This week was Berlin’s Fashion Week and Grüne Woche. I missed both in order to go court and learn German legalese- and I loved it! I am currently doing a legal internship through a Berlin law office and the Justiz Zentrum Potsdam (thanks to the fact that my host father is a Rechtsanwalt, and my host mom was a judge before she became involved in Berlin city politics).
This week, one of the judges from the chamber I’m working with at the Justiz Zentrum Potsdam (Potsdam is the former East German city just to the SW of Berlin- it’s practically in my backyard, a beautifully short commute!) allowed me to sit in on some of her cases, and then even took me with her to an offsite “Ortstermin.” If you look up “Ortstermin” in LEO, a discussion forum comes up that interprets it as “the scene of the crime.” I suppose this is true, in a way, and maybe the term does mean that literally if one heard it on “Tatort.” Given that I’m working with a civil court, our Ortstermin was not nearly as dramatic as the term sounds.
It was a case in which a woman was suing the man who built and sold her her house. According to her, he made everything cheaply, and it started falling apart immediately. So, when the judge and I came to the “scene of the crime,” it was really a time for several lawyers, an expert on housing, and the lady who owned the house to look at all the places in the house where she claimed it had been faultily designed and for each to make his or her own assessment of the situation. Apparently, judges are always invited to an Ortstermin, but they are not obliged to go, and rarely do. The lawyers were pretty surprised then when the judge showed up, and not only that- she had me and a very nice, blonde Referendarin in tow! (A Referendar/in is a German law student who has passed his or her First States Exam, and is interning with a law office or a court before taking the second exam.) The judge, the Referandarin, the lawyers, the lady who owned the house, and I followed an expert around the outside and inside of the house for almost three hours, listening to the listing of the accusations against the defendant, and documenting the offending areas of the house with photos in preparation for the hearing.
While the Referendarin and I probably would have appreciated knowing in advance we were going to spend two hours walking around in the snow (it was -11 degrees Celsius that morning!), I thought it was all fascinating. The fact that everything took place in German may have added to the interest level, but I thoroughly enjoyed the chance to watch the judge/lawyer/plaintiff dynamic out-of-court. Even when certain German legal terms went over my head and I didn’t understand exactly what was happening, I learned a lot about German civil and professional procedure. The German legal system is pretty interesting to begin with, because it is based off of law books, rather than natural law and case law, and there is no jury.
Stay tuned for more on courts, and the German justice system….