Last updated in March 2018
German-Icelandic relations are excellent and wide-ranging, encompassing the political, economic and cultural spheres as well as sport and tourism. In 2017, Germany and Iceland celebrated the 65th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations. Iceland cooperates closely with Germany in the political realm, especially in the United Nations and NATO. The relationship is based on shared values and agreement on numerous current international policy issues. Iceland sees Germany as one of its key dialogue partners in Europe. The Federal Government and the German Bundestag support Iceland’s application for EU membership if Iceland wishes to resume negotiations and fulfils the requirements for accession.
Germany and Iceland are partners in the European Economic Area and enjoy close economic relations. The recovery of the Icelandic economy has led to renewed growth in bilateral trade. This increased slightly to 912.3 million euros in 2015, up from 781.8 million euros in 2014. During the same period, German imports from Iceland totalled 520.7 million euros (up from 474 million euros in 2014), while German exports to Iceland were worth 391.7 million euros (up from 307.8 million euros in 2014). Manufactured goods (mainly metals) and food account for more than 92 percent of Iceland’s exports to Germany. Germany’s main exports to Iceland are motor vehicles and machinery, which account for 42 percent of total exports. According to Federal Statistical Office figures, Iceland ranks 78th (out of 239) among buyers of German exports and also 78th among suppliers of German imports.
According to Icelandic figures, in 2015 Germany ranked second among suppliers of Iceland’s imports, behind Norway and just ahead of the United States and Denmark, and fourth among buyers of Icelandic exports, behind the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and Spain and ahead of the United States and France. Fish processing in Bremerhaven and Cuxhaven depends on fresh fish imports from Iceland, fresh fish and fish products being increasingly exported to Germany by air.
The German-Icelandic Economic Association, which has 67 member companies from all sectors in the two countries, provides a network to promote economic cooperation.
There are numerous air links between Iceland and German cities. In 2016, nearly 133,000 Germans visited Iceland, putting Germany in third place among the countries of origin in terms of length of stay and the number of overnight stays in hotels, after the United States and the United Kingdom. A total of more than two million tourists visited Iceland in 2017 – more than ever before. Similarly, Germany is an attractive travel destination for Icelanders, with some 35,000 visiting Germany in 2013.
German-Icelandic cultural relations date back more than a thousand years to the time of Iceland’s Christianisation. Until 1103, Iceland belonged to the Archdiocese of Hamburg-Bremen, the first Icelandic bishop being ordained in Bremen. German Hanseatic merchants’ trade with Iceland in the 16th century also brought the art of printing and the ideas of the Reformation to the country. It was during this period that the first Icelandic script was printed in Hamburg and the first printing press was shipped to Iceland.
In the 19th century, there were close contacts between leading German figures in Old Norse studies (translators of the Edda and the Sagas) and the founders of the Icelandic independence movement as well as more intensive literary exchange (Romantics). Back in the mid-19th century, the legal historian Konrad Maurer (1823-1902) adopted a pro-Icelandic stance in the constitutional conflict with Denmark. He travelled around Iceland in 1858 and published the first collection of Icelandic folk tales in Germany. In the 20th century, cultural exchange intensified, not least thanks to numerous prominent Icelandic creative artists who had spent time in Germany, including Nobel Prize laureate in literature Halldór Laxness. In addition, German women who, beginning in 1949, were recruited to work on Iceland’s farms had a major influence on Icelandic society. They made up the largest immigrant group in Iceland until the 1990s.
Today, exchange between the two countries in language and literature, the visual and performing arts, music, science and academia is very lively and wide-ranging, as is evidenced, for example, by the following events. Iceland enjoyed success as the Guest of Honour at the 2011 Frankfurter Buchmesse - Frankfurt Book Fair under the motto “Legendary Iceland”, presenting more than 200 newly published books and translations, including a new translation of the Sagas. Literature Nobel Prize laureate Herta Müller, Jenny Erpenbeck and other German writers have taken part in the Reykjavík International Literary Festival since 2011. German Film Days have been held in Iceland every year in March since 2011. At the Reykjavík International Film Festival in October 2012, the focus was on German films. The Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra visited Iceland for the first time in November 2012, giving a concert in Reykjavík’s Harpa concert hall. The World Championships for Icelandic Horses were held in Berlin in August 2013. From 4 May to 29 June 2014, the exhibition Iceland: Art and Narrative was on show at the Kunsthalle Recklinghausen as part of the Ruhr Festival. In 2015, German director and film-maker Margarethe von Trotta received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Reykjavik International Film Festival (RIFF). Werner Herzog received this award in 2017. In 2016, German jazz musicians, including Julia Hülsmann, performed at the Reykjavík Jazz Festival. Shortly after its opening in 2017, the Elbphilharmonie played host to the Into Iceland Festival.
The German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) has seconded a German lector to the University of Iceland. The Goethe-Institut promotes the German language in Iceland as well as German-Icelandic cultural exchange. Since the closure of the Goethe-Institut in Reykjavík in 1998, Iceland has been served by the Goethe-Institut in Copenhagen. Hafnarfjörður Library was given the collections of the Goethe-Institut, which also provides support through regular donations of new books and films.
Other institutions involved in cultural exchange include the University of Iceland’s German Studies Department, the Icelandic Association of German Teachers (German is an optional subject at secondary schools), the lively town twinning arrangement between Hafnarfjörður and Cuxhaven, the German-Icelandic Network in Reykjavík, the South Iceland Circle of Friends in Selfoss, the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation alumni in Reykjavík and a number of German-Icelandic societies in Germany. Iceland co-funded the establishment of a lectorship in Icelandic at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin in March 2002. Other German universities also offer Icelandic as a subject. In March 2017, the “DeutschMobil” campaign promoted the learning of German at more than 20 schools in Iceland.
Since the first trips to Iceland in the 19th century by German scientists like Robert Bunsen (who visited Iceland in 1846 and explained the phenomenon of geyser action), scientific cooperation between the two countries has flourished, today extending to areas ranging from marine and arctic research to jurisprudence.
This text is intended as a source of basic information. It is regularly updated. No liability can be accepted for the accuracy or completeness of its contents.