Standing in the foreground of the Brandenburg Gate on a hazy afternoon in Berlin, Germany, Governor General Mary May Simon approached a throng of excitable onlookers waving miniature Canadian flags.
“Do you love Canada?” she asked them. “Because I love Germany!”
It was just one of a handful of interactions Simon had on Monday in Berlin, where she began her first international visit on behalf of Canada in the German capital.
It’s the first time in two decades that Canada has sent a delegation on a state visit to Germany. Former governor general Adrienne Clarkson was the last to pay a visit in 2001.
The agenda for Simon’s four-day state visit is packed with political and cultural outings – both public and closed-door.
The intention is to strengthen the political relationship between Canada and Germany.
“Canada and Germany have long been allies and friends. A state visit highlights our shared values and strong ties and also helps support Canadian industries that have been hard hit during this pandemic,” Rideau Hall said via statement Sunday.
Simon is travelling with an entourage that includes Canada’s new parliamentary poet laureate, writer Louise Bernice Halfe – known by the Cree name Sky Dancer – writer Kim Thuy, Lisa Koperqualuk – the vice-president of international affairs for Inuit Circumpolar Council Canada – and Simon’s husband, former journalist Whit Fraser.
The trip includes stopovers in both Berlin and Frankfurt, approximately 550 km southwest of the capital city.
On Monday, Simon received a rousing welcome from a full military band at the Schloss Bellevue, the residence of German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier.
The tete-a-tete with Steinmeier was followed by a visit the Humboldt Forum, which houses numerous Canadian artifacts, including two Haida totem poles purchased from the West Coast in the late 1800s.
A larger exhibition of Indigenous objects is expected to open at the Forum in mid-2022.
In the afternoon, Simon attended a courtesy call – and fist-bumped – Chancellor Angela Merkel before attending an engagement with the Mayor of Berlin at the Brandenburg gate.
The day concluded with a private state dinner hosted by the German President. It was a brief moment of respite before the delegation continues on to its second stop, where Simon will represent Canada at the 2021 Frankfurt Book Fair, which is featuring Canada as the guest of honour this year.
While there, Simon will also take part in a virtual event with Canadian writer Margaret Atwood to highlight the work of Canadian authors in what Rideau Hall refers to as the “Olympics of literature.”
Later on, the governor general will also attend a roundtable discussion about Arctic exploration, which will be held at the Frankfurt Archaeological Museum.
Simon was Canada’s first ambassador for circumpolar affairs. She was also Canada’s lead negotiator in the creation of the eight-country Arctic Council.
The international visit comes a week after Simon’s first formal public appearance at the Ottawa Mission, a homeless shelter in the Canadian capital where dozens of clients lined a city block waiting for a hot meal.
While the state visit is meant to foster positive bilateral relations between Canada and Germany, for Simon, it also provides an opportunity to discuss Canada’s painful residential schools legacy, and their lasting impact on First Nations, Inuit, and Metis.
“Recently, Canadians have focused on the importance of and need for reconciliation, confronting great truths about the treatment of Indigenous peoples throughout our history,” reads a statement issued on Simon’s behalf on Monday.
“As a result, we are revisiting our past, seeing it in a different light. Though some truths can hurt, we are stronger when we face them together and reconcile past mistakes with future hope.”
With files from The Canadian Press