You are here

gbs Annual Review 2020

Foundation activities in the Corona year


Bruno with mask (painting: Wolfram P. Kastner, corona modification: Roland Dahm)

The Giordano Bruno Stiftung chose "The high art of rationality: Facts, fakes and perceived truths" as its focus for 2020 - without suspecting that this year would see a "corona crisis" that would also be accompanied by a "rationality crisis". Despite the measures introduced to control the infection rates, the gbs was able to engage in a surprising number of activities in the past year, as the 2020 annual review illustrates.

1st quarter: January  March 2020

Originally, 2020 was supposed to be the "Beethoven Year" with many international concerts on the occasion of the composer's 250th birthday. And thus the gbs too began the new year with Beethoven, wonderfully interpreted by Kai Adomeit. In his New Year's address, gbs spokesman Michael Schmidt-Salomon also introduced the 2020 focus topic "The high art of rationality: facts, fakes and perceived truths". In addition, the Foundation participated in the Cradle to Cradle Congress in Berlin in January, which was attended by about 1,000 participants. 

On February 8, 2020, to coincide with the 99th birthday of the distinguished science theorist (and gbs advisory board member) Hans Albert, the gbs introduced the "Hans Albert Institute" (HAI), which aims to contribute to the promotion of critical-rational thinking in politics and society. As can be seen from the institute's website, the HAI has already pursued numerous activities in the course of the year and has found many renowned supporters. 

Shortly afterwards, the gbs was able to celebrate a groundbreaking success in Karlsruhe: on February 26, the Federal Constitutional Court announced its landmark decision on assisted suicide, declaring Section 217 of the German Penal Code (StGB), which the gbs had been fighting from the very beginning, to be unconstitutional and void. The ruling by Germany's highest court was not least a success for the campaign "My End Belongs to Me - For the Right to Last Aid," the most important stages of which were outlined by the gbs in a detailed review. A few days later, the gbs was able to announce another success: After five years of legal wrangling and several waves of negative media coverage, the Archdiocese of Berlin reversed the church tax assessment imposed on a non-religious Frenchman. The case was supervised by the Institut für Weltanschauungsrecht (ifw - Institute for Secular Law). 

The mood was accordingly upbeat at the ifw annual meeting, which took place March 6-8 at the foundation's headquarters in Oberwesel and ended with a public lecture by "Germany's best-known criminologist" Professor Christian Pfeiffer. Speaking at "Haus Weitblick," Pfeiffer called for the retrieval of the abuse files from the Vatican, compensation for lifetime lost earnings for abuse victims, and the authorization of independent research involving 5,000 active priests. 

The event with Christian Pfeiffer (March 8) was the last public event that could take place at the gbs foundation headquarters in 2020. Just one day later, the gbs (in anticipation of the coming Corona restrictions) canceled all planned events, including the memorial service for Uwe-Christian Arnold, which was intended to honor the success in the "Last Aid" lawsuit before the Federal Constitutional Court. The Foundation responded to the Corona crisis directly in March with a statement explaining why it intends to largely refrain from issuing Corona statements under the given circumstances. After all, in view of the lack of comprehensive data, what was needed was "serious transdisciplinary research into the virus, its spread and its consequences" - "not further fueling of the rumor mill." 

2nd quarter: April
 June 2020

In April, the gbs developed concepts on how to continue the foundation's work under Corona conditions. For example, the gbs-supported Kortizes series of public online lectures via Zoom began at the end of April, as well as the DA series, which was produced at an even more elaborate level, with lectures and discussions from the "virtual gbs studio Düsseldorf" broadcast live via YouTube at the beginning of May. 

Also in May, the Hans Albert Institute (HAI) issued a statement on "Patient Autonomy in Crisis," arguing that even in Corona times, it should not be imperative to save or prolong life at all costs, but rather "to provide medical care that is in accordance with the patient's will and contributes to his or her well-being". A few days later, the gbs criticized the "Failure of the German Ethics Council," which is supposed to advise the federal government on complex issues. 

In early June, the gbs and the HAI submitted a statement on the new regulation of assisted suicide to the Federal Ministry of Health, which providestendenzioös practical recommendations for a "new culture of dying" and warns against an "undermining of the Karlsruhe ruling". In the paper, the authors also criticized the "tendentious selection of experts" whom Health Minister Spahn had asked to make relevant proposals, as they consisted largely of former supporters of the unconstitutional §217 StGB. In addition to the joint paper by the gbs and HAI, the Institut für Weltanschauungsrecht (ifw), which is part of the gbs network, also submitted a corresponding statement, pointing in particular to the legal requirements that the Federal Ministry of Health must observe following the Karlsruhe ruling. 

In addition, two further Evolution Trails were opened in June, one in Templin and one in Düsseldorf. Therefore, after the first two nature trails in Leimen (January 2019) and Kyritz (March 2020), a total of four Evolution Trails based on the concept of the gbs Rhine-Neckar could be established so far. A fifth evolution trail in the Westerwald was already being planned, but the project hit the headlines in the fall of 2020 due to massive local opposition (see below). 

3rd quarter: July
 September 2020

In July 2020, the "Evokids Project" presented an explanation of the Evolution Trail in simple, child-friendly language on its website, which has since been a useful addition to the "adult version" on

In August, the Forschungsgruppe Weltanschauungen in Deutschland (fowid - Research Group Worldviews in Germany), headed by gbs advisory board member Carsten Frerk, published its "Religionsstatistik 2019". The results show a) that 92 percent of Germans do not attend religious services and b) that the percentage of non-denominational people in the population has now increased to 38.8 percent. (The "fowid cake" included in the article has been popular for years, but the website provides many more exciting articles that are worth reading...) 

On August 15, the art exhibition for the "DA-Art-Award" with the slogan "...wirkt nicht über den Placebo-Effekt hinaus!" ("...does not work beyond the placebo effect!") was opened, which was organized by the Düsseldorfer Aufklärungsdienst in cooperation with the Giordano Bruno Stiftung. The exhibition was accompanied by academic lectures on the topic of "Facts, Fakes and Perceived Truths" (by gbs members Michael Schmidt-Salomon and Natalie Grams, among others) and comic readings (including Til Mette and Dorthe Landschulz), which were broadcast live on the Giordano Bruno Stiftung's YouTube channel. 

The "Virtual Rationality Congress" organized by the Hans Albert Institute at the beginning of September also focused on the year's central theme of "rationality". The lectures of the high-profile online symposium with Michael Schmidt-Salomon, Lutz Jäncke, Katharina Nocun, Nikil Mukeri, Adriano Mannino and Natalie Grams were all recorded and can be viewed at any time

At the end of September, the gbs art installation "Die lange Bank des Missbrauchsskandals" accompanied the meeting of the German Bishops' Conference in Fulda. The installation depicts the figure of speech "Etwas auf die lange Bank schieben", which translates literally to "pushing something on the Long Bench” and figuratively to "putting something off for a long time". After the meeting had concluded, the Catholic Church's Abuse Commissioner, Bishop Ackermann, together with gbs employee David Farago, sawed off a tiny little piece of the "long bench", signaling that the Catholic Church is still largely "putting off" a real processing of the abuse scandal and appropriate compensation for the victims, and has at best made a few inches of progress in Fulda. At least, however, there was a lengthy discussion between Bishop Ackermann and Matthias Katsch of the victims' organization "Eckiger Tisch," which is supported by the gbs and ifw. 

4th quarter: October
 December 2020 

In October 2020, volume 8 of the gbs publication series was published with the title "Produktives Streiten" ("Productive Debate"), which explains how rational discussions can flourish. A few days later, the Hans Albert Institute announced the essay competition "What is rational?" (deadline for submissions is February 8, 2021, the 100th birthday of Hans Albert). Also in October, the current bruno. annual magazine 2020 was distributed, which turned out to be even more colorful and diverse than the much-praised first bruno. issue from the previous year. 

At the beginning of November, the ifw presented a draft bill to abolish the Blasphemy Section 166 of the German Penal Code (StGB), after the gbs had already called for this step at the end of October following the beheading of the French teacher Samuel Paty. In mid-November, the high-profile Kortizes Symposium on "Wo sitzt der Geist?" (Where does the mind sit?) was held, supported by the gbs and featuring many renowned experts, including neuroscientists Wolf Singer and John-Dylan Haynes. 

Also in November, evolution deniers from the Westerwald succeeded in preventing the construction of an Evolution Trail, which had already been approved by the municipality of Hellenhahn, by means of a referendum, which caused some media buzz (including a feature in the satirical program "Extra3"). Following this, the Evolution Trail developers received significantly more inquiries than ever before, which is why the opponents of the Evolution Trail arguably contributed to an even greater spread of Evolution Trails (even in the Westerwald) with their protest. 

At least as remarkable were the reactions of leading church representatives and medical functionaries in connection with the ARD broadcast of the play "Gott" ("God") by Ferdinand von Schirach: In this context, the gbs spoke of a "deliberate misinformation of the public" and countered the "alternative facts" of the opponents of euthanasia with a fact-based view. 

Lastly, at the beginning of December, the Foundation began mailing the new brochure "Leidenschaft zur Vernunft" ("Passion for Reason"), which summarizes the central elements of the year's focus on "The high art of rationality". Like many of the Foundation's other brochures, this one can be ordered free of charge - and larger quantities are welcome, for example for teaching purposes. A few days earlier, the gbs unveiled its English-language website, with the help of which the Foundation intends to have an even greater impact in the international arena. 


2020 was a difficult year for many - including the Giordano Bruno Stiftung. In recent years, the Foundation's work depended heavily on physical meetings at Haus Weitblick, as well as nationwide events and street campaigns, which were not possible this year. It was, however, quite effective to move the meetings into the virtual space. And the approximately 50 online lectures and discussions that the gbs co-hosted (in addition to the DA series, the Kortizes series, and the online congresses, there were online collaborations with the Saram foundation, Mensa in Germany, and Atheist Refugee Relief, among others) reached several thousands of people. 

The Foundation proved a lucky hand in 2020 with its choice of "The high art of rationality" as its focus topic. The gbs reacted quickly to the irrational debates triggered by the Corona crisis by critically examining the conspiracy myths in several online events, which gained astonishing popularity on the breeding ground of the pandemic (pushed also by the American "Fake News President" who has since been voted out of office). In this context, however, the Foundation has also warned against prematurely relegating people with dissenting opinions to the "conspiracy corner". After all, scientific progress thrives on the "friendly-hostile competition" of ideas. If the corridor of opinion is narrowed too much (for example, by punishing any criticism of the Robert Koch Institute as "sacrilege"), this may cause greater damage than the delusions spread by KenFM, Attila Hildmann or Xavier Naidoo (translator’s note: these are all people notoriously spreading conspiracy theories in Germany). 

2020 was a difficult year from a financial perspective as well. The volume of donations, as expected, declined. Although the gbs is able to compensate for the deficit in income and expenditure by making a corresponding withdrawal from its consumable assets, the fact that there were fewer endowments (donations or inheritances) to the foundation's consumable capital this year means that the gbs - for the first time in its history to date - will emerge poorer at the end of a year than at the start. 

More painful than financial losses, however, is of course the loss of loved ones. In 2020, the gbs had to bid farewell to one of its most active advisory board members: In August, the inventor and presenter of the legendary "ZDF-Nachtstudio" Volker Panzer, who had also assumed many responsibilities within the gbs (see the obituary "Ein wunderbarer Mensch"), died. With him, we have not only lost a Foundation colleague, but also a good friend we could always rely on. Conversely, we were pleased to welcome four new advisory board members who have joined the gbs team in 2020: psychologist and giftedness researcher Tanja Gabriele Baudson, geoscientist Horst Marschall, educationalist Barbro Walker and cartoonist Martin Perscheid

Along with them and all other members of the Giordano Bruno Foundation, we wish our supporters a bright, successful and as joyful a year as possible in 2021! Stay healthy... 

A more detailed account of the 2020 activities will follow in the next issue of the bruno. annual magazine, which will be published in the fall of 2021.