Once a year, the Goethe-Institut awards the Goethe Medal, an official decoration of the Federal Republic of Germany. This medal honours foreign personalities who have performed outstanding service for the German language and international cultural relations. The Goethe Medal was established by the executive committee of the Goethe-Institut in 1954 and acknowledged as an official decoration by the Federal Republic of Germany in 1975.
Since it was first awarded in 1955, a total of 332 personalities from 62 countries have been honoured. Among the prize winners in the last few years were poet Adonis, conductor Daniel Barenboim, German scholar and translator Gholam Dastgir Behbud, cultural sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, composer Pierre Boulez, author David Cornwell alias John le Carré, art historian Sir Ernst Gombrich, author and philosopher Lars Gustafsson, philosopher Ágnes Heller, exhibition maker Jan Hoet, composer György Ligeti, philosopher Sir Karl Raimund Popper, author Jorge Semprún, film director Billy Wilder and publisher Helen Wolff.
The candidates for the Goethe Medal are nominated every year by the Goethe-Instituts abroad in close collaboration with Germany's diplomatic representation offices. The three awardees are then pre-selected by a committee consisting of persons from the fields of science, literature, art and theatre. The final decision on who gets the Goethe-Medal lies then with the Board of Trustees. At present, the chairperson of the selective committee is the cultural scientist and vice president of the Goethe-Institut Christina von Braun.
The medals were first awarded in Weimar in 1992. Until 2008, the award ceremony was held on 22 March, the anniversary of the death of Goethe; since 2009 it has taken place on 28 August, Goethe's birthday. In this way, the ceremony fits seamlessly into the Weimar Kultursommer and one of its highlights, »pèlerinages« Kunstfest Weimar. Together with the Kunstfest the Goethe-Institut is organizing a matinee that will offer another opportunity to meet the three awardees.