Sabine Beppler-Spahl: on launching Debating Matters in Berlin

As Debating Matters returns from yet another fantastic championship in Berlin, we asked our lead German partner, Sabine Beppler-Spahl, what inspired her to bring the championship to Berlin.

“As chair of the Freiblickinstitute, whose purpose is to organise public discussion on political and scientific issues, I felt the chance to host Debating Matters in Berlin was an opportunity not to be missed! Although Britain has a long tradition of schools debates, in Germany debating societies are not as well established.  But there is taste for serious, content-based debating in this country too!

“As supporters of a liberal academic education we believed it was important to encourage students to learn the art of questioning, reasoning and debating – to remind ourselves that there is never only one way to look at an argument. Fact-checking has its place and abstract knowledge is important, but how far can they help us to understand the world?  If we really want to know why we believe what we do, we should allow our ideas to be challenged and be able to debate them robustly and civilly. 

“Freiblickinstitut has taken over the organisation of the competition on a voluntary basis. Many of its members have helped with the preparation of the debates, and on running the day itself. But DM Berlin has been successful also due to the support of many others – the team in Britain, the enthusiasm of teachers and judges, and several event partners such as HeGo Biotec, World and Press, and the UE University which has accommodated the championships and provided catering for the events.

“We use the DM Topic Guides as a basis for the debates but we adapt them to account for the specificities of the German situation. We debate in English (a real testament to the English teaching our schools!) and despite our initial worries about tackling such complex issues in a foreign language, participants have been highly motivated, well-prepared, and able to argue their case convincingly. As communications consultant and frequent DM judge, Phoebe Blackburn wrote on her LinkedIn blog:   

It was a pleasure to hear the genuine clash of ideas backed by thorough research and, crucially, sometimes if not always, interaction, re-adjustment, truly listening to an adverse opinion then, changing tack. Or standing by one’s argument, impassioned, with further evidence and debate.

“We at Freiblick believe it’s important to continue to host Debating Matters because every generation needs thinkers and questioners and we’re looking forward to the next Berlin Championship!”

Sabine Beppler-Spahl, chair Freiblickinstitute e.V.