Denmark’s ambassador to the United States traveled from Washington, D.C., to Solvang to visit the Elverhøj Museum of History and Art on Wednesday in recognition of its 30th anniversary.
Henrik Bramsen Hahn, deputy chief of mission and ambassador from the Embassy of Denmark, was honored with a private invitation-only reception that evening as part of a two-day stay — his first — in the city known as the “Danish Capital of America.”
Hahn, 54, was scheduled to get a private tour of the city and meet with local officials, some of whom attended the reception, including Solvang Mayor Jim Richardson, Mayor-elect Ryan Toussaint, City Councilwoman Joan Jamieson, councilmen-elect Robert Clarke and Niels “Chris” Djernaes and City Manager Brad Vidro.
While at the Elverhøj, Hahn talked about his country, its relationship with the United States and its traditions that played a role in the founding of Solvang.
“The museum is truly a unique place,” Hahn said, commending the Elverhøj for its efforts to “preserve the memory and legacy of Danish culture.”
“Solvang has everything … even a statue of Hans Christian Andersen and a statue of the Little Mermaid,” he said.
That culture was brought to Solvang around the turn of the 20th century by Danish immigrants who had settled in the Midwest but were attracted to the growing enclave of their countrymen in the fertile Santa Ynez Valley.
But Hahn noted Denmark’s relationship with the United States stretches all the way back to when the first Danes set foot on American soil in the 16th century, starting a migration that would continue into the mid-20th century.
“We are probably the country with the longest relationship (with the United States),” Hahn said, standing inside the cottage behind the museum where a diorama of Solvang in the 1920s is on display. “We established our mission in 1801. Our relationship is fantastic with the U.S.”
He said Denmark has fought beside the United States in a number of wars, including those in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“We might be America’s biggest ally,” he added.
He also said the two countries have cooperated on trade for many years, noting the United States is Denmark’s third most important trading partner after Germany and Sweden.
Denmark has more than 700 companies located in the United States, providing jobs for 17,000 people, and U.S. companies are investing in Denmark as well, Hahn said.
Google, Apple and Facebook have all chosen to locate their Northern European data centers in Denmark, which he attributed to the country having “a very good business framework” and striking a balance between green energy and a favorable business climate.
“We’re first-movers on many green agendas,” Hahn said. “Our companies put up some of the first windmills near San Francisco.”
He traced Denmark’s green movement back to the oil crisis of the early 1970s, when the country imported 70 percent of its oil.
In 1974, Denmark began exploring for oil on its own soil, then later turned to wind turbines in its drive to become energy self-sufficient.
Today, Denmark produces 99.9 percent of its own energy, and 43 percent of the country’s electricity is supplied by wind generation.
Hahn said his country can’t compete with China and Mexico in industrial products.
“We need to be in a more advanced part of the food chain, so to speak,” he said, so the country is looking for high-tech and biotech companies interested in setting up operations in Denmark.
“Tech companies these days are the size of countries,” Hahn said. “That’s why we created our tech ambassador.”
A first in international relations, Denmark’s tech ambassador is based in Palo Alto, where he can engage with the world’s leading tech companies.
Denmark is working with state governors and legislatures to set up green high-tech institutes, recently opened a consul general’s office in Houston and next year will open one in Boston.
Hahn also said ongoing student exchanges between Denmark and the United States continue to foster new friendships and mutual understanding that will benefit both countries into the future.
“What’s important to us is the U.S. is a very important partner,” he said.
Hahn holds a master of law degree from the University of Copenhagen, is a Knight 1st Class in the Order of the Dannebrog in Denmark and was awarded the Grand Cross of the Order of the Liberator General San Martin by Argentina and the Grand Cross I of the Order of the Aztec Eagle by Mexico.
Prior to being named deputy chief of mission and ambassador for the embassy in Washington, D.C., he served as ambassador to Afghanistan; to Argentina, which included Uruguay and Paraguay; and to Mexico, which included the Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Jamaica, Nicaragua, Trinidad and Tobago.
He also served as the head of the Department of Green Growth and Danida Business, head of the Department of Environment, Energy and Climate Change, deputy head of the Department of Middle East and North Africa and head of the Iran/Iraq Section of the Department of Middle East and Latin America.
Hahn also served as a political counselor for the Permanent Mission of Denmark to the United Nations, among other duties.