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Born in Hamburg, Kerstin von der Decken grew up in Mexico City and graduated from secondary school in Leverkusen, Germany. She studied law and international relations at the University of Bonn, the Institut d’Études Politiques Aix-en-Provence and the University of Trier. After having received the ‘Certificat d’Études Politiques’ from the University Sciences Po Aix in 1991, she passed her First State Examination in 1994.  Following this, she worked as a research fellow for Professor Dr. Dr. Udo Di Fabio and Professor Dr. Gerhard Robbers. In 1997, she completed her PhD in environmental law.

After her two-year legal clerkship in Cottbus she passed the Second State Examination in 1998. From 1998 to 2000 she built up and coordinated the interdisciplinary postgraduate Master ‘European studies' in Berlin.

In February 2004, Kerstin von der Decken was awarded her post-doctoral degree (‘Habilitation’) at the University of Trier for her thesis on ‘The Protection of Cultural Property: Development, Structure and Doctrine of a Comprehensive Multi-level Normative System’. She received the teaching credentials (venia legendi) for Public Law, Public International and European Law.

From October 2004 to January 2011, she held the Chair of Public International and European Law at the University of St. Gallen, Switzerland and became Dean of the Faculty of Law in 2009. Since 2011, after having received an offer of a professorship at the University of Kiel, Kerstin von der Decken is Professor for Public Law, Public International and European Law and Director of the Walther Schücking Institute for International Law. She was elected member of the Academy of Sciences and Humanities in Hamburg in 2015.

Since 2005, Kerstin von der Decken is in charge of various activities at the Hague Academy for International Law. For instance, from 2005 to 2008, she was programme coordinator for the seminars for advanced studies. In 2012, as French speaking Director of Studies, she was responsible for graduation preparation classes. She was a Visiting Professor at Panthéon Sorbonne University (2005), Georgetown University Law Center, Washington D.C. (2007), University of Oviedo (2008), and Panthéon-Assas University (2015). She also gives regular lectures at Paris-Sorbonne University Abu Dhabi (since 2009), the University of Graz (since 2012), the International Hellenic University Thessaloniki (since 2012), and the University of St. Gallen (since 2013).