Interview with Nina Röhlcke, the Cultural Counselor of the Embassy of Sweden to Germany

Bringing Swedish Culture to Germany

June 28th, 2019
Elena Belenova, Rodolfo Fabbria, News from Berlin

We had the privilege of interviewing Nina Röhlcke, the Cultural Counselor of the Embassy of Sweden to Germany in the headquarters of the Nordic embassies.

Located near the park Tiergarten, it is a futuristic building that combines modernity and Nordic tradition. The building is host to the embassies of Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland, and Iceland. Mrs. Röhlcke explainsed to us that it is the only case of a joint embassy in Berlin and one of the few in the world.

The idea of creating a shared Embassy building had both a political and practical goal: all the embassies had to move from Bonn to Berlin after the German reunification, so the creation of a bigger embassy that could host all the five Nordic countries was a good opportunity and an additional proof of the close and friendly relationships amongst the countries.  The building was inaugurated in 1999, so this year there is going to be a celebration for the 20th anniversary. The two pictures above were taken where the shovels used by the five ambassadors to start the works for the construction of the building are conserved. Nina Röhlcke is the counsellor for the culture of the Ambassador H.E. Per Thöresson since 2014 and before this date, she worked many years as a manager at the Culture Center in Stockholm. 

How does Sweden promote its culture abroad? Are there any differences in the promotion related to the country where you operate?

Well, obviously the whole idea behind cultural diplomacy is trying to find common ground in the country we are in. Traditionally, Sweden has produced a significant amount of literature since WWII, in particular focused on children and crime literature. The Germans, for example, love Swedish crime literature.  In addition, Swedish comics are quite popular in this period: in these days there is an exhibition about Swedish comics here at the Nordic Embassies. It is interesting that this generation of Swedish comic writers tends to be women who write about women heroes, which makes them more peculiar and intriguing. 

In South Africa, for example, Sweden works a lot with music and fashion. This sector is more and more connected to environmental sustainability, the issue to which Sweden gives great importance. We are proud of the mission of the young activist Greta Thunberg, who has been able to interest her peers that aren’t even allowed to vote and that normally don’t care about politics.

What is the role that Sweden plays in the UNESCO?

Our government and people believe that the preservation of our common heritage has fundamental importance and UNESCO is the place where it can be achieved at a global level. Sweden is particularly active in the projects concerning the involvement of young people in the preservation of our cultural heritage.  

What is the specific activity in the cultural field of the Swedish embassy here in Berlin?

Since it is the only case where we share our embassies, here in Berlin we work quite a lot in cooperation with the other Nordic countries. In the next months, for example, we are organizing an exhibition together about the sea and the oceans. In general, we encourage cultural activities carried out by Germans and Swedes together. Normally, our job is to connect them to foundations that can fund their projects. This year Sweden was partner of the Hannover Fair for industrial technology, so our embassy worked a lot in its promotion here in Germany, probably our biggest effort this year. We were really satisfied of the outcome of our job: five Swedish ministers and Prince Carl Philip visited the Fair. As I mentioned before, events related to our literature are common at our embassy here in Berlin. We are also promoting a new Swedish tendency. Do you know what “plogging” is? It is basically going out jogging, but also picking up waste. In Swedish “plocka upp” means “to pick up”, so combined with jogging we have created the word plogging. Last year we had a plogging event in Tiergarten with all the Ambassadors of the Nordic countries. This physical activity is already very popular in Sweden, but it’s spreading in Germany and in other countries. As you can see, we are particularly concerned with the issues of the environment and of climate change. I believe that it is related to the fact that we really live in touch with nature and so we can quite fast see the changes. For example, when you see with your own eyes that the lake where you have always been fishing in every summer since you were a kid doesn’t have fish anymore, you begin to realize how serious the challenge is. 

Do you work together with the German embassy in Stockholm? 

Sometimes it happens, yes.  For example, this year, we collaborated for the preparation of two similar events about sustainable fashion that took place in our embassies. We promote Sweden in Germany and they do the other way round, so sometimes it is useful to cooperate and we are happy to do it.

How much do you think Greta’s activity influence the recent European elections? What are your comments about them?

We were quite relieved that the far-right party did not grow very much. The result was similar to the last general elections, with a high turnout, which is always something positive. In contradiction to other countries, like for example Germany, the Green Party did not perform that well. It could appear strange that this happens in Greta’s country, but I think that this is also due to the fact that most of the other parties managed to present very serious plans for the environment and to tackle climate change.

Considering the recent events, do you consider right now immigration one of the main concerns of Sweden and Europe?

Of course, it is. I think that Europe should really make a deal to take care of it as a union. Germany and Sweden are sided by side in this idea. As a cultural diplomat, I believe that the role of culture is really important for inclusiveness. The teaching of the local language to the newcomers has vital importance since it is an indispensable element for integration. Germany and Sweden have already good programs for that. I think that the situation was worse in 2015 and 2016 when we faced the refugee crisis and the terrorist attacks in Stockholm and Berlin. Apparently, the situation is now improved and we are really relieved for it, although we have to continue to work hard on it since it is one of the main challenges of our times. 

As a Russian, I would like to ask you my last question about the Swedish-Russian relations. 

In my personal experience, I don’t work often with Russians in cultural exchanges, but I know that there are many Russian artists working in Germany and Sweden. I believe that culture is the key to understand that we are all the same, with the same needs and the same hopes, so the best way is cooperation. Swedes and Russians don’t know each other enough, so cultural diplomacy can help in knowing each other and find common grounds. I can say that, personally, I love the Russian language and I wish I could speak it! 

As the interns of the ICD we wanted to express gratitude for such a warming welcome from the Nordic embassies, as well as their members, as it was a very enriching experience and a unique opportunity to meet the Counselor of Culture of Swedish Ambassador and get to know closer the activities that the Embassy make on a daily basis. Thanks to an elaborate explanation of Nina Röhlcke, some of the very important aspects of the cultural cooperation were discussed, showing that the activities of the Nordic Embassies, and especially of the Swedish Embassy, is an example to follow in terms of cultural diplomacy and sustainable relations between countries.

News from Berlin