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Culture

Sweden's German-Born Queen Silvia Going Strong at 65

At an age when most people retire, Sweden's Queen Silvia continues to be at the forefront of the fight against child poverty and mistreatment. The queen, born in Germany, has no big plans for her 65th birthday.

Queen Silvia of Sweden waves

Queen Silvia has focused her energy on helping disadvantaged children

Germans' fascination with Silvia began not long after Munich's 1972 Summer Olympics. It was there that the multi-lingual 28-year-old brunette caught the eye of the crown prince of Sweden.

On Tuesday, Dec. 23, the queen celebrates her 65th birthday.

In the years since marrying King Carl XVI Gustaf, Silvia has come to be seen as a queen of the people who is unpretentious and true to her beliefs. Many see her influence in shaping the king from a playboy with a love for fast cars into a respectable monarch.

"Silvia is an admirable woman who is kind and gentle," royals expert Steen Hedman of the gossip magazine Se och Hoer told AFP news agency. "The Swedes liked her from the beginning. They were happy that their king had finally found a suitable wife."

A multi-lingual monarch

Queen Silvia, right, receives an award from Ursula von der Leyen

Queen Silvia has been recognized for her philanthropic work

Silvia Renate Sommerlath was born on Dec. 23, 1943, in Heidelberg to a German father and a Brazilian mother. Walter Sommerlath was in the steel business, managing a factory in Sao Paulo for many years. A recent examination of Germany's state archives showed that Walter Sommerlath had joined the Nazi party's foreign wing in 1934. Walter Sommerlath, who died in 1990, always denied involvement with the Nazi party.

Silvia grew up in Brazil. Her family moved back to Germany in 1957. After graduating from high school, she attended a translation institute in Munich. Besides German, the queen is fluent in six languages and was hired on as a translator and hostess during the Olympics. Carl Gustaf, catching sight of her through binoculars, was instantly smitten. The two were married four years later. Luckily, by the time they married, Carl Gustav was already king -- as crown prince he would have had to give up the throne in order to marry a commoner.

Focused on children

The Swedish royal family

Queen Silvia has been very protective of her children and how they are portrayed

Since the beginning, the queen has focused on disadvantaged and mistreated children. In 1999 she started the World Childhood Foundation, an organization which supports dozens of projects around the world.

"She has an extraordinary way of listening," the organization's general secretary Gunilla von Arbin, who has worked with the queen for 10 years, told AFP. "With her, children can have their say and then she takes action."

Silvia is very pragmatic about her involvement.

"The advantage of being queen is that it's possible to help turn things around for the better," she said.

Her instinct to protect extends to her own children. Although Crown Princess Victoria, 31, and her two siblings (Carl Philip, 29, and Madeleine, 26) are well into adulthood, they remain under the watch of their mother, says royals reporter Hedman.

"She can be very strict sometimes," he said.

She was reportedly behind Princess Madeleine's early return from England. Queen Silvia found that her daughter had lost sight of her responsibilities as a princess during her studies abroad.

Tabloid tales have sparked lawsuits

Sweden's tabloids generally go easy on the queen and her family, although the queen's obsession with her looks is a running joke. Silvia reportedly underwent cosmetic surgery many years ago. But these types of stories are harmless compared with those that German gossip rags write about the Swedish royals.

"What really hurts us are these falsehoods that are made up at a desk out of thin air," she complained.

Several years ago, the Swedish royal family brought a lawsuit against German gossip magazines. The royals were upset about constant speculation over the princesses' love lives and rumors that the king and queen were on the verge of divorce.

For her 65th birthday, the queen does not have any splashy celebration planned, according to the Expressen newspaper, but instead will have a small family gathering.

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