Viennese culture and debate at heart of successful Alumni Weekend in Europe

Nearly 450 alumni and their guests enjoyed Vienna's  attractions - from the city's imperial architecture to its famous waltz - during an action-packed three days.

A range of intellectual and social events, including academic presentations, walking tours, dinners and a dancing lesson, were held as part of the major gathering in the Austrian capital from 24-26 April.

The wide-ranging academic programme, held in the Orangery (part of the Schönbrunn Palace), was one of the most popular events during the Alumni Weekend in Europe. The subjects were chosen to shed light on historic, contemporary and future concerns, and connections with Vienna and Austria were highlighted.

The Rt Hon The Lord Patten of Barnes, Chancellor of the University of Oxford, chaired an insightful session about Ukraine. Conducted under Chatham House rules, the panellists discussed the complexity behind the conflict,  Ukraine's regional diversity, its many economic and linguistic ties with Russia, and the history of negotiations with the EU. Ceasefire breaches, death and destruction, and the loss of trust between Europe (including the Austrian public) and Russia were also emphasised. Solutions mooted included decentralisation in Ukraine and scholarships to support young Ukrainians as they set about re-building their country.

Bethany Bell (Keble, 1987) then chaired a fascinating session about early 20th century Vienna - a period, she said, of "extraordinary cultural riches" in the arts, music and thought. The speakers focussed on the pioneering works of Gustav Klimt (including his famous painting The Kiss), the liberal attitudes to sex of Sigmund Freud and others, and the music of Schönberg.

Speakers during the final academic session of the day assessed the prospects for meeting future energy needs sustainably. Professor Sir Chris Llewellyn Smith, Director of Energy Research, University of Oxford, chaired the debate and stressed that there is "no silver bullet" for meeting the world's growing energy demands. He recommended a range of measures including Carbon Capture and Storage, reducing the cost of wind and solar energy, and reducing demand for energy.

Professor Andrew Hamilton, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Oxford, also informed the alumni audience about recent success at the University,  including being ranked number one among UK universities for research, and the opening of the Weston Library. He said: "The University is in fine fettle. We can look at the academic core of the institution and see it is in good health."

Other events during the weekend included a reception at Vienna's magnificent Rathaus, a gala dinner at the Palais Ferstel (pictured above) and a brunch at the British Ambassador's residence.

Speaking at the Ambassador's brunch, Lord Patten said: "It has been another successful Alumni Weekend. The academic programme was extremely interesting. I have enjoyed myself in Vienna, and it has been a wonderful treat to be here with so many Oxonians."

Feedback from alumni was also very positive. Nick Nops (Christ Church, 1968) greatly enjoyed the weekend. He said: "The events brought people together in a tremendous city. I met new people - alumni and their guests - and I am very keen to do so. It is important to meet people from different backgrounds. The venues were beautiful and quite extraordinary, the gala dinner was superb, and the speakers from the academic programme were very much part of the weekend. It was very enjoyable."

Ariana Adjani (St Antony's, 2005) added: "It has been amazing to share experiences with like-minded people, see old friends, and establish new connections. There was a good turnout from many year groups. The weekend was well organised, and the diversity of the events was great. The academic programme was very engaging and intellectually stimulating, and the evening events were exquisite."

Photos of the Weekend are available in a public gallery on Facebook.

The first Alumni Weekend in Europe was held in 2009, and previous events - held every two years - have taken place in Berlin, Paris and Madrid. The Alumni Weekend in Europe is part of the series of alumni events called Meeting Minds. The next Meeting Minds event is the Oxford Alumni Weekend from 18-20 September 2015.