The phone call “came out of nowhere just before Christmas,” says Harald Kuckertz (RC of Edmonton Strathcona).
Sabine Sparwasser, the German Ambassador to Canada, was inviting him to come to Ottawa, where on January 19 Harald received the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany.
The award, also known as the Federal Cross of Merit, is the highest tribute Germany can pay to individuals for service to the nation. It was established in 1952 by the first president of the Federal Republic of Germany, Theodor Heuss.
Harald, who was born in Germany but has lived in Canada since the 1970s, currently serves as the Honorary German Consul for northern Alberta and the Northwest Territories.
“It’s a very great honour and even more so for someone who’s not living in Germany, ” Harald says. “It’s comparable to the Order of Canada.”
There are three people in Edmonton who have received the award.
“All the honorary consuls in the last 20 years have received it. Both my predecessors (Friedrich “Fritz” Koenig and Bernd Reuscher) have received it and both are Rotarians in our club,” Harald says.
“I think it is unique to have a Rotary club in a foreign country, not Germany, to have three people honoured in that way. I think that is quite special.”
Harald first came to Canada as a 15-year-old, to visit his uncle who was head of the emergency department at the University of Alberta Hospital, and came again when he was 17.
He studied at the U of A, where he obtained a law degree, and established a practice in Edmonton.
He stayed because of Canada’s natural beauty.
“My uncle had a cabin in northern Saskatchewan. I liked the nature part of it, which you don’t find in Germany,” he says. “Germany has all the culture that you may want and it also has some beautiful nature spots, but here somehow the largeness of the country grabbed me. I like the Rockies.”
Even though he would become a Canadian citizen, “Harald always kept in touch with his German heritage,” says Donna Hutton, the president-elect of the Edmonton Strathcona Rotary Club. “Over the years, his office in Strathcona became the place to go for German and Canadian citizens and companies in need of good advice.
“He was one of the first persons the Alberta government or the City of Edmonton would go to when German delegations came to town or trade missions were sent on their way to Germany,” Donna says.
For many years, Harald served on the board or as president of the German Canadian Business and Professional Association.
In 2013, Harald took on the additional task of Honorary Consul.
“An honorary consul is a volunteer position, so we’re not paid,” Harald says. “We do certain consular functions, such as accepting passport applications and certifying documents.
“And then there is a representative part of the role. We go to government functions,” he says. “We assist German people and organizations with respect to their dealings with the Canadian government. We help them find their way around.”
Honorary consuls for western Canada are recruited by the German Consul General in Vancouver, with some involvement of the ambassador.
“They tend to pick people with a legal background for the simple reason that we have to deal with documents and lawyers are probably a well-suited to that,” says Harald. “However my predecessor had no legal background and he did an excellent job, so it’s not a necessity.”
Harald is also there to help German citizens in difficult situations. “We go to the Remand Centre when some German citizen has been in trouble, for whatever reasons.”
Other honorary consul have supported German citizens following tragic events, although Harald has not dealt with those, himself.
“You may recall the shooting of a German tourist west of Calgary. My colleague in Calgary was extensively involved,” Harald says. “There was also an unfortunate incident of a young German skier who died after crashing at Lake Louise. Again this was not my district, but my colleague down in Calgary was involved.”
Harald says Alberta is the only province that has two honorary consuls, because of the number of tourists who visit.
“The province is split at Red Deer. I basically have Red Deer and north and I am also in charge of the Northwest Territories. My colleague in Calgary deals with southern Alberta. We work closely together.”
In addition to the two honorary consuls in Alberta, there are four others in Canada, in Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Halifax and St. John’s. There are Consul Generals in Vancouver and Toronto and the embassy in Ottawa.