Special Envoys

As embassies struggle to retain a foothold in a diversifying world, the role of the diplomat is changing beyond recognition. We meet the next generation of foreign consuls.


  • November 2011


  • Felix Brüggmann
  • Clément Pascal
  • Christopher Wahl
  • Ahmed Elhadj

The sharing diplomats

The Nordic Embassy, Berlin

When Germany reunified and relocated its government – and with it, the nation’s foreign diplomats – from Bonn to Berlin, most countries needed to find, or build, new embassies. Politically, the nordic nations (Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland and Iceland) had already co-operated as part of various institutions – such as the Nordic Council and the Nordic Council of Ministers – so the idea of sharing an embassy had been considered. Now they took the bold step of actually building one together.

In 1996, the Austrian-Finnish Berger and Parkkinen architectural firm won a competition to design the new embassy, designing one building that would be used as a shared events space, the Felleshus. Each of the five countries then chose a national architect to design their own building – all of them surrounded by a symbolic copper belt, 230m long and 15m high. In 1999, the €49.5m shared Nordic embassy was officially opened. Located in the city’s new diplomats quarter in Tiergarten, it covers 7,290 sq m.

The Danish building boasts an open glass facade; Finland uses slats of larch wood. Sweden imported Gotland limestone for its portion; the facade of the Icelandic building is made of red rhyolite; and a 15m-high granite plate weighing 120 tons is mounted on the facade of the Norwegian building.

However, it’s not only the architecture that Berliners took to; rather it’s the open and transparent mindset this shared embassy conveys. “We host a lot of events,” says Per Poulsen-Hansen, the Danish ambassador in Germany. Sweden has hosted an exhibition on Ikea; Denmark on Verner Panton. When Monocle visited, Finland was hosting a show about lighting design. And a sense of community does wonders for the ambassadors’ everyday routines. “Often we and our staff meet informally, in the canteen,” explains Poulsen-Hansen. Maybe, he adds, shared embassies are a model for the future.

“The embassy complex proves that five countries can work together practically, and symbolically, on a daily basis,” agrees Norwegian ambassador Sven Svedmann. His Swedish counterpart Staffan Carlsson chips in: “By being together and co-operating closely in Berlin, the five Nordic embassies make their countries a little bigger than they actually are. You can discuss endlessly whether there is a Nordic model, but in Germany the concept works.”