Interview with Sibylle von Oppeln-Bronikowski

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Sibylle von Oppeln-Bronikowski was born in a post-war South Germany and grew up to be a vital part of German statistics. Read a preview of an interview with Sibylle von Oppeln-Bronikowski in this blog post. The full interview appeared in the Statistical Journal of the IAOS.

Sibylle von Oppeln-Bronikowski
Sibylle von Oppeln-Bronikowski
 

What I always like in the international statistical community is that the collaboration is so good. You can even incorporate ideas from others. You can develop things and when others incorporate your “things” then one is so proud.

By Katherine M. Condon, Ph.D., Interview Editor - SJIAOS

Sibylle von Oppeln-Bronikowski served as an Executive Committee member of IAOS between 2015 and 2017. As of June 2019, she will be retiring as the Director of the Department of “Strategy and Planning, International Relations, Research and Communication,” at Statistisches Bundesamt – Germany’s Federal Statistical Office – shorthanded as Destatis.

In this interview, we will learn about how Sibylle became interested in statistics and how she entered the world of official statistics, as well as learn about her experiences during the transformation of Germany’s Federal Statistical Office with the re-unification of Germany in October 1990. In addition, we will learn about Sibylle’s efforts to make Destatis the first official institution in Germany with an internet offering.

This interview took place over the phone between Sibylle and Katherine Condon on February 1, 2019.

INTERVIEWER: Thank you so much for allowing us to interview you. Let us start at the very beginning and go back to your childhood. I know that there have been some political changes, most recently with the unification of Germany, so where in Germany did you grow up? What was it like growing up in your country?

I grew up in a large family – I was one of 7 children. We lived in southern Germany during the post-war-time, in the region of Swabia.

My parents fled Berlin during the world war. So, they were not born in the south but that’s where I grew up. During the post-war time it was not so easy for us to live as a big family.

My father was trained as a physicist. However, after the war, it was difficult for him to do his job, because he lost his papers during the world war. So, he decided to become a teacher of English and mathematics. On the other hand, my mother was an author. She wrote lyrics, novels, and so on.

I'd like to also tell you that the time was marked by a general insecurity after the world war. Many people had to leave their former homeland, especially from East Germany, and the fear of a new war was always present.

However, at the same time, we had also something that was very good for all the people. We had a kind of equality between the people. There was also a mood of optimism and it was often because everybody wanted to get rid of their bad experiences and wanted to fill the cities again. Nobody had a lot of money, so everybody helped out. There was a great solidarity. It was also true because we did not have all the devices we have today – we had no telephones, no TV, no washing machines, no dishwasher – so everybody had to do everything. It wasn’t easy at times, but everybody helped a little bit as we were all in the same boat.

INTERVIEWER: Looking back to our childhoods, we often find that a particular event or person had an impact on our later years. Did a particular person or event shape you into the person you are today?

No, I would say my father shaped me a lot to the person I am today. He was a very clear-thinking, honest, rule-oriented straight-lined, and open-minded person. All at the same time. While the impact of my mother was quite the reverse. She was an artist and did not respect too much the rules. And she encouraged me to act in the theatre and read sophisticated literature. So, for example, I read the Greek legends at the age of 10 and I read Sartre, as well as a member of a literary club at the age of 13.

My mother did not accept that I read any bad literature at all. Bad literature, for her, was already literature for a young girl. Oh, and comics were COMPLETELY unacceptable [laughter].

Overall, my parents’ influence was a kind of interplay and I was just in-between these two influences.

INTERVIEWER: Problem solving takes both strict rules, as well as looking at a problem with creativity.

Yes, that pretty much is it – to bring ideas from outside into statistics and as you will see later, that this is the way I went through things all my life.

INTERVIEWER: Turning to your career in statistics, and remembering back to when you were completing your education, what did you hope to accomplish and what were your aspirations in your professional life?

What is very dear to my heart. I have always been convinced that a good and stable democracy needs reliable statistics. So, I hoped from the beginning that I could help shape this. This is really the “red-line” of my career. In my professional life, it has always been very important to me to stand up for ethical principles and values of official statistics. And, it's part of my genes, I stand up for this and I did it all the time. I fight for these values.[...]

 


 

Would you like to read more about the early life, education and professional accomplishments of Sibylle von Oppeln-Bronikowski? Read the full interview here.