Political relations between Germany and North Korea date back to the period immediately after the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea was founded on 9 September 1948.
The former German Democratic Republic (GDR) maintained diplomatic relations with North Korea from 1949 onwards and was one of the country’s most important partners in the Eastern bloc. Following German reunification, a mission representing the interests of the Federal Republic of Germany was initially opened on the premises of the former GDR Embassy in Pyongyang, with Sweden acting as protecting power. At the same time, the former North Korean Embassy in East Berlin was turned into an Office for the Protection of the Interests of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, with the People’s Republic of China acting as protecting power. The Federal Republic of Germany and North Korea established diplomatic relations on 1 March 2001.
Germany is trying, both bilaterally and under the auspices of the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy, to get North Korea to negotiate seriously on ending its nuclear weapons programme. At the same time, Germany is endeavouring to induce North Korea to enter into dialogue with the international community on the human rights situation in the country.
In response to North Korea’s nuclear and missile tests in 2016 and 2017, the United Nations and the European Union have tightened their sanctions against the country; these also have a tangible effect on bilateral Relations.
Economy and development cooperation
Germany does not provide any bilateral development assistance in North Korea. Bilateral humanitarian aid used to play an important role in mutual relations, but this was terminated by the North Korean Government in 2006. Since then, assistance has continued in the form of development-oriented emergency and transitional aid under the umbrella of the European Union. Welthungerhilfe (formerly German Agro Action) is one of the main humanitarian organisations active in North Korea. Bread for the World – Protestant Development Service, Caritas and the German Red Cross have also conducted a number of German-funded projects.
Since the establishment of diplomatic relations, there have so far been no visits to North Korea by German Government delegations at ministerial level or trips to Germany by North Korean Government ministers (except for the visit by then Physical Culture and Sports Minister Pak Myong Chol, who travelled to Germany in June 2011 to attend the opening match of the FIFA Women’s World Cup). However, there have been several official visits to North Korea by Members of the German Bundestag.
Trade between Germany and North Korea has diminished yet further in the past years from a low base; it currently totals significantly less than 10 million euros per year. No bilateral agreements have yet been concluded on economic, financial or scientific and technological cooperation.
Culture and education
The North Korean side shows some interest in German culture – mainly in classical music, films and literature – and in German language instruction. Cultural and education work is, however, greatly constrained by the need to obtain official permission for all activities and by prior censorship.
In the past, a number of North Korean academics were allowed to spend several months in Germany as guest researchers. In view of the UN and EU sanctions regimes, however, Germany does not currently host visits from academics working in proliferation-sensitive disciplines.
Germans have not been allowed to study or pursue research in North Korea since the 1990s.
The German political foundations with offices in Seoul are active in the area of civic education. These are the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom, the Hanns Seidel Foundation and the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung. Their representatives visit Pyongyang at regular intervals.
At the biennial Pyongyang International Film Festival, the German films “Lessons of a Dream” and “My Beautiful Country” won the top prize in 2012 and 2014 respectively. In 2013, the Goethe-Institut in Seoul also organised a German Film Week in North Korea for the first time, which featured five German films presented at a total of 17 screenings, reaching an audience of several thousand North Koreans.
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.