The ambassador of the Federal Republic of Germany, Michael Flügger, would like to travel to all the places Goethe has already visited in Switzerland. Read his portrait to find out which city tour fascinated him and which canton is engraved in his heart.
Article published in the info letter August 2022.
... originally comes from Hamburg in Germany.
... arrived in Bern in September 2020 and holds the position of Germany's ambassador to the Swiss Confederation and the Principality of Liechtenstein. Before coming to Switzerland, he was the German ambassador to the Political and Security Committee of the EU and Head of the Political Department of Germany’s Permanent Representation to the EU in Brussels. In that function, he, in conjunction with the other member states, negotiated all aspects of the EU’s foreign policy.
... prefers to spend his leisure time out in the countryside and in the mountains – "Valais. Engraved on my heart": He often visits his family in the Valais mountains and is a great fan of this region.
10 Questions to Michael Flügger
How does your working day look like?
My working day varies tremendously. A lot of my work consists of meetings with representatives of the government and politicians to discuss items of mutual interest and the latest trends in the world of politics. I accompany German Federal Government ministers to bilateral meetings, to conferences such as UCR2022 or the meetings of German-speaking countries, most recently at the meeting of German-speaking foreign ministers in Liechtenstein.
The Russian attack on Ukraine also shapes my day-to-day work, for example in G7 meetings (Germany holds the G7 presidency this year) or during visits from German delegations to Switzerland when energy policy is high on the agenda.
My day-to-day work also centres around the relationship between the EU and Switzerland, as this relationship impacts on Germany in particular in its position as an immediate neighbour and Switzerland’s number 1 trading partner. I am involved in regular discussions with my EU colleagues and we keep our ministers informed on current developments.
Following the containment of the Covid pandemic which re-established personal contacts as a possibility, I am getting to know Switzerland as much as I can as I travel around and exchange ideas with leaders of industry, science and culture on matters of mutual interest. A further important task of the embassy is to provide consular services for the 400,000 or more German citizens in Switzerland – the passport office in the Bern embassy is the largest one in the world outside Germany.
Which projects are you most excited about right now?
Together with more than 15 other embassies in Bern we form part of the Greening Embassies Network environmental initiative (the German embassy is a founding member of the initiative). Working with the city of Bern, we give serious consideration to the environmental aspects of everything we do and are committed to reducing the collective environmental impact of the diplomatic community in Bern. Milestones this year included activities for the World Bike Day as well as the Biodiversity Day in Bern in which we campaigned for the achievement of the United Nations’ SDGs.
I am also looking forward to a new edition of our "Ber(li)ner Salon", a series of events in which German and Swiss experts discuss subject areas of interest to both countries – you too can be involved in digital form via our Youtube channel Deutsche Botschaft Bern.
When you arrived in Bern, what were you most surprised by?
It is often said that the EU is a younger version of Switzerland: Bern and Brussels don’t just share an initial letter – they are both the capital cities and federal cities of countries characterised by multiple languages and cultural diversity.
When I arrived in Bern from Brussels in 2020, I was indeed surprised about how much more relaxed the Covid restrictions were here. People were sitting around in bars – something I hadn’t seen in Brussels for quite a while.
What do you appreciate about Bern?
What I like about Bern is that I can get a real insight into the political culture of a country in a small geographical area. The federal institutions, the announcements and the submissions of initiatives, the collection of signatures at the Saturday market, the promotion of democracy in the Politforum Käfigturm – most of that happens in and around the Bundesplatz.
Tell us about your favourite place in Bern.
I love the view over Bern’s Old Town – at sunset in the Rosengarten, or when the train crosses the Kornhausbrücke with the view of the Minster and the mountains. And I keep on finding attractive new corners of this Unesco World Heritage City.
Where do you most like to relax from work in Bern?
Rural idylls, historic charm and the international flair of the very different embassies all come together in the Elfenau. Diving into the Aare where you can see the Federal Parliament or walking through the woods and meadows clear your head.
Anyone wanting to learn more about the Elfenau should read Therese Bichsel’s book "Grossfürstin Anna: Flucht vom Zarenhof in die Elfenau" about Juliane Henriette Ulrike von Sachsen-Coburg-Saalfeld who lived here as Princess Anna and gave the Elfenau its name.
What do you already know you will miss when you leave Bern?
The people of Bern’s friendliness and readiness to help, easy access to all the people you want or need to speak to including the government, the incredibly efficient and punctual Swiss organisation, the unparalleled close contacts in all areas, the fantastic landscapes, skiing – and of course the canton of Valais.
What is still on your "to do list"?
The great German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was very attached to Switzerland. He criss-crossed the country three times. This year, Switzerland marks the 225th anniversary of his third visit to Switzerland, including the opening of the first permanent Goethe exhibition in the St. Gotthard fortress. Could I really succeed in visiting all the places that Goethe visited in Switzerland?
Any advice to newcomers in Bern?
In my opinion, the best way of starting to become acquainted with the city and its history are the Stattland scenic city tours (for example Bern "Top Secret" which concentrates on Bern’s past as a hive of espionage and conspiracies). These tours might well take you through the picturesque Rathausgasse or Bern’s thrilling Generationenhaus. The festivals and events such as the Theatre Festival, the Light Show on the Bundesplatz, the Zibelemärit ("Onion Market") or the Museum Night are Bern highlights for me.
Finally, I recommend good swimmers to try swimming in the Aare - for many of Bern’s inhabitants there is nothing more agreeable than a summer dip in the Aare – and I have to admit that the Aare is a whole lot cleaner and more inviting than the Spree.
Have you tried to learn Swiss German and if yes, which is your favourite word?
I still remember the sentence "Hesch dini Ovo hüüt scho gha?" (literally: Have you had your Ovo today?) from my young days when I was learning to ski in Lenk. And since I arrived in Bern, my passive vocabulary is unfortunately only growing slowly because I have so few opportunities to pick up Swiss German.
Who would you like to hear from in the next info letter?
To be announced soon.
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