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The Ambassadors: 'Half the population of Stockholm was German in medieval times'

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The Ambassadors: 'Half the population of Stockholm was German in medieval times'
Dr. Joachim Bertele and Christina Beinhoff, who are married, share the ambassador role on a rotating basis. Photo: German Embassy, Stockholm

In the latest article of our Ambassadors series, The Local speaks to German ambassador Joachim Bertele, who says relations between the two countries are “very tight”, today ranging from collaborating on electric cars to Sweden’s Nato bid.


Since August 2021 the post of Germany's ambassador to Sweden has been held jointly by married couple Dr. Joachim Bertele and Christina Beinhoff.

The Local spoke to Bertele as part of our regular series of interviews with ambassadors in Sweden. You can listen to his interview in the February 18th episode of our Sweden in Focus podcast here.

The embassy helps the tens of thousands of Germans in Sweden with issues like passports, registering children born in Sweden or helping out with emergencies like losing documents or illness.


Germans don't need to apply for visas or permits to visit or work in Sweden, but the embassy knows there are at least 30,000 Germans living here, as well as "thousands" of German students and tourists.

Bertele expects there are far more Swedes with German roots, because the links go back so far. In 1522, ten ships from Germany were key to winning independence for Sweden, and there were many Germans living in the country at that time.

“In medieval times, half of the Stockholm population was German," Bertele said.

Back then, the German community in Sweden was above all else a community of rich merchants and skilled artisans.

In 1571 this community, the oldest congregation outside Germany, founded a German church in Stockholm with a spire that still rises high above Gamla stan, with a German school opening in 1612.

Nowadays, Bertele said, German citizens moving to Sweden are more likely to be doctors than merchants or stone masons.

"We have about a thousand people coming to Sweden in 2021 alone," he said. "So you have a mixture, but I would say that lately medical doctors, people from academia and business are the predominant professional groups that are coming."

'Stockholm is one of the nicest cities in the world'

Germans like Sweden for its beauty, and also its equality, Bertele explained.

“A city like Stockholm is one of the nicest cities in the world, between Mälaren and the Baltic Sea,” he said, adding that the Swedish capital is a “very good mixture between very good to live in and a kind of society that is attractive.”

“It's an interesting society between modernity, rationality, and traditions.”

Bertele described Swedes as being "open" and "respectful", adding that this openness makes German-Swedish relations run smoothly.

“If we talk to our colleagues on the Swedish side, whether it's business or diplomacy, then we'll always find open doors and people who want to help us and that makes our professional life very, very easy.”

Sweden's largest trading partner

Germany is Sweden’s biggest trading partner with an exchange estimated by the ambassador at 40 billion euros.

Germany is the destination of around ten percent of Sweden’s exports, and the origin of around 17 percent of Sweden’s imports.

Bertele explained that the economic links are broad, ranging from the automobile and chemical industry to medical products and furniture, with cooperation on green projects a particularly clear aspect of the economic relationship.

“If you look at enterprises like [car battery maker] Northvolt, or H2 Green Steel or even [German-owned] Cementa, in all those issues where we are trying to get green, there is a very close Swedish-German cooperation,” he said.

Regarding Sweden’s newly-discovered reserves of rare metals, the ambassador foresees collaboration between the countries but also says patience will be needed to address environmental concerns and the needs of people who live in the local area.


Cross-border cooperation

Bertele tells The Local that he did have some surprises when he came to Sweden.

One was that Stockholm’s rocky terrain has so many hidden mountains – and another was learning about Sweden's issues with gang criminality.

Sweden and Germany’s cross-border cooperation is also part of tacking that issue, he explained.

“Parts of criminality are national, but the international police have to work together to exchange data and to fight this criminality," he said.

Another aspect of security cooperation hinges on the military alliance Nato.

“For us now, one of the major issues is Sweden becoming a member of Nato”, Bertele said. “We think that our security is best served with Finland and Sweden coming to the fore."


"We are also a contact point embassy of Nato here in Sweden, so we try to help as far as we can. We think that Sweden has done lots of steps to implement the memorandum with Turkey and Finland, and we hope that we find a positive solution to that issue very soon.”

Last week German foreign minister Annalena Baerbock travelled to Sweden and Finland for talks to help move along the Nato membership process for the two countries.

And those German ships which fought for Sweden in 1522?

They are now regarded as the genesis of the Swedish navy. In 2022 the head of the Swedish navy, Rear Admiral Ewa Skoog Haslum, returned to Lübeck to make sure Sweden had fully paid for the ships and dispel any rumours that Swedish King Gustav Vasa had stolen them.

As a joke - but also as a sign of the warm ties between Germany and Sweden.

Interview by Paul O'Mahony, article by Loukas Christodoulou


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