As with all DBis, aspiring MBAs register for a course under the guise of learning about some niche topic specific to the country they will study in but, in reality, they are just looking for an excuse to travel and check out a spot they think will be fun… the Berlin DBi was no different. I’m pretty sure NYU didn’t even post the course curriculum before registration opened (don’t fact check me on this), so we all blindly selected the Berlin DBi with no idea what we were getting ourselves into aside from trying to have a fun time in Germany. My mom actually asked before I left, “What will you be learning in Berlin?” My response was “I have no idea, but I heard we get to go to a Porsche factory and ride on their F1 racetrack (true story), so that should be pretty cool.”
I later learned that the actual course content of the DBi focused on the startup community within Germany. Time in the classroom was split between traditional lectures run by professors from HHL Leipzig Graduate School of Management, one of Europe’s top business schools, and in-person meetings with entrepreneurs.
The lectures focused on the history of the German economy from the rise of the Berlin Wall through to today. As a history buff, I thought it was fascinating to hear the stories of highly educated individuals who lived through the Soviet dominion of East Germany and East Berlin and actually saw the Wall go down. The collapse of the Berlin Wall was one of the greatest geopolitical events of the late 20th century, and its implications are still felt deeply today across much of Europe.
It was not all backward looking as we did learn much about the modern German economy and discussed in detail their energy dependence on Russia and the impossible moral dilemma they face with the winter months approaching and the war in Ukraine still raging. The reflective and candid views of the HHL professors were thought provoking and captivating.
Outside of the classroom we had several site visits and meetings with local entrepreneurs and small business owners. Their businesses included a German venture capital firm, a B2B payments servicer (think Venmo for businesses rather than individuals), a craft brewery (with samples), a fashion e-commerce company and a little-known auto manufacturer, Porsche.
The Porsche Factory and their F1 racetrack were the highlights of the trip. Before we took our tour of the manufacturing plant, we had to hand over our phones and cameras and place them in a locker to protect their trade secrets. I was instantly blown away the moment we entered the facility. It was surreal seeing conveyor belts on the ceiling holding fully made Porsches and seeing them glide above your head. There were also a bunch of R2-D2 looking robots scurrying all over the factory bringing tools, widgets, and even food to the workers across the plant. If you got too close to one of the R2-D2s it would stop and make a light beeping sound. It felt like we were in the future.
After the tour of the plant, we went to their F1 racetrack, and this well-built professional driver sporting a bald head, a thick gray beard, and dark aviators came whizzing around the corner in one of their race cars and screeched to a halt just in front of us. Our tour guide stepped up and opened the door, with heavy metal music blasting from the car and said in a thick German accent, “You can come in now.” I still remember the smell of the burning rubber.
We stepped in the car in groups of three and went from zero to 175 in about three seconds (don’t fact check me). It felt like we were on a rollercoaster. Between the roaring engines, the heavy metal and the screeching sound every time we rounded a turn, you could barely hear yourself think. At one point during the drive, the driver looked at the student sitting in the front seat, who was absolutely still in the front seat with her eyes wide open, grasping tightly to whatever she could get her hands on, and said “You must breathe.” When the ride, which was probably about two minutes but felt like two hours, ended, we all came out dizzy with wobbly legs. A few of the other students wisely brought some pills for motion sickness, which were absolutely necessary if you have a queasy stomach, especially if you sat in the backseat. Now that was a once in a lifetime experience.
Another highlight of the DBi was our dinner at Café Einstein Stammhaus, a high scale German restaurant in Berlin. Aside from the awesome vibes, food and drinks, it happens to be the same restaurant where the famous “strudel with cream” scene from Inglourious Basterds was filmed (for anyone thinking they just caught a typo, you did not, Quentin Tarantino intentionally misspelled the title of the movie for “artistic” reasons). It was a very cool and novel experience for any Quentin Tarantino fan.
As stated above, I am a history buff and, like all history buffs, we are fascinated with WWII. Berlin was the epicenter of evil at that time, and to the credit of the Germans today, they own it. They don’t gloss over the ugly details either. You can’t walk two city blocks and not find a memorial to the victims of the Holocaust. Jews, LGBTQs, Soviets, Poles, Serbs, disabled persons, gypsies, and many more – there were monuments to all. It was eerie and honorable at the same time as they took great genuine care to make sure not a single victim was forgotten. It was a constant reminder how delicate civility can be and how quickly and viciously even a highly educated nation can slip into absolute darkness. If you find yourself in Berlin and are interested in history, I highly suggest going to the Topography of Terror Museum. It is not for the faint of heart and has similar vibes to the 9/11 Museum at Ground Zero. It’s a highly somber experience and it comes as close to anything I’ve ever seen to answering the question “How did this happen?”
As with all DBis and travel abroad experiences, if we’re being honest with ourselves, we go in there thinking we’re just going to have a good time. However, somehow at the end of it all, we actually got tricked into learning through experience, cultural immersion, and yes, even the classroom. We came out the other end with a new appreciation for a previously unfamiliar way of living, learning and doing business. We are more well-rounded and are better people as a result. The Berlin DBi was an absolute blast and a highly rewarding experience. I would recommend it to all… even to those who get motion sickness.