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Interview with Irina Berg and Helena Heberer from "Model United Nations"

"Interesting people with different backgrounds and opinions"

Team of the Cologne Model United Nations (Cologne MUN)

In 2018 the event "Cologne Model United Nations" took place for the first time in Cologne. The conference was held under the exciting motto "Debating Democracy: Rights and Responsibilities of a Free Press". Helena Heberer was Secretary General of Cologne MUN 2018, her successor for the upcoming conference 2019 is Irina Berg. Both are fully committed to Cologne MUN. We asked them what "Model United Nations" is all about, what they particularly appreciate about the conference and how things will continue in 2019.


Interview with Irina Berg and Helena Heberer

Ms. Berg, what is MUN?

Irina Berg: MUN stands for "Model United Nations" and is a simulation in which interested students are introduced to the work of the United Nations. These MUNs or conferences usually last three to four days, depending on the organizer, and consist of different committees which are structured identically to those of the United Nations. These committees deal with specific topics throughout the conference. Usually there are two in order to narrow down the subject area a little and to enable a good preparation. Participants will receive a Study Guide before the conference starts, which briefly outlines both topics and gives a rough idea of the subject matter. Based on the study guide and the research they have done themselves, participants will have to write a position paper before the actual conference begins, outlining the point of view of each country previously assigned to the participant.

Depending on the committee, the aim is to adopt a resolution at the end of the conference proposing various solutions to individual issues. 

Why is it worthwhile for participants?

Irina Berg: Participating in a conference has many advantages. My personal motivation, and I think the motivation of many other participants, was first and foremost the ability to express myself rhetorically in front of a large audience. Since the conferences are mainly held in English, regular participation improves one's knowledge of English immensely.

The written elaboration of the position papers and resolutions also contributes significantly to the participants' ability to argue and express themselves. In addition to the academic aspects, the interpersonal interaction with students from all over the world is particularly exciting. One gets to know many different and interesting people with different backgrounds and opinions. This allows you to create a large network and expand your horizons incredibly.

Irina Berg

My very personal motivation, and I think the motivation of many other participants, was first and foremost the ability to express myself rhetorically in front of a large audience. 

Irina Berg, Secretary General, Cologne Model United Nations

Can anyone who is interested participate, or who exactly is invited?

Irina Berg: In principle, students from all universities and disciplines are invited to participate in our conference. However, an application must first be submitted, on the basis of which we select the delegates and assign them to their committees and countries. As a rule, the application itself is not a major hurdle.

Picture gallery "Model United Nations

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  • Audience of the Cologne Model United Nations (Cologne MUN)
  • The countries of the Cologne MUN voting by show of hands
  • Group photo Cologne Model United Nations
  • Of course there is also celebration!
  • Cologne Model United Nations
  • Participants of the Cologne Model United Nations can also use a conference app.

Ms. Heberer, in 2018 MUN took place for the first time in Cologne. You were part of the planning team of the event. What is your conclusion on the conference?

Helena Heberer: I am totally surprised how well everything went. Because it was the first time, I expected something to go wrong all the time. But I think, just because it was the first time, we were thinking a lot. The team planned everything in detail and meticulously, it paid off. Apart from a few small crises, nothing went particularly wrong.

Were there any particular features of the conference? And what did you particularly like?

Helena Heberer: We had some peculiarities at our first conference. One of them was our conference press. Some of the students took part as reporters. The reporters sit on the committees and write articles about everything that happens - controversies, disputes, compromises. They were also asked to check facts and put the content of the debate into context. They held press conferences and asked the participants tough questions. We wanted our reporters to hold the delegates accountable, just as a free press should.

The academic level was also high. The committees have passed really good resolutions on the subjects on which the UN has been biting its teeth for decades. That is the beauty of Model UN, we can go further than the real UN can, be creative and make new proposals. Of course, not all the solutions can be implemented, but in my opinion that is not the primary issue. Discussion is the most important thing. We only grow intellectually if we can try out our ideas on others.

We had a social event every evening and, with full intent, reached deep into the Cologne cliché box. We organized a brewery tour and a carnival party. It was really nice to show the international participants our culture and to get to know Cologne a little better. Ultimately, it was our team that made the conference such a wonderful experience. Everyone invested a lot of time, effort and passion without expecting anything in return. We are all very fond of each other, friendships have developed. You feel the love.

Helena Heberer

The discussion is the most important thing. We only grow intellectually if we can try out our ideas on others. 

Helena Heberer, Former Secretary General, Cologne MUN

What were moments of the conference that impressed you?

Helena Heberer: One of our committees was led by an Israeli and an Iranian together. I found that in itself exciting. But one of the topics of the committee was the status of Jerusalem. I was a bit worried in advance that this might lead to a charged situation during the conference. But the opposite has happened. I found it wonderful to see how these two, who come from countries where there is such tension, got on so well. Then there was this controversial, often emotional topic, and yet everyone enjoyed the debate. That's also what I like most about Model UN. You get to know people with very different backgrounds, you can exchange ideas and deal with other people's points of view.

I was also very impressed by our guest speakers at the opening event. We had invited Golineh Atai, the former ARD foreign correspondent in Moscow, and Michael Seckler from the UN Regional Information Office. Ms. Atai gave a very exciting speech about her work in Russia, especially regarding the progressive censorship in the country and increasing discrimination also against foreign journalists. Mr. Seckler's talk was about sustainable development goals and the costs we have to face if we don't start taking much more care of our environment soon. I think it is important that we keep in mind that the way we live is not sustainable.

What will happen with MUN and what is the topic for CologneMUN 2019?

Irina Berg: The new board of the Cologne MUN Society e.V. has recently come together.

At the moment we are at the beginning of the planning phase and of course we are very keen to organize an exciting and academically challenging conference next year. We are currently looking for a dedicated and motivated team to begin the actual planning of the conference. As Helena has already said, the team is the heart of every good conference.

At this point I would like to invite all interested students to apply for one of the many exciting positions and become part of a unique experience.

But you can already look forward to an exciting conference and great events!

Thank you very much for the interview!

The questions were asked by Sarah Brender. The original interview in German can be found here: "Interessante Menschen mit unterschiedlichen Hintergründen und Meinungen"