After spending three weeks in the Benelux countries, the German track has been in Berlin for the past two weeks. The group, half of which had not been to Berlin before, had high expectations from the city. Despite air conditioning and credit cards being alien concepts, the city has exceeded all our expectations.
During the first two weeks, the program activities revolved around remembering the past, migration, and diversity. Looking back, we can encapsulate our experiences under three broad buckets: startups, integration of refugees, and coming to terms with history.
While we were all aware that Berlin is the start-up capital of Europe, we were all eager to dive deeper into this space and better understand the city’s vibrant start-up scene. We were able to gain privileged access to Rocket Internet, Europe’s most prominent start-up investor and incubator.
We gained valuable insights on how Rocket approaches investing in start-ups, the diverse range of start-ups based in the city, and the reasons for Berlin’s emergence as Europe’s start-up capital. For those of us coming from corporate environments, it was interesting to note the rather informal work environment and the unfinished and no-frills look of the offices.
We also had a very informative discussion with Paua Ventures, a Venture Capital (VC) firm based in Berlin where we gained a concrete understanding of how VC firms approach investing. Our key takeaways from this meeting were that it is critical for entrepreneurs to be able to craft a good story (a minimum of 40-point font size is preferred in presentations!) and VC firms place more emphasis on the team behind the start-up as opposed to the idea.
Integration of refugees:
Integrating the over 1 million refugees into German society and workplace has been a topic that has dominated our discussions during not only our German class but also our visits to political and cultural institutions. We were able to benefit from gaining the perspectives from both sides of the equation– the migrants and the government
Through the Macromedia University of Berlin, we met Ms. Halah Alhayik, a Syrian woman who is participating in the Moving Project, a project initiated by the Macromedia University to empower refugees by identifying qualified members of the refugee community and helping them integrate into the labor force. While Ms. Alhayik acknowledged the assistance provided by the German authorities and the efforts taken by the government to accommodate the significant wave of migrants, she felt that more could be done, especially in terms of making life more comfortable for the migrants and enabling the migrants to practice their trade.
Our visit to the Deutsches Bundeskanzleramt (German Chancellery) gave us visibility on the German Government’s perspective on the migrant situation. Our host and Head of Integration, Ms. Deihimi, stressed on the significant efforts being taken by the authorities to integrate the migrants by offering intensive German language courses, providing accommodation, and helping migrants integrate into the labor force. However, the stringent German labor laws that require specific training and education for certain professions mean that the process of integration into the labor force is not expected to be quick.
Overcoming the past:
During our time in Berlin, we have also observed that the city has many spots dedicated to remembering the horrific events of Germany’s history. The Germans have a specific word for this tradition – Erinnerungskultur. Berlin is home to numerous memorials, monuments, and museums dedicated to the victims of the Third Reich and the division of Berlin during the Cold War.
We were able to immerse ourselves in this tradition by visiting the Holocaust Memorial, Memorial for the disabled victims of the Nazi regime, Berlin Wall Museum, and the Sachsenhausen concentration camp. We were also lucky to meet former East German dissidents who shared telling examples of the difficulties of living under constant monitoring and the fear of political persecution in East Germany.
Over the next few weeks, we will also be visiting the cities of Leipzig and Munich. We look forward to the corporate and cultural visits and taking in everything this vibrant and multicultural city has to offer.
– Written by students of the German program: Akshay Subramanian, David Burshtein, Jefferson Ferronato, Matthew Alexander, Patrick Feeney, Salvador Martinez, and Tatiana Sheptock (WG’18)