As a Finn in Germany Nina Huittinen always understood what people were saying but, initially, she could not answer because she did not speak the language. The resulting frustration became a great motivator to learn German – even though she thought she would never ever use it, when she was younger.
When her mother asked Nina Huittinen as a teenager back in Finland if she wanted to learn German, she responded: “What would I ever do with that?” About a decade later the radiochemist has spent more than four years in different German cities. “To be honest, my first stay here was rather out of convenience than real conviction,” the researcher admits, while laughing. “I wanted to go abroad and there aren’t that many good places to study radiochemistry.” So Huittinen decided to spend one year of her Master’s studies at the University of Heidelberg and at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), where she finished her Master’s thesis. This first time in Germany seems to have left an impression on her, as she returned twice during her PhD at the University of Helsinki to apply her knowledge in laser spectroscopy at the KIT.
From that point in time the central-European country became her second home and German her second tongue: “I met my spouse in Karlsruhe. After we both finished our doctoral theses, we looked for a place where both of us could find a good job.” Shortly afterwards, they started working in Dresden at HZDR’s Institute of Resource Ecology. And the city soon managed to dissolve Nina Huittinen’s last concerns about her chosen place of residence. “I feared that I might miss the nature here. In Finland, no matter where your starting point is – even in Helsinki – you can be in the middle of nowhere after a very short drive. I thought this would be more difficult in Germany. But I was wrong. For example, Saxon Switzerland is just around the corner.”
Covering an area of about 90 square kilometers around the Elbe valley south-east of Dresden the national park offers all its visitors – from casual strollers to professional climbers – a beautiful scenery. But Nina Huittinen soon noticed that she doesn’t even have to leave the city, because nature starts right in the backyard of her house. The Dresdner Heide, the green heart of the Saxon capital, extends over an area bigger than 50 square kilometers – right within the city limits. “Actually sometimes it can be even too quiet,” the Finnish researcher jokes. That’s the moment, when she heads to the district Äußere Neustadt, to take a short glimpse into the hectic life of Dresden’s younger quarter. “You can’t be in a hurry, if you come here”, Huittinen recounts. “Too many locals, too many distractions. This part of the town has a completely different feeling. The entire air is artistic.”
Art meets architecture
This becomes obvious, in particular, at one of Nina Huittinen’s favorite places in the city: Kunsthofpassage. The rather plain entrance to the spacious, walk-in courtyard, which covers the entire area between two main streets of the district, seems to be in stark contrast to the beautiful artwork and decoration that’s hidden behind. In each of the five courts visitors are greeted by skillful creations, which combine architecture with art, thus, establishing a different theme for each. “They eradiate creativity”, Nina Huittinen concludes. “The creators even turned rain into something beautiful.” In the court of elements trumpet-like funnels meander along the wall, which transform it into a giant music instrument powered by raindrops. In Huittinen’s opinion this flow of creativity also spills over onto the spectators.
And creative ideas are needed in her field of study: safety research for nuclear waste disposal. The scientist from Finland investigates, for instance, the behavior of radioactive elements embedded in crystalline materials, which could be used as host substances for the safe disposal of radioactive waste. “Based on this knowledge we can predict, how these actinides will behave in possible repositories under differing circumstances,” Huittinen explains. “Such information is heavily needed, to guarantee that the waste is safely stored for many hundreds of thousands of years. In the end, that’s an international problem. So we need international solutions.” The move into a foreign country and culture can, thus, be part of this solution – even if done reluctantly at first.