Clint - an early Christmas carol

by Ralf Stutzki, November 7, 2021

I don’t remember exactly when I first noticed it, it must have been close to two years ago or so. And since then, every so often on my way to our labs I look down at the entrance door of the chemistry department just to check if it is still there. It is. It hasn’t (been) moved since day one. I'd assume that most of us who work in the labs or our neighboring office building know about this tiny creature, probably wondering like myself how on earth it ever got here and why on earth nobody has felt obliged to remove it. An angel guarding the chemistry building is an unheard-of scandal. Goodbye Nobel Prize.

The other day I showed this angel photo on my mobile to my neighbor’s 5-year-old daughter, expecting a comment such as “Oh my, this poor heavenly creature must have been hit by lightning in a massive thunderstorm, then panicked and broke one of her wings during her emergency landing”; which indeed would have been a truly original adaption of the myth of Icarus. Instead, the young lady who is being socialized in a family using cargo bikes only praised the exemplary carbon footprint of angelic flights and told me it was about time for me to get a new iPhone. I could never stand that girl in the first place.

When you’re an angel with a broken wing leaning against the wall of the chemistry building of the University of Basel, you’re in trouble. Without a proper ID on our grounds your fate is settled. You're done. There is no way out, ever. And for that matter no way in either. If you think passing through immigration at JFK International Airport in NYC is the greatest of all human challenges you haven’t been through our chemistry customs. Our NCCR MSE offices and labs - all serving a research purpose we humbly call Engineering Life - are completely fenced in, cordoned off and guarded by security, adding a new ring to the call for scientific freedom. Only a valid photo-ID will allow you to pass through our security revolving steel doors. If someone told me that in 1979 they filmed "Escape from Alcatraz“ with Clint Eastwood here I’d buy it in a second. Which is why I have named that little angelic fellow Clint. It sounds much more personal and as I believe has a certain gender-neutral ring to it.

I like the idea of having an angel around and apparently, I am not the only one. Even though Clint absolutely does not belong here in this natural science setting, this is the best argument for his being here; kind of an observer-disturber who allows us to pause for a moment, to step aside and lose track. Losing track can be quite a healing- and sometimes even lifesaving experience, particularly when the track follows a direction at a speed which both have been set by others for us. It could be that this is what Clint expects us to ponder upon. Maybe that’s why all of us here in the chemistry building pass by this heavenly pal so respectfully, each day on our way to work. I guess “up” is not the only direction we should be looking.

Ralf Stutzki

Engellieder

Ich liess meinen Engel lange nicht los,
und er verarmte mir in den Armen
und wurde klein, und ich wurde gross:
und auf einmal war ich das Erbarmen,
und er eine zitternde Bitte bloss.

Da hab ich ihm seine Himmel gegeben, –
und er liess mir das Nahe, daraus er entschwand;
er lernte das Schweben, ich lernte das Leben,
und wir haben langsam einander erkannt...

Rainer Maria Rilke, 22.2.1898, Berlin-Wilmersdorf

Welcome to the Chemistry Department

Ralf Stutzki, Head Ethics