Foreign affairs

Cities and the Built Environment: Germany and Australia Learning from Each Other

We were delighted to welcome the Hon Jamie Briggs MP, Minister for Cities and the Built Environment, for a visit to Munich last week focusing on Munich’s approach to integrated planning, housing, public transport and accessibility, innovation and economic growth.

Munich is Germany’s third-largest city and one of its fastest-growing, with a current population of 2.8 million in the Greater Munich area, projected to grow to 3 million by 2030. Munich shares many similarities with a number of Australia’s fastest-growing cities, and the Minister was keen to understand how the city has managed its recent growth, as well as its approaches to the integration of migrant communities.

A highlight of the Minister’s visit was the meeting with Dr Marcel Huber MdL, Head of the Bavarian State Chancellery and State Minister for Federal and Special Affairs, where the Minister heard about Bavaria’s approach to integrated planning, as well as the significant integration challenges arising from the recent influx of asylum-seekers to the region.

Photo of Minister Briggs with Dr Marcel Huber MdL, Head of the Bavarian State Chancellery and State Minister for Federal and Special Affairs standing next to each other

Minister Briggs with Dr Marcel Huber MdL, Head of the Bavarian State Chancellery and State Minister for Federal and Special Affairs


The Minister’s meeting with representatives of the Chamber of Industry and Commerce for Munich and Upper Bavaria (IHK) focused on trade and investment, innovation and the collaboration between universities, institutes and industry in Bavaria. Minister Briggs said Australia was keen to collaborate more with Germany on innovation and commercialisation, and agreed we should do more to boost trade and investment, including exports of Australian wine to the Bavarian region.

Minister Briggs stands next to Peter Driessen, Managing Director IHK Munich. They have exhanged gifts and hold them in their hands. Briggs has received a Bavarian cup and Driessen holds a wrapped package.

Minister Briggs and Peter Driessen, Managing Director IHK Munich

A discussion with representatives of the Munich Transport Company (MVG) offered insights into the city’s highly successful integrated approach to public transport and urban planning. At the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF), the Minister heard about Munich’s experiences with the integration of asylum-seekers in the region, including the importance of targeted language courses, training and skills recognition to promote quick integration into German society.

During the discussions, Minister Briggs highlighted the warm and longstanding people-to-people links between Australia and Germany, including in his South Australian electorate. Echoing the recommendations from the recent report of the Australia-Germany Advisory Group, Minister Briggs emphasised that Australia wanted to build on these existing links to strengthen bilateral ties.

Bilateral relationship in renewed focus

With the European summer holidays now in full swing, I wanted to look back at a very exciting series of important events in the bilateral relationship that took place during July.  We have rarely had so much serious and welcome attention in Germany on ways in which we can strengthen and expand the already very good linkages between our two countries.  It’s a great time for Australian-German relations!

Before July, however, I should just note the excellent seminar that took place on 16 June here in Berlin on the Australia-Germany relationship.  The seminar was arranged by the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung and brought together experts from both countries and other friends of Australia.  I, of course, greatly appreciate the Stiftung’s hosting of this extremely interesting event and hope that we can continue the process initiated by the seminar in the future.  I was very pleased to have had the opportunity to participate in that very useful discussion (

From 30 June to 2 July a very high level Australian delegation from the Europe Australia Business Council visited Munich.  The Australian Finance Minister, Senator the Honourable Mathias Cormann, accompanied that delegation.  Their program included calls on a wide range of German businesses and organisations based in Bavaria, including Siemens, Allianz, BMW and the Fraunhofer Institute, and Senator Cormann and the delegation also met the Bavarian Deputy Ministerpräsident and Minister for Economic Affairs, Media, Energy and Technology, Ilse Aigner.

The following week, from 7 July, the focus shifted to Berlin, where, in the lead-up to the first joint meeting on 10 July of the Australia-Germany Advisory Group set up by Prime Minister Abbott and Chancellor Merkel, a substantial Australian business delegation, led by Senator Cormann, undertook a very intensive business program with German companies, ministries and organisations to discuss ways of further expanding our trade and investment relationship.  Members of that delegation also participated in a very interesting business program throughout Germany arranged by the Australian Trade Commission, focusing on specific sectors with really good prospects for future business between us.  In addition,  during his time in Berlin Senator Cormann met Deputy Chancellor Gabriel and his Parliamentary Secretary, Dr Beckmeyer, Finance Minister Schäuble and the Minister for Education and Research, Professor Wanka, to exchange ideas on further cooperation between our two countries and to discuss current international economic issues.

Senator Cormann also made a major speech at a very well-attended event organised by the Konrad Adenauer Foundation on 9 July on “The Australian-German relationship and Opportunities Moving Forward” (for full text, see  This was followed, that evening, by a large reception co-hosted by the two Co-Chairs of the Australia-Germany Advisory Group, Senator Cormann and Minister of State Professor Maria Böhmer, at the Reichstag, at which we had the privilege of listening to some wonderful Australian musicians playing in that superb and historic building, including guitarists Slava and Leonard Grigoryan, who made a stop in Berlin on their way to a concert in Saarbrücken and presented some of their exciting duo pieces, and violinist Stanley Dodds and pianist Kathryn Bolitho, who performed a mixed German-Australian program with works by Johannes Brahms and Peter Sculthorpe.

As mentioned earlier, the Australia-Germany Advisory Group held its first joint meeting in Berlin on 10 July.  The meeting, which I attended, saw a considerable meeting of minds on ways forward for our relationship and there was a substantial exchange of ideas on ways in which to do this.  It was incredibly stimulating to be there!  Prior to the meeting, the members of the Group had been able to meet very briefly with Chancellor Merkel and to have a lengthy discussion with the Head of the Federal Chancellor’s Office, Minister Peter Altmaier.  This very high-level attention to the work of the Group just underlines how important an initiative it is and sets the scene for a very interesting and substantive report to the two leaders later this year.  The next joint meeting of the Australia-Germany Advisory Group will take place in Australia in the next few months, probably in October.

It was a seriously interesting series of events and a tremendous privilege to have been there!

And here are a number of images from our various events, showing Senator Cormann speaking at the Embassy; meeting German Federal Economics Minister Sigmar Gabrial along with members of the Australia-Germany Advisory Group; at the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, along with German MP Volkmar Klein, KAS Deputy Secretary General Dr Gerhard Wählers, and myself; Slava and Leonard Grigoryan performing at the Reichstag; Stanley Dodds and Kathryn Bolitho; Senator Cormann meeting Federal Chancellor Dr Angela Merkel, along with State Minister Professor Maria Böhmer; and the Advisory Group at the Chancellery and at the Foreign Office.

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Interning at the Australian Embassy: A Summer in Berlin

For a number of years now, we have offered the opportunity to do an internship at the Australian Embassy in Berlin. We are one of the few Australian Embassies around the world that does so. This gives university students and recent graduates the chance to get an insight into our work representing Australia and to better understand Australia’s relations with Germany, Liechtenstein and Switzerland. The internships last between two and three months and in that time we encourage interns to make the experience their own. Interns get the chance to contribute in the Political Economic and Public Affairs Sections as well as being included in the life of the Embassy. We also organise briefings for the interns about the consular, immigration and defence work that we do at the Embassy.

One of our interns, Mark Rowe, has been with us since the beginning of June and will be leaving us next week to return to the cold of Canberra to continue his Arts/Law studies at the Australian National University.

Our intern Mark together with Ambassador Ritchie in front of a German and Australian flag in the embassy building.

Our intern Mark Rowe and Ambassador David Ritchie

“I was fortunate enough for my internship at the Embassy to coincide with the first meeting of the Australian-German Advisory Group. I was able to get a much better understanding of the extent of German-Australian relations as they now stand as well as an insight into how these might be deepened in the future. On top of this I had the chance to attend a whole variety of events: in the Australian Embassy (the German Australian Science Circle and the Melbourne String Ensemble Concert), events at other Embassies in Berlin (French, US, Brazilian, Mexican) and at NGOs and think tanks. I even got the chance to get a guided tour of the Bundestag and watch the German equivalent of Question Time. The highlight for me, however, was the chance to immerse myself in German domestic and foreign policy. Having the chance to work on topical issues and watch them evolve—from the Greek financial crisis to European refugee policy to Germany’s Energiewende—has been fascinating. The staff at the Embassy have been very generous with their time and expertise, providing briefings on their respective areas of responsibility in the Embassy and helping me to get the most out of my time here. I would encourage anyone with a passion for Germany and looking to get an inside view of what it’s like to work for DFAT to definitely apply.”– Mark Rowe (Intern June-August 2015)

For more information about the internship, please visit our website.

German-Australian Symposium in Berlin

This week I had the pleasure of taking part in the Konrad Adenauer Foundation’s German-Australian Symposium held here in Berlin. The Konrad Adenauer Foundation (KAS) is the political foundation affiliated with Chancellor Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union and has nearly 80 offices around the world. Though the Foundation has run a variety of events promoting German-Australian relations in the past, this is the first time that they have held a German Australian Symposium.

The event brought together leaders from business, academia, government and media from both our countries to discuss what a 21st century relationship between Australia and Germany should look like.

Ambassador David Ritchie, Professor Dr Maria Böhmer, Dr Gerhard Wahlers, Alan Stockdale und Volkmar Klein

Ambassador David Ritchie, Professor Dr Maria Böhmer, Dr Gerhard Wahlers, Alan Stockdale und Volkmar Klein (L-R), Photo: KAS

We were very fortunate to have the participation of Professor Dr Maria Böhmer, Minister of State at the Federal Foreign Office and Co-Chair of the Australia-Germany Advisory Group. The Advisory Group was established by Chancellor Merkel and Prime Minister Abbott and is due to report to both leaders before the end of the year. Australian Finance Minister Mathias Cormann, who will soon visit Germany, is the Co-Chair of the Australian side. She spoke about how, in a globalised world, distance doesn’t matter. Despite our geography we have many common interests and shared values.

Professor Dr Maria Böhmer, Minister of State at the Federal Foreign Office and Co-Chair of the German Australia Advisory Group, standing behind a posium and giving a speech.

Professor Dr Maria Böhmer, Minister of State at the Federal Foreign Office and Co-Chair of the German Australia Advisory Group, Photo: KAS

I spoke about the warm and friendly relationship that our two countries share, noting that, despite the good will on both sides, there is much more that the world’s 4th and 12th biggest economies can do together. The Symposium covered a diverse range of topics. Not only were the big global issues of national security discussed, we also got the chance to see where we can learn from each other in areas such as research, immigration and ways to we can cooperate in the Asia Pacific region. There was also detailed discussion about ways to strengthen our trade and investment relationship.

Ambassador Ritchie steanding behind a podium and holding a speech at KAS

Ambassador David Ritchie, Photo: KAS

I’d like to thank the Konrad Adenauer Foundation very warmly for hosting the event and also extend my thanks to those who took part. I was particularly impressed with the breadth of the discussion. At the event itself you could feel the warmth of our nations’ friendship. Still, as the Symposium highlighted, there is a lot more that we could do together. We need to be brave and make our relationship even stronger, warmer and deeper.

German-Australian Symposium

German-Australian Symposium, Photo: KAS

Travelling in Germany for visits spanning heritage and technology issues

The last two weeks provided opportunities for me to visit two regional German centres covering issues ranging from heritage links to the latest developments in transport technology.

On Friday 18 May, I travelled to Wiesbaden to attend a wonderful ceremony, hosted by the Hesse State Minister for Culture, Boris Rhein, at which I accepted on behalf of the Birch family a Royal Australian Air Force hat badge that belonged to Flight Sergeant Ernest Hugh Birch. Flight Sergeant Birch, a 21 year old from Bunbury in Western Australia, was the only Australian crew member of a Halifax Bomber who was killed with three of his comrades when their bomber was shot down over Germany during the Second World War. The hat badge was rediscovered in 2014, 70 years after the crash, during an investigation of the site by Hesse Archaeology.

Four persons, including the Ambassador (second from the right side), are standing around a table. On the table there is a photo ofFlight Sergeant Ernest Hugh Birch and a a Royal Australian Air Force hat badge.

Ceremony at which I accepted on behalf of the Birch family a Royal Australian Air Force hat badge. (Photo B. Steinbring, hessenARCHÄOLOGIE)

Prior to the handover ceremony I had the opportunity to visit Hesse Archaeology, where I met and thanked a number of the archaeologists who participated in the dig and the conservation specialists who cleaned and preserved the hat badge. I really enjoyed the opportunity to speak to the very passionate members of the team and to discuss the excavation of the bomber site and some of the other amazing archaeological finds that have been made in Hesse over the years.

We are in the process of making arrangements to have the hat badge returned to the Birch family in Western Australia. I want to pass on my sincere thanks to Hesse State Minister for Culture Boris Rhein and Dr. Udo Recker from Hesse Archaeology for their hospitality and efforts to ensure that Flight Sergeant Birch’s hat badge makes it way home.

Photo of a Royal Australian Air Force hat badge

Royal Australian Air Force hat badge (Photo B. Steinbring, hessenARCHÄOLOGIE)

Last week I also accompanied Australia’s Deputy Prime Minister, The Hon Warren Truss MP, Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Development, to the International Transport Forum (ITF), held in Leipzig. The ITF is held annually, and Australian ministers attend when the opportunities arise. It provides a great opportunity for Ministers to meet and help better connect people in their own countries and throughout the world. Deputy Prime Minister Truss spoke on panels about a number of modern transport policy challenges, from how to regulate shipping to drones (a cutting edge transport technology). He also used the gathering of fellow transport ministers to meet with his counterparts from the European Commission, Germany, France and Japan – all of whom had interesting thoughts on how to use infrastructure projects and new technologies to better connect us. For me personally, it was interesting to visit Leipzig and see the immense transformation the city has gone through in the 33 years since my first visit. Some people are referring to it as the ‘new Berlin,’ and I expect its future is bright.

Different people sitting around a panel and talking at the International Transport Forum

International Transport Forum

Minister Truss standing next to the German Federal Minister for Transport and Digital Infrastructure; Alexander Dobrindt MdB

Minister Truss (left) and the German Federal Minister for Transport & Digital Infrastructure; Alexander Dobrindt MdB.


Minsiter Truss standing next to EU Commissioner for Transport, Ms Violeta Bulc.

Minister Truss and the EU Commissioner for Transport, Ms Violeta Bulc.

New communication channel opened between the cities of Sydney and Berlin

Last week saw a novelty in the official links between Australia’s and Germany’s biggest cities, Sydney and Berlin. At the initiative of the Committee for Sydney, a live video connection was set up between an auditorium in Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art and a studio in Berlin, creating a platform for a direct dialogue between senior representatives and panels in the two cities about common issues and challenges.

Sydney opened the presentation and discussion, with Ms Lucy Turnbull AO, in her capacity as Chair of the Committee for Sydney and President of the German-Australian Chamber of Industry and Commerce, welcoming and introducing participants at both ends.

Berlin’s Senator for Economics, Technology and Research, Ms Cornelia Yzer, then took the floor to talk about her city’s strengths, with its broadly-based research and development activities, supported by three major universities with a total of more than 100,000 students. This, she said, attracted increasingly more companies investing in new or expanded operations. I was certainly happy to confirm in a brief presentation over the video link that Sydney and Berlin were a good match in the way they spearhead developments on that front, in Australia and Germany but also as internationally leading cities.


Ambassador Ritchie sits at a table together with other panel participants (two other men and a women). Ms Cornelia Yzer, Berlin’s Senator for Economics, Technology and Research, hosted the panel.

The panel participants in Berlin. Ms Cornelia Yzer, Berlin’s Senator for Economics, Technology and Research, hosted the panel.

One of Berlin’s leading urban planning experts, Dr Ares Kalandides, continued the exchange with an impressive presentation outlining some of the issues Berlin is current dealing with in further detail, including with infrastructure planning and housing and social development – and that triggered a lively response from the panel at the other end, chaired by the Committee of Sydney’s CEO, Dr Tim Williams.

I was impressed to see the depth of discussion which followed, and clearly the two cities share many challenges as leading and strongly-growing centres in their respective countries. But, quite apart from the substantial exchange, the face-to-face interaction offered by the live video link was a very welcome addition to our bilateral channels of communication.

The picture shows a large auditorium full of people looking at a video screen showing the panel in Sydney.

Live video conference between Berlin and Sydney

Last week was a very big one for Australia and for the Embassy

As you’ll recall, Prime Minister Abbott and Chancellor Merkel announced earlier in the month the details of the Advisory Group they’d decided to establish to recommend to them ways of strengthening our bilateral relationship into the future. Following that announcement, both the German and Australian sides of the Advisory group held their first meetings on 20 and 22 April respectively to begin consideration of this very significant task. The two Co-Chairs, Staatsministerin Maria Böhmer from the Foreign Office and the Australian Finance Minister, Senator the Hon Mathias Cormann, led the discussion at both events and have been in touch to compare notes since. As earlier also announced, we expect the first joint meeting of the Advisory Group to take place in July in Berlin. I can’t wait: these are very exciting times for Australian-German relations!

And two very senior Australian Ministers visited Germany last week too. Foreign Minister Julie Bishop was in Berlin on 21-22 April and held discussions with her counterpart, Foreign Minister Steinmeier, with Professor Böhmer and with Interior Ministry State Secretary Emily Haber. It was Ms Bishop’s first visit to Berlin as Foreign Minister. Then, shortly after she left, the Australian Defence Minister, the Hon Kevin Andrews, arrived for discussions on 22 April with German Defence Minister von der Leyen. His visit, the first by an Australian Defence Minister for some time, and the visit by Foreign Minister Bishop covered a range of issues which showed just how close our views are in the foreign policy, strategic and defence areas and how much we have to offer each other as partners. Defence Minister Andrews also visited Kiel on 23 April during his time in Germany.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and Foreign Minister Steinmeier at the joint press conference. They are standing in front of the Australian, European and German flag.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and Foreign Minister Steinmeier at a joint press conference in Berlin

German Defence Minister Ursula Von der Leyen and Australian Defence Minister Andrews passing by the guard battalion at the Ministry of Defence

German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen and Australian Defence Minister Andrews

The week culminated in a massively important event for Australia, the commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the landing of the Australia and New Zealand Army Corps at Gallipoli in Turkey on 25 April 1915. We chose to hold the service at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s First World War cemetery at Stahnsdorf near Berlin, where 20 young Australians and three young New Zealanders are buried. These include three original ANZACs, Albert Elliott, Benjamin Gannaway and Otto Siefken. So it was a very significant way of paying our personal respects to each of them and to their friends and colleagues buried at Stahnsdorf. There are, we think, 21 Australian ANZACs buried in Germany and I’ll publish the list of these and where their graves are located shortly. Please do remember them in this very special year, as did the over 200 people who attended the Stahnsdorf service. Lest we forget.

(See names of Gallipoli Veterans buried in Germany below)

Ambassador Ritchie giving a speech at theCommonwealth War Graves Commission’s First World War cemetery at Stahnsdorf. The Ambassador stands while guests are seated in fron of him an listining to him speaking.

At the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s First World War cemetery in Stahnsdorf

A picture of many wreath laying at a memorial at the cemetry.

Wreath ceremony

Finally, I wanted to mention the concert played in Berlin on the night of ANZAC Day by the World Doctors Orchestra, which I also attended. An excellent Australian company, Sonic Healthcare, very active in Germany, sponsored the orchestra, meaning that the proceeds of the concert could go to needy people in Africa. Just another way in which Australians are playing their part in helping others in the world less well off than we are. A wonderful initiative and, in addition to being terrific doctors, the members of the orchestra proved to an almost sell-out crowd in Berlin that they are also superb musicians.


Andrew Carnegie Booth FAIRWEATHER  1291 – HAMBURG CEMETERY (Hauptfriedhof Ohlsdorf)
Ernest Septimus HURMAN 3351 – HAMBURG CEMETERY (Hauptfriedhof Ohlsdorf)
Alexander George McARTHUR 1984 – HAMBURG CEMETERY (Hauptfriedhof Ohlsdorf)
Henry Hans PETERSEN 142 – NIEDERZWEHREN CEMETERY, KASSEL – Is showing on the CWGC site as coming from the United Kingdom.
Arthur Herbert KENNEDY (officer; no service no.) – NIEDERZWEHREN CEMETERY, KASSEL