by (Miklós K. Lázár)
Last August I travelled to Germany for what is likely to become not only my latest, but also my last professional internship experience. The Hamburg Chamber of Commerce (Handelskammer Hamburg) agreed to host me as part of their engagement with PRIMO despite my limited control of the German language and assigned me to a number of projects which were better suited to my own academic and professional profile. It goes without saying that given this positive welcome my expectations were fairly high and I was also looking forward to a period of progress in my own strain of research.
On this occasion I found Hamburg to be just as green, clean, and welcoming as usual. Indeed, due to my being part of PRIMO – a researcher training programme which happens to be headquartered in Hamburg as well – the city already felt a little bit like a second home prior to arrival. However, this was my first proper, long stay in-town and so it was also the very first time I came to more fully realize how many subtle forms of prosperity and comfort Hamburg actually offered. Indeed – in stark contrast with the romantic grandeur and often tourist-oriented features of cities like Paris and Rome (or the subcultural scenes of places like Berlin and Amsterdam) – Hamburg’s smart, sophisticated, and distinctively hanseatic legacy continues to permeate many aspects of local life. Although one might not fully comprehend how those traits are maintained, but general politeness, attention to detail, ingrained elegance, and business-like talk remain some of the key ingredients of local culture and will be encountered throughout the city.
Whilst staying at this actual ‘Gateway to the World’ (Tor zur Welt) I also learnt a little bit about the particular ideas and traits that enabled Hamburg to become the mercantile powerhouse it is today. Over time, my experiences there helped me to realize how location, opportunity for trade, and skilled navigation were but wheels in a more complex machinery; the city’s success has perhaps more to do with mentality than geography, luck, or even sheer capacities. Hamburg has social capital fit for a global scale.
Amongst the many forms of subtle affluence present in Hamburg, I should definitely mention the excellent cultural, leisure, and shopping opportunities or the fact that – when it comes to international cuisine or authentic fish dishes, the culinary institutions of Hamburg are comparable only to the other major hubs of the world. Those early morning breakfasts at the Central Fish Market and the collegial business lunches at the Fischfeinkost Delikatessen des Meeres restaurant will be equally hard to forget.
Considering the internship itself, I must immediately thank my supervisor, Dr Doris Hillger, who had a major part in the overall positive experience. She endeavoured not only to properly show me what her daily duties entailed, but also took me to a great number of interesting business meetings; introduced me to intriguing social as well as sensitive business topics; and was always ready to listen to my – in retrospect: occasionally utterly – idealist views with enduring patience (only to give excellent answers and great advice in return). With her, I learnt a great deal about the EU’s new non-financial reporting directive and its potential impact on SMEs as well as the meaning and implications of ‘fair trade’ to Hamburg based businesses. At this juncture, I must emphasize that I could write pages about positive experiences, but the bottom line is that I will always think of Doris Hillger as one of my best bosses (yes, Doris, you are!).
I am also very grateful to all my colleagues at the International Department of the Chamber and especially those working for the Foreign Trade Promotion and International Markets Unit. I felt most welcome from day one, as they were always ready to help and include me in daily affairs. I am also very grateful to our head of department, Corinna Nienstedt and deputy head Heinz Werner Dickmann for hosting me in such a friendly and open way; to Susanne Küchmeister for choosing to work with me on Russian trade related matters; to Johanna Seidl and Cornelia von See for all their kind assistance throughout the period; and to Lisa Gathen, Philip Koch, Axel Rostalski, Audrius Vaitiekunas, and – especially – Timm Rohweder for making my stay with the HCC a great collegial experience (the latter list is by no means exhaustive!).
As for my academic progress, I wish to thank Doris Hillger yet again for introducing me to the Chamber’s respective experts and allowing me to work on my doctoral research in a flexible way. While in Hamburg, I was able to reach out to a number of people within my own field of academic interest and got a great deal of work on my thesis sorted as well. In light of these impressions with the Chamber and my overall experience with the city, I found my internship in Germany to be immensely productive and successful.