Exchange Program in Berlin

Blog

Andres Knobel is a lawyer from Argentina who is very interested in international matters, from his current work in international taxation and its effects on developing countries, to broader issues of international relations (especially related to Israel) and fostering the understanding among Arabs, Muslims and Jews.

I applied for a Go Professional! Micro Grant to come to Berlin as an exchange student for the summer semester, as part of the masters in Law and Economics I’m doing back in Argentina.

It had been 7 years since I had last been in Berlin, and I really wanted to be back in this amazing city. As I left the airport I had mixed emotions, on the one hand feeling at home, while at the same time having a strange sensation of being a Jew in the same spot where the Holocaust had taken place just a few decades ago. Such awareness has since been unavoidable. From the very same sound of the German language, to seeing the “Memorial of the assassinated European Jews” right next to the iconic Brandenburg Gate, or bumping into the Stolpersteine, golden “stumble-stones” fixed on the street outside the houses where Jews once lived before being taken by the Nazis.

At the same time, iconic synagogues are now turned into museums, and Shabbat services take place in small upstairs rooms instead of in the main hall which once used to host them. However, this view of a tragic past is confronted with many grassroot organizations which offer activities for young people, where Russian is spoken more than German, owing to the (not-so) recent immigration of Jews from the former Soviet Union. Israeli film festivals, Israeli folk-dance workshops, Shabbat dinners or simply listening to Hebrew bystanders in the Ubhan (subway) provides a brighter picture of the vibrant and growing Jewish community in Berlin.

Humboldt University has also been an interesting cultural experience where I had to practice my rusty German to follow classes such as “Internationale Steuerplanung in der Praxis” or “Einzelfragen zum Unternehmenssteuerrecht.” In addition, getting by in a German University depends on trying to make sense of page-long mathematical equations which somehow prove in an utterly complicated way through theoretical abstractions, basic legal and accounting concepts which could be otherwise attainable by short sentences in plain English.

All in all, this is a great experience where the fun of going out and meeting new friends is constantly intertwined with making professional contacts (a.k.a. lawyers) or discussing research projects with academics. Also, being in Europe means being closer to my boss and my NGO’s headquarters, which has already resulted in interviews with journalists and possible speaking events in the near future, along with easier communication because of the now-same time difference.

Lastly, Berlin has proven to be a hub for people passing by in Europe. I have been meeting old friends from all over the world, including three ROIers, though more on that in the next blog entry!