New Zealand Embassy Berlin, Germany

German Spotlight on New Zealand

Deputy Prime Minister English at opening of NZ pavilion

Ambassador Peter Rider reflects on the Frankfurt Book Fair and associated events in 2012.

I am always saying that the biggest challenge facing the Berlin Embassy is simply to get New Zealand “onto the German radar screen”.  But in 2012 that has not been an issue.   Our Guest of Honour Status at the Frankfurt Book Fair, and associated events like the Frankfurt Museumsuferfest (River Festival) and the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Maori wharenui Rauru in Hamburg, have put New Zealand centre stage in an unprecedented way this year.

With the Book Fair behind us (and before we get back to “real” work) we are taking a moment to catch our breaths and look back over the past few months of New Zealand’s public diplomacy efforts in Germany.  They have not come cheap - Government agencies committed over $5 million directly to the Guest of Honour project; together with the Museumsuferfest and Rauru projects, and commitments in kind, we are talking about $6 million all up being spent over the past few months.

Has it been worth it?  From the Embassy’s perspective, especially when I look at the full-page spreads in Der Tagesspeigel, die Zeit and the hundreds of other articles we have clipped, it must be yes!  A change from the “silly” stories about New Zealand I so often get asked about (“German tourist arrested with lizards in his underwear”, “possum throwing contests”…).

2012 has also seen visits by Prime Minister Key, and DPM English for the opening of the Book Fair. But the real messages about New Zealand have been delivered by ordinary, and extraordinary, “Kiwis” at the various and very public events in Frankfurt and Hamburg.

MFAT underwrote New Zealand’s participation as Guest of Honour at the Museumsuferfest in late August.  This River Festival  attracts 3m visitors over three days, and the New Zealand arena, stage, wine beer and and food stand, Maori carvers and contemporary and Maori/Pacific entertainers was a major drawcard.  I had the honour, wearing a korowai, being paddled down the river Main in a waka with Frankfurt Mayor Peter Feldmann, to open the Festival.  The waka, from Leiden was crewed by members of the Leiden rowing club  who impressed the crowds not just with their paddling and Maori dress but also their wonderful  chanting.  A fantastic performance by these sons and daughters of old, not new  “Zeeland”.

The only downside to the event was that we had underestimated the crowds interested in New Zealand – and ran out of beef, lamb and venison early every day!

Maori culture, in the form of the wahrenui Rauru,  was the focus of events in Hamburg on the eve of the Book Fair.  Rauru is probably the finest meeting house outside of New Zealand, and has been housed in the Hamburg Ethnology Museum for 100 years.  With support from the City of Hamburg, the New Zealand Historic Places Trust, MFAT and NZTE, Rauru  was extensively refurbished over the course of 2012, and was re-opened in the presence of over 50 members of the Te Arawa iwi, its original constructers/carvers.

A series of events including a dawn blessing, a record-breaking public day (2800 visitors), culminated in the formal welcome of DPM English and Hamburg Mayor Scholz (who delighted the Geman media by accepting the wero challenge), the re-opening and a gala evening for nearly 300 business and official guests with New Zealand wine, food and Maori performances by Te Arawa group Ngati Tarawhaia. 

 Te Arawa and the Museum signed a protocol setting out the future status of Rauru – its spiritual ownership by Te Arawa, its guardianship (kaitiaki) by the Museum, the right of Te Arawa to overnight in Rauru, and (generously) free entry to the Museum in future for all New Zealanders.  As Museum Director Dr Koepke explained it “this is your turangawaewae in Hamburg”. (The protocol is in German and English, the suggestion of an additional Maori version being met with the comment that “two languages are enough, as we well know”.) 

 For the  Te Arawa this was a hugely emotional event, especially for descendants of the original carver of Rauru, Tene Waitere.  Rauru, its history, renovation and cultural significance are the subject of a 500 page book House Rauru, produced by the Museum and with 27 contributors including Professor Paul Tapsell and Te Ururoa Flavell.  The Embassy contributed to the translation of this book, under the Frankfurt Book Fair umbrella, seeing it as a special literary legacy of our Guest of Honour year.  And of course, Rauru will be an ambassador for New Zealand in Hamburg for the next 100 years.

 Hamburg, exciting as it was, was dwarfed by the Book Fair itself.  This is the largest book fair in the world, attracting more than 280,000 visitors and around 7,300 exhibitors from more than 100 countries.  The presence of several thousand international media meant it was an unprecedented opportunity to publicise New Zealand – not just literature but also our visual and performing arts, culture, and the innovative aspects of our society.  (We even added in a hangi and a rugby match – sadly my “Ambassador’s 15 was beaten 22-20 by the German national team!)

Under the phrase “While you were sleeping”, New Zealand has over the past twelve months featured on the German literary and cultural scene, with its books, films, cuisine, history, and creativity.  As part of an extensive arts and cultural programme, around 60 New Zealand writers and over 100 performers travelled to Germany to help showcase New Zealand.  For the more than 50 New Zealand publishers present, our Guest of Honour status was a “gold business card”, effecting introductions to potential customers – and hopefully turning into sales of New Zealand writers’ works.

Mr English opened the Fair, on stage with German Foreign Minister Westerwelle and Frankfurt Mayor Peter Feldmann.  In his opening speech, Mr English outlined the unique features of the New Zealand environment that have shaped our literature:  our quiet open spaces, surrounded by sea; our migrant history, both the oral traditions of the Pacific, and the classical and European traditions of the 1800s; and more recent Asian immigration.  Nowhere else, he said, do Polynesian, Asian and European culture sit together in the same way, and have done so for long enough now to have created a new identity.

The New Zealand pavilion (2500 sq metres!) reflected those comments – themed as it was around an island surrounded by water, under the stars, with a  20-minute video playing on multiple giant screens depicting through literature and theatre New Zealand’s unique character in its many guises – from Maori discoverers to modern, innovative New Zealand.  The Frankfurt Book Fair management praised New Zealand’s presentation as the Fair’s “uncontested highlight”, “which won the admiration of trade visitors and general public alike with its charming understatement, its magnificently designed pavilion and its colourful mix of performance, dance, singing, multimedia and high literature”.

More than 68,000 visitors experienced the New Zealand pavilion over the five days – far exceeding the average 40,000.  New Zealand was also present in other halls of the Fair, from the Gourmet Gallery to Story Drive to our publishers’ stand, and the number of New Zealand books translated into German this year has seen a nearly tenfold increase.

NZ Inc agencies based in Germany (MFAT, NZTE, Education, Tourism) worked closely together to use the profile generated by the Book Fair to leverage business and economic opportunities.  A key vehicle for those activities was NZTE’s New Zealand is Cooking parallel culinary festival, presenting New Zealand on a plate – a glimpse into the Guest of Honour’s cuisine.  Chefs (and authors) Peter Gordon, Robert Oliver, Al Brown, Graham Brown, Charles Royal and Annabel Langbein offered examples of New Zealand’s exciting and contemporary cuisine. 

 The DPM’s VIP dinner, on 9 October following the Book Fair opening, featuring cuisine by Robert Oliver, offered 90 guests from the literature, cultural, business, banking and educational sectors a unique New Zealand experience, complemented by fine New Zealand wines - part of the NZTE/ Wine Industry multi-year programme of activities aimed at raising awareness and visibility, and ultimately sales, in Germany, Sweden and the Netherlands. Trade and education also made similar use of such dinners on other evenings.

We live in truly “interesting times” in Europe in 2012, facing declining economic fortunes in a number of states, attendant concerns over the future of the Eurozone, and indeed of the EU.   But whatever happens, Germany’s role as the key EU political and economic heavyweight can only make it more important to New Zealand.  That is especially relevant if our traditional champion, the UK, is redefining its relationship with its continental neighbours. 

Our public diplomacy events in Hamburg and in Frankfurt have demonstrated, if it is needed, the considerable amount of goodwill towards New Zealand that resides in Germany, and interest in us not just as a popular tourist or education destination but also a country where culture and innovation are (as in Germany) respected.  2013, the 60th anniversary of German-New Zealand relations, offers the chance to build on the significant investment we have made this year and take the relationship another step forward.

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