Cultural Diplomacy News (CDN)
Frode Solberg (Cultural Attaché, Embassy of Norway in Germany)

07.09.2010 - Interview conducted by Melanie Blanc & Michaela Reimann

An introduction to German-Norwegian relations:
In the years between 1800 and 1914, many Germans felt a strong sense of identity with Nordic culture. However, the German occupation of Norway in World War II marked a low point in German-Norwegian relations, which had traditionally been very close. Willy Brandt, who had lived in political exile in Norway from 1933 to 1940, played a central role in reconciling the two countries after the war. Even prior to reunification, though, Germany had regained its role as one of Norway's most important partners in Europe. In 1999, the Norwegian government adopted a ‘German strategy’, which was updated in autumn 2003 and again in 2007. Its aim is to extend social contacts between the two countries. German-Norwegian relations in the post-war period have benefited from a successful reconciliation process and today Germany is Norway’s most important partner in Europe. However, the number of Norwegian students in Germany is falling, while more and more Germans are studying in Norway. Cooperation in the education sector has therefore come more to the fore in recent years thanks to the Norwegian government's ‘Germany strategy’ that specifically aims to promote the German language and German studies in general.

Frode Solberg has worked for the Norwegian Foreign Service since 1995. Before coming to Berlin he was Second Secretary at the Norwegian embassy in Vienna, First Secretary and DCM at the Norwegian embassy in Abu Dhabi, advisor in the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, assistant Director General in the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and has had since 2006 a position as Embassy Counsellor in the Norwegian embassy in Berlin. He lives in Berlin with his family.

What are the most successful and the most tumultuous experiences that you have had so far as the cultural attaché of the Royal Norwegian Embassy in Berlin?
Whereas culture is at the heart of Norwegian society, for me it is the first time in my career that I have worked “full time” for the cultural section of the embassy. For me, it is very interesting to work with the civil society and not only with states and other governments. It becomes generally more and more important to include civil society within the diplomatic discourse. In our embassy we have six to seven people working for the cultural department, which is more than in any other departments and shows how important public diplomacy, culture and the media are.

My best experience here was, and still is, to see the interest of Germans for Norway, for Norwegian culture, business life and other aspects. We feel very welcome here in Berlin. It is not always obvious that a small country like Norway has such a standing in Germany.
The most tumultuous experience of my work here was the state visit of his Majesty the King and her Majesty the Queen, who came to Germany last October. It was a pleasant, successful and important visit, and everything went well, but it was a very busy period for us. It was an important visit to underline the connection between the two countries. We touched many areas of this connection and launched some new initiatives, like the “Norwegian German Forum for Young People”. It is important that close European countries cultivate good relations.

Could you provide a bit of background about your career and the most exciting, interesting moments you experienced so far?  
My background does not have much to do with cultural work at an embassy; my main education comes from the Norwegian armed forces. I finished the Norwegian Military Academy in 1989. Within this education, disciplines like physics, chemistry and languages are taught. After my five years of study I applied for the Foreign Service. In our system, the first year contains a combination of work and education; the second year includes only education. After that, I went to Vienna where I worked on political, cultural and economical affairs. A big part of my work was in cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and other UN organizations. This was a very interesting and pleasant period.

After working in Vienna I moved to Abu Dhabi where I started my activities at the Norwegian Embassy. During that time I was Deputy Head of Mission, and therefore responsible for many different things, which is rather typical for Norwegian embassies, which are often very small. The UAE is an important place for Norwegian business life. Many companies are represented in the Gulf area. It was an especially hectic and challenging period since I was there from 2000, experiencing the regional situation after the terrorist attacks on,9/11 and later  on the start of the Iraq war The political importance of the Embassy became more evident due to the events in Afghanistan and Iraq. The region was the centre of attention in the world during this time and I learnt a lot.

What would you like to achieve during your time in Berlin regarding cultural-diplomatic relations?  
I will stay in Berlin until 2010. My goal is generally to represent Norway in Germany as a modern and exciting nation. There are so many links between Norway and Germany. Germany was already 100 years ago the place for Norwegian artists to go and to start discovering Europe and the rest of the world. This has not changed. Even today, Norwegian authors, musicians and painters regard Germany as a very important country, and there are a number of different activities and events every week. However, not all of those bilateral events and relations are linked to the embassy. It is our mission to establish contacts, not to organize events. However, a lot of those connections exist already and are automated and many artists therefore manage very well to get here on their own. In addition, Berlin has developed to become a melting pot for artists. It is an interesting city and artists are generally very eager to come to Berlin. We help as much as we can to find contact points and attractive places for our artists. But we also try to show them that all of Germany is interesting and that other cities than Berlin could offer a big audience too.

Within the cultural section of the Norwegian embassy we have different focuses. Language is one of them. It is very important for our country that young Norwegians learn German, since the relationship with Germany is so important to us. Literature and music are also very important areas. As part of that we are for example promoting Norwegian Jazz. Recently, we have also focused on design and architecture. We are also lucky to have an embassy building that offers us many possibilities to display our culture in our auditorium and the exhibition room.

Why do you think is Berlin so special and attractive for artists?  
Berlin is a dynamic city and its combination of east and west has added a very special momentum to it. Berlin has always been open-minded and opposite to conservative perspectives. It is also a cheap city with many available apartments making it attractive and especially possible to live in. Different platforms exist in Berlin, for literature, art, music and many other areas. For all these reasons Berlin is an exciting melting pot with many possibilities and areas where art work can be presented.

What history do German-Norwegian Relations have in relation to cultural diplomacy and cultural exchange? Do specific programs exist between the two countries?  
There are several agreements between universities and high schools. Different student exchange programs exist. The Universities mostly work together without our help. Their relations are already established and the embassy is only responsible for coordination. German-Norwegian relations are excellent and there are no dark clouds at all. Germany is Norway’s most important political, business related and cultural partner within Europe, a point  expressed by his Majesty the King and her Majesty the Queen as well as the Minister of Foreign Affairs. Some Norwegian music groups are even more famous in Germany than in Norway and many important artists are touring regularly in Germany.

The name of Willy Brandt stands for fostering democratic awareness and understanding between societies and cultures. Especially for the development of German-Norwegian relations Willy Brandt played an outstanding role. What influence does the work of the Willy Brandt Foundation, which aims to increase and improve cultural exchange between Norway and Germany, have on the cultural programs of the Norwegian embassy in Berlin? Do joint programs exist?  

Willy Brandt is an extremely important figure for German-Norwegian relations and he has always been very popular in Norway. In general, we can say that we have a close cooperation with his foundation. The Foundation is an entity of itself of course, but we try to support projects they are working on. To a certain extent the foundation has a different approach to German-Norwegian projects. Our work is directed towards promoting Norway in Germany whereas the Foundation is working on both ways. For me, cultural diplomacy means promoting Norwegian culture as part of advertising Norway as a modern nation. And this also means creating platforms for understanding. However, the line between cultural diplomacy and public diplomacy is very thin. Therefore, it is sometimes difficult for the different societies within Norway to understand what we are doing and to see our priorities. We always try to focus our work on Norway as a whole and we do not use culture as a "back drop". On the contrary, we spend a lot of time on cultural presentations. Culture is very important, it is not "just" culture anymore. Within this field, cultural diplomacy stands by itself. So to conclude, I would say that the foundation and our embassy are both doing cultural diplomacy. But I do not think that the foundation would go into a unilateral project. We are working together on a daily basis but with a somewhat different approach, although with the same objective.

The Norwegian minister for foreign affairs, Mister Jonas Gahr Støre, said about the Germany-Strategy of Norway that it is his goal to improve and maintain with its help the good and innovative German-Norwegian relations and cooperation. Could you explain to us how and why good relations with Germany are important for Norway and what the main interests of the two countries are?  
I would not like to put one area in front of the other because the Norwegian-German connection covers many important areas within politics, business and culture. In any of those fields, there is probably no other country than Germany that is so important for Norway. Therefore, the connection between the two countries is so close. For Germany, Norway is especially important because of the gas industry. More than 25% of the gas that Germany uses comes from Norway. But we also know that there is a large interest for Norwegian culture in Germany. Many Germans travel as tourists to our country. Every fourth tourist in Norway is German. Furthermore, it is interesting to see that although Norway is a small country, we feel that Germany listens to Norway with interest and we discuss all issues on an equal basis.

The German Norwegian Network (GNN) is similar to ICD’s Young Leaders Forum because it aims to connect young leaders from both countries. What is the importance of the GNN for Germany and Norway with reference to cultural-diplomacy relations?
GNN is an area where young leaders can meet and discuss different themes. The Network mainly focuses young people from the business area, but it can also be extended to other areas. An interesting project where the GNN is involved was launched last October during the state visit of his Majesty the King and her Majesty the Queen. The German - Norwegian youth-forum was established, and is directed towards young people aged between 16 and 20. The forum will meet once a year to discuss cultural experiences and different political themes such as energy, climate change, internet and many other subjects. The forum also aims to stress the importance of the knowledge of languages. Unfortunately, the interest for German as a language is declining in Norway. But because Germany is such an important partner for us, there is a need for young people to understand the importance of speaking German. The idea of such a youth forum was launched by the Norwegian embassy, but there are many different partners cooperating with us in this respect.

What influence has the Norwegian Royal Family, with its centuries-old history, got on today’s very modern state Norway, its citizens and the relationship with other countries, especially Germany?
Politically the Royal family has no real influence anymore. More important is the support that the Royal family gives to the society in general that is very important. They have adjusted to modern times and manage that very well. We have a Royal family that people can connect to and they are seen as being very close to society. To a certain extent they take part in discussions going on in society and show community-responsibility too. For example, the Royal family has a high interest in international issues, the United Nations and takes part in many different meetings. This proximity to the civil society might also be the reason that the public supports the Royals so much. There is also an intercultural exchange within Scandinavia guided by the Royals. For example, the Norwegian and Swedish royal family have a close relationship and promote culture in both directions. The Queen is very interested in art, especially painting. She herself paints, and has a high knowledge about what is going on in the art world. Our royal family is very down to earth and so is Norwegian society in general.

Interview by Melanie Blanc and Michaela Reimann