Creative Generalist and Traveller Michael Bartels

“I was so curious about an unknown country”

As a student and Alumni of TUM, Michael Bartels learnt Japanese, studied and worked in Tokyo. His many years of experience in Japan have had a decisive influence on his life and were an important milestone in his professional career.

Since Michael Bartels wanted to combine technical and creative aspects during his studies, he chose a degree in Architecture. The Munich-born alumni decided to study at TUM. “For me, TUM was the ideal combination of down-to-earth technical teaching and a great location in a beautiful city,” he says about his decision.

Michael Bartels particularly remembers the many projects on which he worked with his fellow students, sometimes for days and nights. “That’s a bonding experience,” he says. “It’s how I learnt to enjoy working with different characters.” Even today, he still draws on the experience of achieving goals as a team in a very interdisciplinary field.

Curiosity as a beacon

Also with regard to international experience Michael Bartels has relied on diversity from the start. He was interested in Japan, Russia and the USA. He decided for a year abroad at the Tokyo Institute of Technology in Japan. “I was so curious about an unknown foreign language and a country that, even though it is economically similar to Germany, is culturally and socially very different,” he explains. The Japanese courses at the TUM Language Center and the professional support from the TUM International Center were the perfect preparation for his exchange year. His TUM professor Thomas Bock from the Chair of Building Realisation and Robotics also supported his endeavour. “His contacts paved my way to Japan,” says Michael Bartels.

The years in Japan were an important milestone in my professional career.

For Michael Bartels the stay abroad was a success in every aspect. His language skills enabled him to gain his first professional experience in Tokyo while studying. Living and studying in such a different socio-cultural country provided him with valuable intercultural experience. “The group comes first, the individual second,” Michael Bartels explains. “At the Tokyo Institute of Technology there was a clear affiliation to an academic chair and the family associated with it.” Even today, former students meet once a year to celebrate the birthday of Architecture professor Koji Yagi at his house in Tokyo.

Hatched by wanderlust

After finishing his degree, Michael Bartels wanted to keep working in an international environment. The Munich-based company Brainlab, founded by TUM Alumni and revolutionary in the field of Medical Technology Stefan Vilsmeier, met this desire with a job in the planning department. But Michael Bartels’ wanderlust was not satisfied yet. He wanted to return to Tokyo to improve his language skills even more and to gain further international work experience.

Landscape shot of the Wakhan Corridor at the border between Tajikistan and Afghanistan.

Michael Bartels travelled home from Japan by land. In 2015 he created the impressive photo cycle “Rough and High Above”. The picture shows the Wakhan Corridor, one of the least developed regions in the world. Here a river separates Tajikistan from Afghanistan (Photo: Michael Bartels).

Michael Bartels went to Tokyo for another two years on a scholarship from the German Academic Exchange Service. He completed the practical part in the Marketing department of Brainlab’s Japanese branch. “Due to my work experience in Japan, I was pointed out to company founder and CEO Stefan Vilsmeier,” he says modestly, yet proudly. “My time in Japan was definitively an important milestone in my professional career”.

After an executive MBA in Switzerland and various positions at the Munich headquarters, he has been working for a very important technology leader in the field of Medical Technology since 2016. Here he is responsible for the global pricing strategy.

Experiencing the world’s diversity

In addition to his demanding job, Michael Bartels still finds time for extended travels. Striking photographs and films capture the people, landscapes and architecture he encounters on his travels through Asia and Europe. For his documentary “Tokyo Munich – by land” he received the Munich Youth Film Award in 2005.