• Science in a Shopping Centre

“Mall Anders” is an open learning laboratory which was launched by the FU Berlin, HU Berlin, TU Berlin and Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin in a shopping centre. In the heart of a consumer environment, students and scientists can easily exchange with urban society. A new form of scientific communication. From March, the ‘temporary test site’ will enter its second phase.

The "Wilma-Shoppen" centre is mostly frequented by residents of the Charlottenburg district who are popping to the supermarket or strolling around. As with all shopping centres, it’s primarily about consumerism. But wait! In the middle of the ground floor, between clothes shops, fast food chains and perfume stores, an anti-consumer promise can suddenly be seen on a glass shop front: “Alles umsonst!” (‘Everything free!’) is written in capitals. And, above the entrance, the words “Mall Anders” are lit up. 

In December last year, the “open learning laboratory for science and society” opened its doors to anyone who wants to stop by and take a look. After all, “Mall Anders” is a temporary test site for learning, discussion, experimentation and research, and is an initiative by the four representatives of the Berlin University Alliance (BUA), the Technische Universität Berlin (TU Berlin), the Freie Universität Berlin (FU Berlin) and Humboldt-University zu Berlin (HU Berlin), including Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin.

“The project was based on rethinking scientific communication and engaging directly with members of society,” explains Dr Thorsten Philipp, advisor on transdisciplinary teaching to the Executive Board at TU Berlin and one of the initiators and coordinators of the temporary experimental space in the shopping centre. “Universities are often designed so that people who don’t work or study there don’t feel welcome. We asked ourselves what would happen if universities weren’t an isolated environment but rather an accessible place for everyone, anywhere? And all in a rather bemusing but casual manner.”

Trash is part of the concept

An idea was born: contact was made with “Wilma-Shoppen” through an internal connection.  The shopping centre management seemed enthusiastic and provided a large, empty space of around 380 square metres for the project. In fact, this space wasn’t really “empty” since the former tenant - a Japanese retailer that had gone bust - had left all of their shop equipment and goods behind. The consumer goods had essentially turned into trash overnight. Students at the Natural Building Lab in the faculty of architecture at the TU Berlin turned this into good use by incorporating the waste material into the room design. “Everything here is basically trash,” explains Thorsten Philipp: “Shelves were taken apart and rebuilt in a different way. Cardboard boxes were spray painted, shelves interlocked and dowelled; there are no nails. All of the materials could instantly be transformed back into a typical shop design.” Even the room design itself is flexible. Each group that plans an event here can rearrange the space using the existing elements. A very careful use of materials. “This space has something to do with loss of control. We don’t set any preconditions. Anyone wanting to use this space simply needs to consider: What could this place be? And what should we use it for?   

For the scientists who host events in “Mall Anders”, the space becomes a stage. Even the communicational approach for each event is thought-out together beforehand: “It’s about making science transparent and understandable to the public. It’s important to us that students see themselves in a position of responsibility towards society - this is a key concern of transdisciplinary didactics.”   

Every person has knowledge resources within them

The “Mall Anders” theme is completely open. The current programme includes exhibitions and discussions on topics such as sustainability, urban development and digitalisation. A repair café also offers workshops. In principle, anyone can apply to present a scientific topic at the open learning laboratory. “Every person has knowledge resources within them, not just scientists,” says Thorsten Philipp, explaining this broad approach. “Professional knowledge, practical knowledge, situational knowledge, implicit knowledge and other knowledge resources all exist in our society, which we can use to answer key questions. This has something to do with the plurality of society but also the plurality of players in knowledge production. And this isn’t always the scientists themselves.”

In the first three months following its opening, the “Mall Anders” has been well received. Sometimes only a few people poke their heads in to look around, other times the room is really busy. There’s almost always something going on. “We’ve gained nothing but recognition for the concept,” says Thorsten Philipp happily. “Some visitors even felt invited to share their educational background with us. Some of these stories were very touching.” After a brief hiatus at the start of March, the project financed by the BUA has been extended until June 2022. Event ideas are welcome: “We look forward to receiving proposals,” adds Thorsten Philipp. “You can send your suggestion to hallo@mall-anders.berlin. We’ll then easily be able to get in touch with you.” 

Anyone keen to get a glimpse of the scientific learning laboratory is welcome to visit at any time, whether it’s simply to relax in one of the armchairs, discuss the importance of science in society or ponder the consumer culture in front of the glass shop window. “Everything free”: Perhaps this will apply to this university project in the shopping world in retrospect. The double meaning is a deliberate part of the concept. Science – “Mall Anders”. (vdo)

Mall Anders

Ground floor Wilma Shoppen
Wilmersdorfer Str. 46, 10627 Berlin
Mon–Fri 10 am  8 pm, Saturdays upon arrangement

mall-anders.berlin (German only)

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