Honouring Herr Köpp with the Alfred Toepfer Medal

Michael Hošek awards Dr. Matthias Köpp the Alfred Toepfer Medal honouring his late father at the EUROPARC Conference 2023. Picture: PDF-Grafie

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The Alfred Toepfer Medal, named after the founder of the EUROPARC Federation, Dr h.c. Alfred Toepfer (1894-1993), is awarded annually in recognition of a particular individual who has made a significant contribution to nature protection in Europe. In 2023 it was awarded to honour the late Prof. Dr. Hans Köpp, whose son Dr. Matthias Köpp accepted the award on his behalf.

Honouring the legacy of Herr Köpp

As 2023 marks the 50th Anniversary of the EUROPARC Federation, our Council agreed the 2023 Alfred Toepfer Medal should be awarded to someone whose work has been fundamental to our organisation. That is why it was clear that this year’s Alfred Toepfer Medal should be awarded to Prof. Dr. Hans Köpp, who worked alongside Alfred Toepfer in EUROPARC’s formative years in the 1970s. The EUROPARC Directorate was fortunate enough to interview Herr Köpp at the end of 2022, in his home in Göttingen.

As such, it was with great sadness, that we were informed that Herr Köpp passed away in June. His contribution to the EUROPARC Federation, especially as editor of the Bulletin, cannot be underestimated and our network will forever hold him in high regard.

We were fortunate enough, to be able to invite his son Dr. Matthias Köpp to accept the award in his fathers’ behalf during the Award Ceremony at the EUROPARC Conference 2023 in Leeuwarden.

A childhood marked by the Federation

In his acceptance speech, Matthias recalled how strongly his childhood has been marked by the Federation. From walks with his father and Alfred Toepfer, to summer holidays spent in the various Parks and Protected Areas of Europe: Herr Köpp was incredibly dedicated to both the Federation and Alfred Toepfer, and this too influenced the life with his family.

We invite you now, to read the wonderful acceptance speech written by Matthias. In his own words, discover what the Federation meant to his father, and still means to him. We sincerely thank Dr. Matthias Köpp for being with us in Leeuwarden, and for sharing his beautiful words with the network.

“Dear EUROPARC Directorate, dear Mr. Andreas Holz of the “Alfred-Toepfer-Foundation”, dear Members of EUROPARC Federation,

Thank you for inviting me as your guest tonight. It is such an honour for me to be here to receive the “Alfred Toepfer Medal” on behalf of my father. After he was invited to give an interview to the EUROPARC Federation for its 50th anniversary last autumn, he planned to be here himself to attend your conference. Of course, he did not know by then that he would be honoured in this way. Whether he suspected or hoped for it? I do not know. He missed this honourable news in June by only a few days.

Matthias Köpp. Picture by PDF-Grafie.

Now I may be here in his place, and although I am not a professional colleague of yours – I am a psychiatrist and psychotherapist – it does not feel at all strange for me to be with you. On the contrary! First of all Alfred Toepfer, the founder of this medal is no stranger for me. This is not only because I live in Hamburg nowadays, where his name is ever present. I remember a walk with him and my father with some official group in what must have been the late 1970s through “Lüneburger Heide Nature Park”, from Niederhaverbek to Wilsede. In my memories Toepfer was a relatively small man already in his early 80s, but very good on foot indeed.

Even further back in time now. Shortly after my father completed his PhD at Göttingen University in 1966, he went to England for a year to complete a program for foreign scholars at the Department of Forestry and Agriculture at Oxford University. He finished the program with a thesis on “Problems and politics in the creation of National Parks in Great Britain: a comparison with West German experiences”. So his interest for protected areas goes back at least until then. And it so happened that I was born in Oxford, and my parents took me in their VW Beetle, as a baby boy, on a trip through all the British National Parks. A photo with me on a blanket in beautiful surroundings still exists.

Michael Hošek and Dr. Matthias Köpp. Picture: PDF-Grafie.

Later, our family spent their vacation almost exclusively where the EUROPARC Federation held its annual meetings. While Hans was attending the conferences, our mother, my younger brother and I were on holiday, and part of the story is as well, that we often didn’t see much of him… But that’s how I got through so many European National Parks. I remember visits especially to the “Peak District” in North Yorkshire, to the Bavarian Forest, to the Dutch island of Texel and to Lake Vättern in Sweden. Special personal memories of mine are connected with “Plitvice National Park” in Croatia in what was then Yugoslavia. For us, that was behind the “Iron Curtain” of a divided Europe, and far from an everyday experience. After two or three weeks of vacation on a small farm and in spectacular nature, our family spent the last evening with the then director Josip Movcan, his wife Maria and his daughter Jasna, and I said “but I do not want to go home”. Without further ado, it was decided that I, by then a boy of twelve, would simply stay for another week with Josip’s family, who afterwards put me on a plane home in Zagreb. And further on, I spent the following summer all alone with Josip’s family in Plitvice.

You can for sure imagine what a pleasure it was for me to be able to watch your interview with my father on YouTube recently. And from my own professional point of view it was of special pleasure to hear that he emphasized the aspect of connecting people as a central task for EUROPARC Federation’s future work. One of your mottos is “connecting people with nature”. I might suggest that you quote “connecting people in nature” as well. Maybe my personal memories can help prove that, at least concerning me, you already did!

With this in mind, I would like to take the opportunity to congratulate you on your fiftieth birthday and wish you all the best and success for your future work. As you heard my father saying in the interview, he was convinced that on its hundredth birthday, EUROPARC Federation will still be there and no less necessary or important than it was in 1973.

Thank you very much!”

The Alfred Toepfer Medal is made possible thanks to the generous support of the Alfred Toepfer Stiftung.