-be Merkel successor Annalena Baerbock urged the government to “not just name targets, but also measures with which we can reach these targets”.

In a stunt in the early hours of Wednesday morning, Greenpeace Germany projected an image onto the wall of Merkel’s office which showed the words “right to a future, climate protection now!” against a background of flames.

The group has called for further measures such as an exit from coal by 2030 and a ban on combustion engines from 2025.

Germany currently aims to phase out coal power by 2038 at the latest, though Schulze claimed Wednesday that this date could be brought forward with a sufficient expansion of renewable energies.