ChronoCity, a project too big?

I actually didn’t want to write anything more about my first and biggest pilot project to date. I have written a lot about this both in my books and in the ARL’s scientific anthology Zeitgerechte Stadt (article available for free download here). This project was also reported on in various media around the world. Sometimes completely off the mark, but sometimes really well researched, such as in the magazine Eltern family or the Belgian magazine
De Morgen

National reports with an advertising equivalent value [1]The AÄW quantifies the equivalent value in euros that would have had to be spent on an advertisement instead of an editorial article. of over 1.6 million were published in print, online and on TV about this project in 2015 and 2016, plus of the international reports in “The Atlantic”, “Minnpost”, BBC, ARTE and many more, the value of which could not be determined.

Basically, the issue is over for me. Some things should be left alone. However, since I left Bad Kissingen in 2017, the press around the world has repeatedly asked me how this project has been progressing, as is the case again now.

An editor from DIE ZEIT contacted me in August 2023 to ask if I would like to conduct an interview with him on the subject of ChronoCity. It was about a big article about sleep in ZEIT online. We had a really enjoyable interview. I know very well from experience how quickly information in the press can lead to a completely distorted overall picture by omitting the context or using different wording.

In principle, I don’t blame the journalists (except when the aim is to make a point), the whole thing has to be processed somehow in terms of space. But the background to this project is more complex than can be explained in a few lines. This is one of the reasons why I have been skeptical of all media reports for years.

However, it is important to me that the ChronoCity project, its results, my role and its end are presented correctly and comprehensibly so that the reader can draw a conclusion that corresponds to the facts.

Therefore, here is an addition of facts to the article“The dream of seven and a half hours” in the ZEIT / ZEIT online of today, December 17, 2023.

The city council had called for new businesses and received articles in esoteric newspapers. Naturally, the city councillors wondered what this had to do with economic development!

This statement, presumably from a Bad Kissingen town councillor at the time, reflects very well why the project was ultimately terminated by me on 01.01.2017. I would like to take this quote as the starting point for a short journey through time to ChronoCity.

Why ChronoCity?

I have been studying chronobiology since 2002. I realized early on that this topic could be a game changer for companies … if you want it to be. However, the main topic in discussions with companies at the time was the argument that parents had to send their children to school and that there was no way to adjust working hours accordingly. And at the end of the day, we had a surplus of skilled workers at the time. So anyone who didn’t perform could be replaced quickly. BGM did not yet exist at that time.

Schools, on the other hand, stated that they (especially in rural areas) had no opportunity to adjust school times because companies dictated working hours and local transport was not geared towards later school times.

This gave me the idea of creating a strategic expert interface within a local authority that could tackle, develop and market these topics together with the protagonists as a win-win situation for all those involved in a conceptual and long-term municipal context.

This led me to the idea of a ChronoCity, which could also give this city a strategic USP. A spa town seemed to me to be particularly suitable, as historically, a spa was based on the idea of prevention, and health is at the heart of a spa town.

Bad Kissingen

Firstly, it is important to know that the science of #chronobiology was still unknown to an estimated 99% of the population in 2012. And if you googled the term “biorythm” back then, you mainly came up with websites with an esoteric background. Incidentally, this is one reason why chronobiologists avoid this term and use “biological rhythm” instead.

Secondly, I discussed my ideas for a ChronoCity with the then mayor Kay Blankenburg at an annual meeting of the Bad Kissingen Junior Chamber of Commerce in spring 2012. His keen interest led to several discussions being initiated with the head of the press, parliamentary group leaders, parliamentary groups and ultimately the City Council itself.

The most important statement that I kept repeating during my presentation was the fact that this is a long-term project and that no “high-speed” successes are to be expected.

Before the first meeting with the political groups, I was informed by the city that they would like to embed my function as the above-mentioned interface in the function of economic promoter, as this position had been vacant for around two years. This would therefore also fit into the budget and could facilitate contacts with industry. As I have business administration in my genes, this was a good approach in principle, but it would later backfire on me.

In mid-2012, the city council then unanimously approved my appointment.

Economic development

One of the main tasks of an economic developer is to attract companies and jobs to a city, to strengthen existing structures and to reduce vacancies.

As Bad Kissingen was known more as a “retirement town”, as described in the article, this was not an easy undertaking per se. It was (is) simply not very attractive for companies, as a “senior city” only offers a limited range of attractive options for young skilled workers. Therefore, my long-term approach was to make the city thematically attractive through a global innovation (ChronoCity) in order to subsequently be able to attract companies.

In addition, companies that take the chronobiological aspects of their employees into account as part of their BGM or HRM activities (e.g. COPEP(Chronotype Optimized Personnel Planning)) should offer an attractive competitive advantage.

An industrial area had only been in the planning stage up to that point, but I would develop it further later.

As I didn’t want to be an employee, my company at the time was commissioned as an external business development agency and I was the person responsible for implementation. To make matters worse, I was only allowed to work part-time for the first year. Likewise, my budget for chronobiology, and I only realized this later, was in the low 5-digit range.

Nevertheless, I was initially able to gain many supporters from politics, business and the healthcare sector, and my 7 chronomeetings over the first 2 years with decision-makers from business, the healthcare sector and also the state spa (responsible for the entire spa topic) were always well attended and supported by a great deal of interest and constructiveness. There was also a consensus in the city council at the time that ChronoCity should be the main part of my work. Also that the appropriate time would be available for this.

The first projects in schools (see article) and clinics were initiated, and the then spa director of the Staatsbad (unfortunately not mentioned in the article) was also a very committed supporter, especially at trade fairs (e.g. ITB), where ChronoCity was also presented.

I then worked full-time from October 2013. ChronoCity was officially launched in the same month. Just 6 months later, in March 2014, an event was to have a significant impact on developments. Although the 2014 municipal elections confirmed the mayor, 70% of the city council was reshuffled.

Initially, I didn’t attach any particular importance to this, but over the course of the year there were more and more comments that, as a business promoter, I also had other tasks than ChronoCity. My references to numerous non-ChronoCity activities were initially sufficient to answer the questions. After just under a year, however, I was invited to a party meeting and a major discussion took place that opened my eyes.

The new city council was completely unaware of the basis of the contractual relationship or the strategic assignment for the ChronoCity project. They had not been aware of this when they took office and had assumed for a full year that I would pursue ChronoCity as a “private toy” in the context of economic development. In other words, there was no transfer of information within the parties regarding the strategic abandonment of my position.

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We have not discussed this in the party!

was the final, succinct message. Even the mayor had obviously not communicated this accordingly.

The problem was that the new city council wanted me to focus on the short and medium-term settlement of companies and the creation of jobs in the future, despite the following information from me, and I was only supposed to follow ChronoCity on the sidelines. Nevertheless, I have received support from the majority of those who remain from the old city council, who have pointed out that without attractiveness, no companies will come.


Despite these problems, I tried to continue to pursue both strategically and focused my economic efforts on the revitalization of an important area in the city center and the old Kurhausbad, as well as a shopping center on the city parking lot. The industrial area, which had been planned for years when I was hired, was buried a year later after a public consultation, but has not yet been removed from the land use plan.

At the same time, with the help of scientific support, we managed to push ahead with projects in schools (different lighting, later exam times, later school start times, etc.) and in a clinic and to establish a cooperation with the University of Lübeck to set up a joint academy in Bad Kissingen, as well as to bring a chronobiological pilot project from OSRAM to Bad Kissingen.

ChronoCity was also a topic in the ARL’s scientific working group “Timely City”, of which I was a member from 2014 to 2017. The results are included in the anthology “Zeitgerechte Stadt”, which of course also includes an article on “ChronoCity”.


Finally, and not everything is in the ZEIT article, I also presented an idea on how to make the town of Bad Kissingen a pioneer in terms of maintaining standard time. There is a scientific consensus among chronobiologists that permanent summer time is particularly harmful to humans.

Despite the required focus on the above-mentioned topics, the city council decided by a strong majority that I should turn the idea into a viable concept. After this decision was communicated in the press, resistance arose among the supporters of summer time in the ranks of the population and, above all, in the catering trade. They were not interested in the strategic background, which had also led to a positive decision, but only saw their own point of view and alleged losses of millions for the catering trade.

It was clear to me that the topic of “summer time” is emotionally polarizing throughout Europe and that an objective discussion is often not possible. Nevertheless, I thought I had the city council behind me. I organized the first round table on maintaining standard time, with experts from science, politics (EU Council member), the state baths and the city administration, which was also widely reported on. This round table also served the purpose of scientifically consolidating my arguments. The round table should become a permanent institution.

ChronoCity - 1. Strategietreffen Sommerzeit

But the opponents of summer time were not prepared to discuss the issue objectively. Their arguments were completely unfounded and they increasingly attacked me personally instead of providing verifiable arguments. This culminated in a newspaper report (front page) on the day of the decisive city council meeting regarding my concept, in which 3 restaurateurs and a journalist (who already had a personal problem with me) attacked my thoughts even before the presentation of the concept, completely without any professional argumentation. I myself was not interviewed at all, so one-sidedness was the declared aim of the report.

Under the impression of this reporting, the city council ultimately showed no more backbone and rejected 8 out of 12 points. 4 points of my concept remained (including the round table), which I should pursue further.

This meeting was also the point at which I was asked to focus in future primarily on the traditional business development I have already explained. So almost a 180 degree turnaround from my previous assignment just months before.

From this point onwards, ChronoCity was only evaluated by the public in terms of summer time. Those in favor of summer time opposed the project, those against supported it.

In addition, the city council ultimately torpedoed its own demands on me. The best way to actually attract companies to the city was to cut himself off in the long term. He definitively rejected the last chance to realize the establishment of industry by removing the area from the land use plan.

The shopping center was also rejected after more than 3 years of planning. As far as school start times were concerned, the district administrator (responsible for local public transport) ultimately got in the way. Despite intensive discussions and opportunities, he was not prepared to change the bus times. I can’t say whether it was because he and the mayor had different party books. However, there was hardly any other commercial space available.

The OSRAM project (a new global light setting to reduce postpartum depression) was also discontinued shortly before the start after 16 months of preparation, as the new clinic operators (Helios) closed the maternity ward almost from one day to the next, initially temporarily and then permanently.

The cooperation with the UNI Lübeck was also not developed further. The statement that the city council was not prepared to invest here is true. However, this shows precisely the perspective that has shaped the entire project. They wanted a lot for little money.

The overall development and the destructive behavior of the new city council ultimately led me (and my wife) to the decision to let the contract expire at the end of 2016 and not to renegotiate it. A new business development manager was not found until two years later, but she was only active for one year. A duo now runs the business development.


The city council had called for new businesses and received articles in esoteric newspapers. Naturally, the city councillors wondered what this had to do with economic development!

Those who demand businesses must not prevent necessary measures (industrial area, shopping center, etc.). And if you do some googling, you will find that not a single esoteric newspaper has reported on it. Curiously, the Nobel Prize for 3 chronobiologists was awarded just a few months later in 2017. The fact that today a former The fact that the city council speaks of esotericism in this context is evidence of the destructive ignorance described above.

I freely admit that I misjudged some developments, for example with regard to the stability of positions. But a project that no one else in the world has carried out in this way lives solely from personal experience.

One of my main experiences is that strategic projects in politics always hang by a thread during a legislative period. But I also learned painfully that politics has nothing to do with entrepreneurial thinking or even entrepreneurial logic. Anyone who expects maximum output in the shortest possible time with a mini-budget – and 4 years is very little time for a strategic project in business development – will never be satisfied. However, local politics is also primarily about party goals and personal views and preferences.

The more than 4 years were very complex and I can only present the most important approaches and events in relation to “ChronoCity” here.

ChronoCity - too big a project?

Yes, I was extremely disappointed. On the one hand, about the developments in the city council, but also from myself, that I didn’t see important things. Perhaps this was actually due to my enthusiasm.

Was it too big a project, as the former mayor is quoted in the ZEIT article? It was a big project, but by no means too big in my eyes. Because it is not the size of a project or the size of the steps, but the consistency of the implementation that is decisive for success. Large projects can also be given their own momentum with small steps. However, abruptly changing expectations do not contribute to the necessary consistency that all relevant stakeholders should have shown.

Nevertheless, I have by no means left in resentment. I see what has been achieved and not what has not been achieved, as the former scientific advisor, Thomas Kantermann, described in the article. Despite the developments, I had many people with backbone at my side who themselves regretted the developments.

And in 2018, I received a newspaper report that even contained the statement in an article:

It is regrettable that Mr. Wieden did not continue the business development at that time!

I have finished with the project and, in principle, I don’t want to speak negatively about Bad Kissingen as a town. The project has brought me and the topic of chronobiology a lot further, and has given me and the participants a wealth of experience, including political experience. I am also very grateful to the former mayor and above all his direct team for the opportunity and the courage they have shown with this project.

The first talks with another municipality about “ChronoCity” were swallowed up by the pandemic in 2020. I am still convinced that a project like this, if it is actually supported consistently in the long term, can be developed into a globally relevant USP with a high level of attractiveness for a city. However, you have to be able to take a long-term view and evaluate even those who are resistant to discussion. You have to be prepared to replace the sentence “That won’t work because … !” with “How can we make it work that … !”. And a small portion of willingness to be crazy is also part of it.

My big THANK YOU goes to the circle of people in my immediate working environment at the time who always stood behind me.

Michael Wieden

P.S. I will write a detailed article about the project itself. But first, here is a link to my chapter “ChronoCity” in the publication “Zeitgerechte Stadt” by the ARL – Akademie für Raumentwicklung in der Leibniz-Gemeinschaft. I was involved in this working group for 3 years.



1 The AÄW quantifies the equivalent value in euros that would have had to be spent on an advertisement instead of an editorial article.