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Christian Haffner

tenure track principal member at imec, Leuven, Belgium

Christian Haffner
“Criticizing an immigrant is easy until you become one and realize how demanding it is to blend into a foreign culture with work, family, and hobbies while constantly reinventing yourself.”

Finding light in adversity

Christian Haffner is from the picturesque Black Forest region in Germany. He embarked on his academic journey with a deep passion for unraveling the intricate connections between physics and engineering. Christian completed his PhD in Plasmonics at Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich in Switzerland before venturing to National Institute of Standards and Technology in Maryland, USA, for his postdoc research. During this period, he seized the opportunity to apply for a recently inaugurated tenure track program at imec. Out of 88 applicants, Christian emerged as the inaugural tenure track recipient in 2021, marking a significant milestone in his career.

black forest - lake titisee neustadt
Black Forest - Lake Titisee Neustadt

Flight to love

Christian’s time in the USA abruptly ended due to the Covid-19 pandemic, causing the country to shut its borders to international travel. Fortunately, he secured one of the last flights to Switzerland, where his wife resided. Subsequently, landing a tenure track position at imec in Belgium meant frequent travel between Switzerland and Belgium. The pandemic regulations and immigration restrictions added significant complexity to this situation. Through this experience, Christian and his family grew to value the advantages of Europe’s open borders: the freedom to travel without any constraints and the opportunity to immerse themselves in diverse cultures. Whether it was before or after the pandemic, the deep connections they formed with people from different backgrounds during their travels left a lasting impact on their lives.

laugenbrezeln - typical german pretzels
Laugenbrezeln - Typical German pretzels

Germany, USA, and Belgium

With age, individuals often discover a stronger identification with their personal sense of self rather than being tied to a particular country. For Christian, this sentiment rings true. While not particularly drawn to German culture and its festivities, there is one thing he truly missed during his time abroad: German bakeries, particularly the beloved Laugenbrezeln. These pretzel-like treats, which were a favorite go-to, had a special place in his heart, especially when he spread butter on them for a satisfying breakfast.

munich - oktoberfest
Munich - Oktoberfest
women in traditional costum
Women in traditional costum

In every country he lived, Christian has discovered something to cherish. Switzerland impressed him with its impeccable public transport system, while the vast, unspoiled nature of the USA left a lasting impression. In Belgium, it’s the charming city of Leuven that holds his heart. The seamless childcare system in Flanders, the supportive work culture for women, and the acceptance of having a child in tow during online meetings made his life far more peaceful than he expected.

Christian imparts a piece of wisdom to young adventurers: “Going abroad may seem tough, but once you’re there, with a little push, things start falling into place, and you not only survive but thrive.” Expanding one’s horizons, he believes, fosters self-discovery and an enhanced ability to collaborate effectively with diverse individuals.

Must do

Experience the delectable food and wine scene in the enchanting historic town of Heidelberg in Rhineland Palatinate.

heidelberg - old town
Heidelberg - Old town
semmelknodel - a traditional bavarian dish
Semmelknödel - A traditional Bavarian dish

A German food tour

Traveling through Germany is like embarking on a fantastic food journey with a dash of stunning scenery. First up, the southern part showcases the towering Alps, perfect for mountain lovers and adventurers. One can savor incredible traditional dishes like Semmelknödel (bread dumplings), Maultaschen (a tastier version of German ravioli), or Spaetzle (Swabian pasta) with lentils. Now, when it comes to food, Germany doesn’t hold back. In the south, it is all about hearty dishes, ranging from schnitzel to sausages. It’s a meat lover’s paradise.

Then there is Berlin, the bustling capital, where one can find everything from street food markets to fancy restaurants. The food scene here reflects its cosmopolitan vibe, offering a taste of the world. The urban art scene in Berlin’s East Side Gallery will blow anyone’s mind. It’s an excellent place to dive into the history of the Cold War, as it served as the main stage for nearly 50 years.

berlin - rest of the berlin wall
Berlin - Rest of the Berlin Wall
berlin - brandenburg gate
Berlin - Brandenburg Gate
eland-palatinate - the teufelstisch rock formation
Rhineland-Palatinate - The Teufelstisch Rock Formation

Heading west to the Rhineland Palatinate (Pfalz) region, vineyards and wine villages like Deidesheim, Bad Dürkheim, and Neustadt an der Weinstraße take the center stage. The area is also home to numerous old castles like Burg Trifels and Burg Landeck. Palatinate is a mustvisit spot for wine enthusiasts.

Up north, lies the North Sea and the Baltic Sea (East Sea). Seafood comes into focus here, with fresh catches like herring, mussels, and the famous Fischbrötchen (fish sandwich). Plus, soaking in the seaside adds an additional charm.

A region-specific food tour can be a fun way to experience Germany, from the hearty southern dishes to the fresh northern seafood delight. It is a flavorful approach to explore a country’s social and cultural demography.