Deutsche Rundschau author Karl C. von Loesch explained to Franz Thierfelder, who later became the founding father of the Goethe-Institute, the need to promote German culture and language abroad, especially in Balkan countries. 

 

   For more than sixty years the Goethe Institute has been the cultural ambassador of the Federal Republic of Germany. Currently there are 159 Institutes in 94 different countries, plus four other institutes for language teaching and examinations; altogether over eighty establishments in Europe alone.

   Alongside to the Institute's name are the following words: “Language. Culture. Germany”. What does this mean? And how has the process of European integration altered the work that it does? 

 

        • The Institute was named after Goethe to emphasise its focus upon a broad range of interests, openness, and a curiosity for other cultures
           
        • EUNIC is the most important institutional connection for the Goethe Institute's engagement with Europe, because of the way in which it furthers European integration
           
        • In Goethe Institute's programmes strenght is placed upon contemporary aspects of German life and its place in international culture

 

   The Goethe Institutes promote the German language abroad, and cultivate international cultural co-operation. They seek to convey a sense of Germany as a whole by providing information about cultural, social and political life. Its programmes further intercultural dialogue and facilitate cultural participation. 

   They also support the development of community structures, and promote worldwide mobility. Emphasis is placed upon contemporary aspects of German life and its place in international culture; secured by staging events and contributing to festivals through film, dance, music, theatre, art, literature and translation. 

   Many years of co-operation with leading institutions and figures outside Germany have created a lasting sense of trust. Goethe Institutes are functional partners for anyone involved with Germany and its culture who are willing to show initiative and who are independent of party politics.

   The work of the Institute can be illustrated with the example of Italy: there is constant dialogue with the organisers of festivals and cultural events. In addition, close contact is maintained with many of those directly involved in culture and the media. 

   For Italy, Germany is an important and interesting partner, if not always one that is loved. Germany, and especially Berlin, remains attractive not least because of the high level of youth unemployment in Italy.

   Our cultural events, language courses and information attract many young thanks to the economic situation alone. In return, the Goethe Institute seeks to meet this interest by providing a broad spectrum of culture, language study and information covering all the latest trends and movements, helping to stimulate as much discussion as possible.

   The Institute was named after Goethe to emphasise its focus upon a broad range of interests, openness, and a curiosity for other cultures. Today, these remain concepts upon which dialogue in a globalised world can be based. As Alexander von Humboldt said in the nineteenth century: “Everything is connected”.

   If culture is thought of as the foundation of a society, then it can be the motor for the capacity of a society to develop. The Goethe Institute keeps closely in touch with cultural and artistic developments in Germany; and given its place at the geographical heart of Europe, it can contribute to the development of a European society capable of dialogue. This aim has been written into the Institute's strategy for 2015 to 2018: “The Goethe Institute reinforces the process of European integration and helps realise the cultural diversity of Europe, as well as Germany's contribution to this.”

   However, what do European cultural networks really look like? For more than seven years the European Union National Institutes for Culture (EUNIC) has provided a platform for European co-operation in overseas cultural and educational policy. As the European Commission put it, culture is a “central element of international relations”, one of the three pillars of the “European cultural agenda”.

   EUNIC is the most important institutional connection for the Goethe Institute's engagement with Europe, because of the way in which it furthers European integration. From this work the Institute creates new options both within and beyond Europe: firstly, new multilateral ways of working raise its quality and range in all areas; secondly, this reinforces multilateral projects that are conceived and financed within a European framework.

   For this reason the Goethe Institute regularly runs projects in Italy within the EUNIC network, or with other European cultural institutions: poetry festivals, films seasons and other cultural events are staged. It is not always possible for all European cultural institutions and embassies to be involved, since some countries lack their own cultural institute, or embassies lack personnel responsible for this work. 

   Often those cultural institutions that are financially stronger seek to compensate for this, the costs of particular events being sometimes shared among other institutes to prevent individual countries being excluded, or left unrepresented. In addition to this the Italian Goethe Institutes take part in festivals with an international theme which also have a strong European element – for example, the theatre festival Romaeuropa.

   Despite some scepticism towards Europe, Italy takes a strong interest in the events that we organise within the EUNIC framework. Given the crisis which has affected Italy for many years, there are always voices critical of the European idea. Nonetheless, events like these are positive for European integration, and help foster a feeling of a common Europe.

   The work of the Goethe Institute has been reinforced by the 2011 initiative “More Europe”, organised by the members of EUNIC together with other institutions, to promote public debate about the cultural dimension of EU external relations.

   In 2012 the European Parliament's General Committee on Culture and Education proposed an initiative for study and consultation regarding “Preparatory Action 'Culture in EU External Relations'”, creating an international consortium led by the Goethe Institute. 

   The results show that there is a great deal of worldwide interest in working with the EU and its members states on cultural matters. What is important above all else is “to move beyond representation and present, to the rest of the world, an attitude that furthers mutual learning and exchange”. 

   This corresponds to the dialogic nature of cultural exchange that the Goethe Institute treats as one of its founding principles. We are therefore on the right road, even if it is not always an easy one to follow.

Gabriele Kreuter-Lenz -- translated by Keith Tribe