Studying Law in Potsdam

  1. Potsdam - The City and its University
  2. Studying Law
  3. Library
  4. Living in Potsdam
  5. Free Time
  6. Living healthier in Potsdam
  7. Conclusion

Potsdam - The City and its University

Potsdam is a small city in Brandenburg with about 155,000 inhabitants. It is beautifully situated in the immediate vicinity of the Havel river and lake district. The area is characterized by its many lakes and extensive forests. Potsdam is the residence of Prussian kings and the city in which Stalin, Truman and Churchill signed the Treaty of Potsdam after World War Two. These famous attributes appear in every tourist's guide, and rightly so. Potsdam’s most renowned tourist attraction is the Palace Sanssoucci. But not only the former summer residence of Frederick the Great is spectacular; the historic quarters of the city such as the Russian Colony Alexandrowka, the Dutch Quarter and the Bohemian Weavers Quarter provide the city with much of its historic and European flair. But the splendid palaces, parks and historic sights can sometimes overshadow the more subtle, yet equally winning attractions that Potsdam has to offer. Some of these attractions only become apparent within a longer residence, so studying law for a few years would be the perfect opportunity to get to know all of Potsdam's treasures.

The city has a number of partner communities, in Europe and abroad: Opole in Poland (since 1973), Bobigny in France (since 1974), Jyväskylä in Finnland (since 1985), Bonn in Germany (since 1988), Perugia in Italy (since 1990), Sioux Falls in the U.S.A. (since 1990) and Luzern in Switzerland (since 2002).

The university in Potsdam is quite small when compared with the universities in Berlin but continually growing. At the moment we have about 20,000 students with about 1,800 of them studying law. That is quite a difference to the 40,000 currently studying at the Freie Universität or the 30,000 at the Humboldt Universität, both in Berlin. The course of studies for law students begins in the winter semester along with about 500-700 fellow students. 60 % of them are women. The number of students starting the law program has risen dramatically in the last few years because the program placement is no longer dependent on the results oft the abitur. Law students now send their applications directly to the university where places are conferred according to the results of the Abitur. The lecture halls are large and comfortable. Law students in Potsdam study in the new lecture hall recently completed in Griebnitzsee. Our student body is not only composed of students from former East Germany, on the contrary, many students come from all over Germany and all over the world to enjoy the beautiful city and its nearby big sister Berlin.

University of Potsdam, New Palais in the backgroundThe University does not have one central campus but rather three separate sites, each with a different emphasis and each with its own special history. University buildings are to be found in Golm, on the western outskirts of Potsdam; Am Neuen Palais, on the west side of Potsdam and in Babelsberg, on the east side of Potsdam heading towards Berlin. Am Neuen Palais is the largest university complex. Many interdisciplinary facilities and offices are located here. Law students in their first few semesters will spend time in the Audi Max which is a large lecture hall on campus. The complex Am Neuen Palais is at one end of a large park in which also the palace Sanssoucistands, the former summer residence of Frederick the Great. It is beautiful, especially in the summer, when one can go for a stroll in the park between lectures.The complex Golm is not often visited by law students. The Faculty of Law does not hold courses there although many other faculties and institutes do.

main building in GriebnitzseeLaw students also spend a lot of time at the complex Babelsberg during their sojourn at the University of Potsdam. The buildings are in the immediate vicinity of the train station Griebnitzsee and home to the offices of the Faculty of Law.  The new lecture and seminar building is also a part of this complex. This is naturally very convenient for the many students in Potsdam who live in Berlin and travel with the S-Bahn to Potsdam.

The main building in Griebnitzsee was originally built in 1928 for the German Red Cross, under the DDR regime it was used as an Academy for Law and Socialist State Policy since 1953. This building was recently joined to the newly built modern lecture building which opened in the winter semester of 2007/2008. The area between and around the two university sites in Babelsberg is also of historical interest with its villas along the Griebnitzsee, once home to Germany's most prominent film stars and politicians, as well as the famous Babelsberg Ufa Film Studios.

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Studying Law

Campus BabelsbergThe University of Potsdam may be very young, but the tradition of law in Potsdam has existed since 1947, admittedly in the very different guise of GDR (DDR) state and law. After the fall of the GDR (DDR) regime, a wholly changed and newly founded Faculty of Law came into being on January 1, 1991.

Students studying law usually need about 9 semesters until they are ready to take their first state exam (Staatsexamen). Generally one has two chances to pass the exam. Students who register for the exam during or before their 8th semester are granted a free try (Freischuss). Certain academic activities such as spending time abroad or being elected into student representative bodies can result in the extension of the free try until the 9th semester. The free try is meant to encourage students to study more rapidly, it gives students who are not completely sure of themselves the chance to try the Staatsexamen without it counting towards the two chances in case one fails to pass. It is also possible to repeat the Staatsexamen in order to better one's marks.

Before one comes to this point however, a new hurdle must additionally be overcome. The attempt to modernize the study of law has resulted in the introduction of a so-called Zwischenprüfungsordnung. It is now required that students who wish to attain a law degree, pass two written, end-of-semester exams in each main field of law (Civil Law, Criminal Law and Public Law), as well as an exam in the history of law and a written assignment by the end of the 5th semester in order to continue studying at the University of Potsdam. This concept should help students recognize whether or not law is for them before they spend years studying only to fail the final state examination. One must also complete internships which sum up to 3 months in length.

After the Zwischenprüfung, students strive to earn the certificates necessary to apply for admittance to the final law exam (erstes juristisches Staatsexamen). According to the new Bradenburg Ordinance for legal education (BbgJAO), this final exam is now made up of an exam in a special interest area (to be administered by the university) and a state exam (to be administered by the GJPA or the state examination commission). The university exam makes up 30 % and the state exam 70 % of the final mark. The addition of a choice of specialization in the law program is meant to complement the general studies and provide a more in depth analysis of a particular area of interest. All students must choose at least one area of special interest which is further subdivided into obligatory subjects and optional subjects within this field of interest. Students must complete a paper, a written exam and an oral exam as administered by the university. The state administered exams have already been described above. They can be taken before or after the special interest university exams.

Many other changes are also being implemented at the University of Potsdam and in the Faculty of Law. More focus is being placed on qualifications for the international market and for work as an attorney. Languages are, of course, extremely important and a legal language qualification is therefore required in order to register for the final examination. Furthermore, rhetoric and mediation skills are being trained to prepare young law students for the practical application of their knowledge in the working world. The world awaiting students after the completion of their degree has changed significantly over the years becoming more global and less regional. The University of Potsdam endeavors to reflect these changes and remain flexible and adaptable to the sign of the times.

Students are encouraged to broaden their horizons and make themselves more attractive for the international market by spending some time studying abroad. Law is a difficult course of studies to interrupt, one cannot usually depend on earning credits applicable to the German law degree in other countries. Nevertheless, the experience will prove valuable in many other ways. Comparing legal systems around the world is always interesting subject matter. Also, the profound new won knowledge of a foreign legal language is an inestimable skill which set one apart from other attorneys in spe. Future employers regard the knowledge of foreign legal systems and languages as highly valuable skills.

At the University of Potsdam specifically, one can take advantage of our partnerships with foreign universities such as Paris X Nanterre, Szeged (Hungary), Poznan, Bialystok, Breslau, Posen (Poland), Tartu (Estonia), Montpelier (France), Athen (Greece), Bergen (Norway), Fribourg (Switzerland), Valladolid, Zaragoza (Spain), Olomouc (Czeck Republic), Dokuz Eylül  (Turkey) and  soon Illinois (USA). The faculty coordinators are Prof. Bezzenberger and Prof. Belling, the latter serving as coordinator for USA/Hungary only.

Language courses, including those which concentrate on the legal aspects of a language, are offered by the Sprachenzentrum of the University of Potsdam. It is possible to receive UNICERT certification upon completion of courses. It is also possible to take courses in German for those students who do not have German as a native language. International students who have not completed a German Abitur or a similar German exam can still study law after enrolling in a Studienkolleg for two semesters. The Studienkolleg is designed to help international students study in Germany by providing courses which focus on language skills and general knowledge expected and required of university level students.

The University of Potsdam also offers computer courses and computer access in its ZEIK computer center. The ZEIK is located in Griebnitzsee as well as Am Neuen Palais and in Golm. Internet access is available and the many databases help students do electronic research for papers and written assignments. It is also possible to print materials using the ZEIK facilities, one must however, remember that the ZEIK does not provide paper for printing.

A new service offered by the ZEIK is access to a wireless network available to students with notebooks or laptops. With the necessary hardware (usually a transmitter/receiver card) and an account provided by the ZEIK students can log onto the internet wirelessly! The only constraint is that students attempting to log on must be within one of the ZEIK's hotspots. This is usually the case in the library, the mensa, the lecture hall and some of the student apartments.

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The gallery of the new library in Babelsberg The library of the University of Potsdam is also divided into different locations. Law students will find most of the books they need in the relatively new library in Babelsberg, Griebnitzsee. The library is large and well organized with one wing for books which may be borrowed for use at home and one wing for the collection of materials and books which may not be lent out. The latter collection contains over 250,000 volumes. Many older or obscure texts can be found in the book depot and ordered to one of the libraries.

The library in Griebnitzsee integrated the library collection of the Academy for Law and Socialist State Policy into its own. For this reason the the University of Potsdam has many volumes on socialist policy which are useful in comparing law under the current and the former legal system in Germany. Altogether the libraries of the University of Potsdam comprise about 1,400,000 volumes.

A useful tip for new students is the tutorials being offered on the homepage of the Library. They can make orientation in the library and use of the 193 electronic databanks, 26,814 electronic journals and 1,500,000 E-Books much easier to master. One can also schedule an appointment with the library staff for a tour and orientation lesson.

The University does its best to make sure that library inventorycontains the newest editions and is generally up to date, however funding is not always quite enough for sufficient copies. It can become a problem when many students are writing the same paper and all require the same book. Fortunately, the libraries in Berlin are also open for use and make a wonderful supplementary source for important research materials. Especially, older books, which are no longer common, can be found in the older collections available at other universities. The law library of the Freie Universität can be easily accessed with the S-bahn (S1) from the Lichterfelde-West station. The law library of the Humboldt Universität too, can be easily found from the S1 station Friedrichstraße. It can be useful to work on a paper at one of these or other libraries where students may not be working on the same subject and thus not competing for the same books.

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Living in Potsdam

When compared with most other university cities in Germany, especially in western Germany students at the University of Potsdam can consider themselves lucky. Although not quite as moderately priced as in Berlin, it is generally not difficult to find an apartment in Potsdam. There are many apartments in which students share the rent and the space, so-called WGs. These are very common in Germany and a great way to live if one enjoys company and doesn't wish to carry the sole responsibility for an apartment alone. They are also great for newcomers to the area who are still a little lost and disoriented in Potsdam and Berlin. It's always nice to have someone who knows the area and who can show you where to go or what to do.

Unlike dormitories common on campuses in the US or elsewhere, universities in Germany do not typically provide housing for their students. However, most states have a so-called Studentenwerk which concerns itself with the non-academic sides of studying. This includes student grants and loans according to the BaföG Law, student housing and meals. The Studentenwerk in Potsdamprovides different types of student housing for very acceptable rates of rent. Particularly comfortable and convenient for law students is the student village in Griebnitzsee. Clustered in the immediate vicinity of library, cafeteria and S-Bahn are nine apartment houses which are modern, comfortable, at least partially furnished and designed to house 2-3 students per apartment. The houses are clustered around a little square where student parties take place and where, in the summer, one can often find students having an evening barbeque. Placing in the student apartments can be very competitive. The Studentenwerk allocates apartments on a first come, first served basis, therefore it is recommended to apply very early, preferably during the semester and not at the end or beginning.

For those who don't mind commuting, there is housing of every size, shape, type and budget available in Berlin. The S-Bahn or train connection to Potsdam is fast and usually reliable. It should be warned however, when choosing an apartment in Berlin, to consider the distance to Potsdam. An awkward S or U-Bahn connection can be very annoying when one has a lecture on the other side of Potsdam at 8 in the morning!

As of winter semester 2001/2002, students in Potsdam automatically receive a semester ticket for all public transportation in Berlin and Brandenburg. Bicycles can also be transported by S-bahn free of charge in Potsdam and Berlin. Getting around is easy as a student in Potsdam!

Each University of Potsdam site has a cafeteria or mensa for hungry students. There is usually a choice between 4 meals per day with one of these always being a vegetarian dish. As of late the Studentenwerk (responsible for meals as well as housing) has introduced biologically grown food products to the menu as well. At some, not all, cafeteria's in Potsdam, evening meals are also served.

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Free Time

The University of Potsdam offers a wide range of athletic programs at its Zentrum für Hochschulsport. One can find courses for almost anything from team sports to dance to fitness to relaxation programs. Once again applying early is the key as courses fill up extremely quickly. Courses are offered for small fees both during the semester and in the breaks. Potsdam is blessed with its lakes and this is also reflected in many courses. One has the chance to complete a sailing certification or a rowing course. The University has a little boathouse where students can rent boats for a weekend expedition.

Der alte Markt in Potsdam während des Uni-SommerfestsPotsdam is known for its cultural tradition. Those interested in history will want to learn about Potsdam as the seat of Prussian kings; the "hollywood" of Germany; the setting where the fate of Germany was decided after WWII; where spies were exchanged between West and East Germany and much more. Those interested in architecture will want to look at the beautiful examples of baroque and other periods, and at the work of several historically renowned architects. Those interested in German film can visit the studios in Babelsberg and the excellent "Filmmuseum"in the city center. Those interested in enjoying nature can take bike tours, canoe tours or just walk along the lakes and through the woods and parks in and around Potsdam. Potsdam is a small city with a lot to offer.

In the historical city center one can also find an excellent theater (the Hans Otto Theater) and a concert house (the Nikolaisaal). Potsdam’s newest cultural hot spot is the Schiffbauergasse close to the city center and Park Babelsberg. Here, directly on the waterfront, the new home of the Hans Otto Theater is close to completion. But already, the nightclub “Waschhaus”, die Fabrik, the youth theater affiliate of the Hans Otto Theater (HOT) and several unaffiliated theater groups have their home here. For party goers, the Schiffbauergasse is the place to be. 
Potsdam is also a festival city with dance, theater and music festivals taking place every summer. Most well known among these are: Musikfestspiele Sanssoucci, Potsdamer Hofkonzerte, Potsdamer Schlössernacht, Potsdamer Tanztage and Unidram (a student theater festival). There are also many city or quarter festivals such as the Bohemeian Weaverfest in Nowawes, the Festival of Lights in the Neuen Lustgarten or the Tulipfestival in the Dutch Quarter.

As for the night life, Potsdam has several locations which are renowned for their good music and atmosphere. Foremost amongst these is the "Lindenpark". It has the benefit of being located very conveniently for students, within walking distance from S-Bahnhof Griebnitzsee, thus managing to coax often rather reluctant students living in Berlin to take the trip out to Potsdam to participate in the excellent student parties which are regularly thrown there. The Lindenpark is also known for excellent live concerts in all music genres. Another popular club in Potsdam is the Waschhaus. Potsdam's clubs and bars can be characterized as quality not quantity. There may not be as wide a variety as in Berlin but they are generally comfortable, inexpensive and well frequented by students. If one doesn't find a bar to match one's mood in Potsdam there are enough in Berlin to match any taste or music. To find out where to go in Berlin take a look in "Zitty" or "Tip" which you can buy at any newspaper stand. They are full of information about everything that is going on in Berlin.

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Living healthier in Potsdam

The provincial capital Potsdam is a member of the “Healthy Cities Network” and as such has developed an in depth strategy to provide its citizens with more quality of life by integrating educational opportunities, health consciousness, environmental protection and social programs as part of a “magic square” into the political agenda.

A good example is the Potsdamer Walking Day, an annually reoccurring event. The Walk is a good occasion to get to know the different paths and parks in Potsdam. Exercise lovers of all levels will find the walk right for them with distances ranging between 4 and 14 km.

The Potsdam Health Garden (Potsdamer Garten der Gesundheit) provides different programs for exercise, relaxation, de-stressing, creative activities, health consciousness and many more. The goal is to help people to reach a healthy state in body and mind.

In the September 2007 issue of the magazine "Healthy Living" 81 German cities were compared on quality of life and health & fitness. Potsdam ranked 15th and therefore belongs to the most healthy cities in Germany. Regarding Potsdam the magazine wrote:

"With its numerous castles and grounds such as Sanssouci, Potsdam not only offers touristic highlights but also promotes the health of its residents through its various parks. Additionally, the capital of Brandenburg offers fresh air, lots of sun hours and a large number of daycare centers. In consequence, employed mothers are more healthy and satisfied. Medical care on the other hand, has potential for development especially when it comes to the elderly." (Healthy Living, 09/2007)

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Studying law is a time consuming and difficult course of studies, for this reason it is important to make sure one can follow other interests besides law in order to remain balanced and keep stress under control. Potsdam offers a wonderful setting for studying law as well as following other interests. In Potsdam one can have the benefits of a large city without its disadvantages, as well as the charm of a small city which still has enough to offer so that one will never be bored.

To find out what is currently going on at the University and in Potsdam take a look at the university newspaper "Portal".

Text: Raik Mickler, Özgür Yildirim, Olga Prokopyeva, Jason Anthony Wilper and Marek Kneis, translated by Anna Buchwald and Jason Anthony Wilper

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