News from Berlin

Dutch Cultural Diplomacy in Germany

February 28th, 2014
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“It is essential to bear in mind that the Netherlands does not have a strongly developed ‘national mission’ abroad (…). The Netherlands does not have a tradition of promotion of language, image or culture abroad. In this context, the essence of the Dutch cultural policy is to promote and facilitate cultural exchanges and to profile the Netherlands as a freeport where cultural interaction takes place and is stimulated so as to enhance its quality and diversity.”

Dr. Henk Voskamp, Deputy Ambassador for International Cultural Relations, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, The Hague, foreign Cultural policy in Europe: The Netherlands foreign cultural policy in an enlarged Union.

Foreign cultural policy

News from Berlin. Representing a nation abroad is usually the role of embassies, which have several subcommittees promoting different areas such as economics, culture and politics. The Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs went one step further and appointed a number of special ambassadors, each dedicated to one particular theme:

Ambassador for International Cultural Co-operation: The position of Ambassador for International Cultural Cooperation was created in 1980, in response to the Ministry’s increasing focus on international cultural policy. Today, culture is an integral part of Dutch foreign policy. Cultural diplomacy can take many forms. Culture has the power to open doors in foreign relations and can be a catalyst for discussion and social change, both at home and abroad
Ambassador for International Organisations: The Netherlands’ reputation as host country depends in large part on the way it welcomes international organisations. These organisations, their employees and the latter’s families are also a boon to the local economy. In 2005, the Cabinet decided to develop a coherent, government-wide policy to improve the Netherlands’ performance as a host country, which included the appointment of a special Ambassador for International Organisations (AMIO).
Human Rights Ambassador: The Netherlands has had a special ambassador dedicated to human rights since 1999. The position gives the Netherlands a visible, distinctive profile in the area of human rights. The Human Rights Ambassador also strives for greater coherence in Dutch human rights policy.
Special Representative for Neighbouring Countries: The head of the Europe Department (DEU) also acts as the Netherlands’ Special Representative for Neighbouring Countries. The Special Representative’s main goal is to strengthen relations with Germany and Belgium, starting with the North Rhine-Westphalia and Flanders border areas. He also seeks to ensure a strategic and consistent approach to policy regarding cross-border cooperation with Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg.

The embassy in Berlin: a focus on informing

The Dutch embassy is a bilateral mission in Berlin and promotes The Netherlands’ interests in Germany. The department of Culture and Communication is responsible for promoting Dutch culture and language in its host country. It plays an important role in the fostering of cultural exchange and cooperation between the two nations.

German organisations that want to organise an event that seeks to improve the cultural profile of The Netherlands in Germany or strengthen the ties between both countries can apply for funding. Overall, the embassy’s function is mainly informative: it supplies information about the Dutch government and its policies, the Royal Family, Dutch society, cultural institutions, the education system and Dutch scholarships. It also executes the international cultural policies of the Netherlands in Germany and maintains contact with the German and Dutch press.

Apart from its focus on providing information, the embassy occasionally organize events, with the purpose of mainly drawing attention to specific important or sensitive subjects to The Netherlands or its inhabitants. On 12 June 2013, for example, the Dutch Embassy in Berlin hosted an event to honour 23 youths who had been active in organising initiatives and projects for the remembrance of Anne Frank. The 23 ‘Anne-Frank Botschafter’ (Anne Frank Ambassadors) were praised for their work in promoting democracy and freedom. A few months later, on 8 November, Dutch author Otto de Kat was invited by the Dutch Embassy to read excerpts from his new book ‘Eine Tochter in Berlin’ (A Daughter in Berlin). The story, which takes place in Germany during the Second World War, tells of a Dutch diplomat and his efforts to save his family.

The Facebook-page of the Netherlands Embassy in Berlin is the go-to place for more Netherlands-related activities in Berlin. Here it is visible to the broader audience that the embassy promotes various kinds of cultural activities, from book presentations to plays and concerts. Another website that is referred to for Netherlands-related activities in Germany is buitengaats.

Non-official promotion of Dutch culture in Germany

Because the Dutch embassy’s role is supportive, the vast majority of events is organised by private organisations. These organisations cover a wide range of activities, from promoting the Dutch language to museums celebrating Dutch culture and even celebrating some of the Dutch holidays. Some of these are for profit, others are just to unite people who have a common interest. Some examples are listed below. Three of them are situated in or around Berlin and the other one is based in Cologne.

Nederlandse Avond

Since 1994, there has been one place in Berlin where everybody who is interested in the Dutch language can go to. It is called the Nederlandse Avond (The Dutch evening). It takes place once a month. This means there are no special interest groups behind it: no businesses, no public organisations, and no ecclesiastical authorities.

The meeting point is in a classroom of a primary school in the heart of the city, close to the Brandenburger Tor. The Nederlandse Avond is organised on Mondays. You can find more information, as well as the contact address on their website.

Oranje Berlin e.V.

The football club Oranje Berlin was established in 2009 through Michel Kooistra and can be seen as a reaction to an increase in disciplinary problems and intolerance in amateur football in Berlin. The club aims at achieving a multicultural platform by following a strict code of ethics and principles where tolerance and respect play a dominant role. The international and multicultural character of the club is evident in all areas including its name, which includes the Dutch ‘Oranje’ and the German ‘Berlin’, its use of the Dutch and German language, as well as its coaching staff which covers eight different nationalities. From a sporting perspective, it also becomes clear that the club tries to adopt the Dutch way of playing by focusing on an expressive passing game. The club currently holds 14 youth teams with ages ranging from 5 to 16 years.

Oranje Berlin aims at attacking problems such as intolerance and discrimination by facilitating a multicultural interaction between young players. Here, the unifying power of football is emphasized whilst it is expected that cultural exchange will ultimately help to achieve the goals of the club.

Forderverein zur Pflege niederländischer Kultur in Potsdam e.V.

This Potsdam-based organisation promotes Dutch culture and its influence on Potsdam’s art scene mainly through its Jan Bouman House. In the house, which in the 18th century was the first house specifically built for migrants in Potsdam, the society organises expositions that either have a Dutch theme or display works by Dutch artists, as well as lectures and meeting sessions.

Additionally, the society celebrates two important Dutch holidays each year: Sinterklaas in the first week of December and the Tulpenfeest in April. Sinterklaas is the Dutch precursor to Santa Claus: it also involves a somewhat older man with a beard handing out presents to kids who have behaved well throughout the year. The elves, however, are replaced by zwarte pieten, Sinterklaas’ loyal helpers, and he arrives by steam boat instead of by sled. Tulpenfeest is an event during which people get to taste traditional Dutch food, dance to music played on ancient Dutch instruments or see how artisans produce Dutch porcelain or clothes.

Deutsch-Niederländische Gesellschaft Köln

As early as the 16th century there has been a close relationship between Cologne and The Netherlands. This strong relationship is being continued through the German-Dutch Association Cologne (DNG Köln), established in 2000. The DNG Cologne serves as a platform that offers space for German and Dutch people in Cologne, to deepen and intensify this historic relationship on a cultural, social and economic-political level. The DNG Köln exists and develops through its contacts, activities and the contribution of its members.

In April for example, the birthday of King Willem Alexander is celebrated in Cologne. In May there is a big celebration of the 200 years of existence of the Kingdom of the Netherlands and the 425 years of Dutch Representation in Cologne. ‘Het Grote Oranje Bal’, will be a big event which includes live music, dance and food.

Dutch Cultural Diplomacy

The Netherlands does not aim at promoting its culture in other countries. Here, a different approach is taken which focuses on enabling cultural exchanges. One can therefore say that the Netherlands uses cultural diplomacy in the sense that it promotes interaction between different cultures.

Photos © Embassy of Netherlands in Berlin

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