Berlin: Week One

Even though I arrived in Berlin five days before the official start of the program, I feel as though I still haven’t even scratched the surface of what the city has to offer.  Historically, Berlin has seen periods of incredible growth and transformation as well as periods of hardship and terror, with highs during the times of people like Frederick the Great in the 1700’s and Otto von Bismarck and the founding of the German Empire and lows under the rule of the Nazis and Cold War oppression.  The city also host an incredibly unique culture. Being different from the rest of Germany, Berlin has a very independent and open culture. This can be seen in its many different neighborhoods and acceptance and integration of different cultures.

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Both of these aspects of history and culture have become very clear to me over the past few weeks. During the time I was here before the program and during the first week of the program, I was able to see how Berlin was able to tackle its checkered history.  Going on various tours of famous sights you really get a good grasp of how Berlin has decided to embrace and educate about its past instead of try and cover it up. This is evident in the many memorials and monuments that are all over the city that are dedicated to the good and bad.  But this embrace can also be seen in the minor things like the many bullet holes and battle damage on many of the buildings left over from World War II with the aim to provide a reminder of what happened. I was also able to see that this culture of acceptance is not a new phenomenon but one that can be seen throughout history at places like the Gendarmenmarkt, a square with twin protestant churches built in the 1700s showing the unity of Germany and France.             

After a fun two week of touring, introductions, and orientation, I have started by internship in the legal department of Acatus GmbH.  Acatus is a financial technology startup that is in the process of launching its own debt capital markets platform aimed at currently serving the European Union.  While currently focusing on only Germany at the moment, the company specializes in taking illiquid assets such as loans from originators such as banks. They then securitize these assets and put them on their own proprietary digital platform.  They then offer these as investment opportunities to institutional investors such as unions that are looking for a good but safe return for their investments. Along with this goal of providing safe but profitable investments for investors, they also have a rather ingenious goal of helping to free up liquidity for banks in order to help to provide more loans to customers.  This process is incredibly crucial, especially for a lot of the smaller banks or those that have more commercial focuses, as loans are their primary revenue streams and being able to provide more loans while still fulfilling regulatory requirement could allow not only the banks but the businesses getting these loans to grow.

One of the biggest things that is important to be successful in this industry is the ability to adapt.  The perfect example of this is the task I was assigned on my first day of work. Recently, the EU has recently put new regulations and directives out regarding trade secrets and nondisclosure agreements.  This means that the European Union is taking a more active approach to leveling the playing field when it comes to business secrets and what constitutes illegally obtaining and/or using these trade secrets.  I was tasked with reading over these new regulations and coming up with summaries and thoughts and ideas about what these new regulations mean. I am then to help and integrate these with the ideas and work that the legal department has come up with over the past week since the regulations went in place.  This shows that you have to be able to be flexible and adapt to an ever changing business environment that is not only being shaped by other companies, but by the governments and institutions that oversee them.

One thing that is unique to Germany that is not present in the United States is to deal with the incredible entanglement of laws and regulations that come from not only the German Federal Government but those of the European Union as a whole.  Considering that the EU has superior legal status in all member countries, it means that you suddenly have to deal with two sets of laws and regulations that might have additional requirements. This becomes even more complicated when you consider that not everything from the European Union is not an official “law” but can come in other non binding forms that have varying levels of legal status and may or may-not be binding.

Despite these differences, I am very excited to be able to dive deeper into the world of business law and learn more about a field that I eventually want to work in.  I am also very excited to continue to be able to explore and learn more about the vibrant history and culture of Berlin.