From Finland via Tallinn, Montevideo and Amsterdam to Germany: Mikko Fritze is the new director of the Finnish Institute
The central importance of the sauna in Finland cannot be overstated: the Finnish sauna was even elevated to the status of intangible world cultural heritage by UNESCO at the end of 2020. Mikko Fritze played no small part in this: as a former board member of the Finnish Sauna Society and, since June 2021, the new director of the Finnish Institute, he says he’s one of the biggest sauna enthusiasts of all time. And in how many languages can his black Labrador named Lumi (Eng. snow) bark? Johanna Saggel conducted the following interview with Mikko Fritze.
How would you introduce yourself in two sentences?
I’m German-Finnish by nature. At least from my upbringing, but also with a bit of South American flair and a lot of Estonia.
What languages do you speak?
German, Finnish, Estonian, Spanish, English, and I can “get by” with a few more.
How did you become interested in leading the Finnish Institute? Did you have any connections to the Institute in the past?
Throughout my more than 25 years of work at the Goethe-Institut, I have regularly had partnership connections with the Finnish Institute. Privately, I have been following the work of the Finnish Institute for quite a long time. The interest arose from the job posting that was listed. I read it and thought, “This is perfect for me!”
In what ways can your many years at the Goethe-Institut help you in running the Finnish Institute?
I have experience in organising and initiating bilateral or multilateral projects. I have also built up a very large network of contacts that will also be very useful to me in this new context.
What plans do you have in mind for the Finnish Institute in the future? Is there any new project in particular that you’d like to tell us about?
It’s still too early for that. I’m coming into a wonderfully established institute where I’m jumping on the bandwagon, so to speak, and going along for the ride. I’m going to watch attentively and I’m sure I’ll soon be contributing my own ideas, suggestions and projects.
The director of the Finnish Institute is also responsible for the realisation of the Institute’s research programmes. Would you like to expand these further?
I certainly don’t want to scale them back, I really like the fact that the Finnish Institute should also specifically promote scientific exchange. Please ask me this question again in a year’s time, when I have understood what is already going on and what can be done additionally. I can’t judge either of these things today.
During 2010−2017 you were the director of the Goethe-Institut in Finland. How did the Finland of those years differ from the Finland of your childhood?
We can certainly have a longer conversation about that sometime! A lot of things. Summer houses with water-flushed toilets were completely unthinkable back then. The language was different. The range of goods in the shops was quite limited. And many other things were completely different, because we’re talking about forty years ago…
After many years in Estonia, Finland and the Netherlands, among other places, you are living in Germany again for the first time. What are your first impressions of the country and the people?
So far I can’t complain. People seem more talkative than in Finland and less talkative than in the Netherlands.
What is the first thing you would like to do in Berlin in your free time?
Go to the sauna − to the FireFit sauna or on this new Finnish sauna raft at Müggelsee.
I understand you’re a real sauna enthusiast. How will you bring this hobby to Berlin?
Well, before I read this question, I already answered it. I also have a sauna tent and I really, really hope that my neighbours will allow me to heat it up occasionally in our backyard. Nothing is planned yet, but it’s quite inconceivable that there would be no sauna-related projects at the Finnish Institute in the next few years!
What comes to mind when you think of the words Finland and humour?
Tosi hauskaa!* (And I mean it!)
[* Eng. very funny]
Mikko Fritze, formerly director of the Goethe-Institut in the Netherlands (Amsterdam), has succeeded Dr Laura Hirvi as director of the Finnish Institute as of 1 June 2021. Born in Tampere to German parents, Mikko Fritze spent his childhood in Finland, where he attended the German School in Helsinki. He later continued his education near Cologne and then studied German, paedagogy and biology, among other subjects, at the University of Hamburg. Since 1994 Mikko worked for the Goethe-Institut in five different countries, including as head of the Goethe-Institut Finland from 2010−2017. Before that, he headed the Tallinn 2011 Foundation − European Capital of Culture from 2007−2010. Mikko Fritze and his wife Maria Fernanda Perinot de Fritze are the happy parents of three children.
Translation: Ramona Tyler