Ceremony 2011

Goethe Medal Awarded in Weimar

Photos: Maik Schuck

On 28 August, Klaus-Dieter Lehmann, president of the Goethe-Institut, awarded this year's Goethe Medal to three important Europeans: the British writer David Cornwell, alias John le Carré, the Polish journalist Adam Michnik, and the French film and theatre director Ariane Mnouchkine. With this official decoration of the Federal Republic of Germany, the Goethe-Institut honours personalities who have displayed especial commitment to the German language and international cultural relations. The Goethe Medal was awarded for the 57th time in 2011.

Klaus-Dieter Lehmann paid tribute to the awardees, three outstanding European public figures whose lives and work have helped make Europe an increasingly cohesive, peaceful and creative place. The Goethe-Institut is celebrating its 60th anniversary in 2011, which is why this year's award has a special European focus – Europe being the starting point and frame of reference for the Goethe-Institut's work. The award ceremony took place in the presence of Cornelia Pieper, Minister of State at the Federal Foreign Office, Christoph Matschie, Thuringia's Minister of Education, Science and Culture, and Stefan Wolf, Mayor of the City of Weimar.

Klaus-Dieter Lehmann described the life's work of the British writer David Cornwell, alias John le Carré, as an "impressive humanistic plea". le Carré's novels, which he wrote in the second half of the twentieth century, reflect the lines of political conflict from the Cold War era to the present day. The author of the global bestseller "The Spy Who Came in from the Cold" is a master of the political and psychological crime novel. In his spy thrillers, millions of copies of which have been sold to date, he condensed Germany's difficult role during the era of the Cold War in his writing. Even after the political upheavals of 1989, the cultural criticism in his novels remained as alive as ever: "He shows in impressive fashion how global political problems are ignited by cultural boundaries and by the abuse of individual peoples", stated Lehmann in his laudation. le Carré has always been convinced that language learning is the key to understanding foreign cultures. In his love of the German language, Great Britain's most famous German speaker provides an impressive example of this. 50 years after the building of the Berlin Wall, 20 years after the end of the Soviet Union, 10 years after the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, the awarding of the Goethe Medal to le Carré is an "outstanding cultural political signal – with hugely symbolic power", says Lehmann.

The Polish journalist Adam Michnik was awarded the Goethe Medal in recognition of his outstanding contribution to the dialogue between Eastern and Western Europe. According to Lehmann, he has "played a key role in ensuring that Poles and Germans now once again have a positive common story to tell". Michnik is one of Poland's outstanding intellectuals whose life's work is interwoven with the end of the Eastern Bloc and the beginning of Eastern Europe – as a key dissident figure under the communist regime, a civil rights activist and one of the first to conceive of a free, democratic state, and as the publisher of Poland's largest national newspaper, "Gazeta Wyborcza". He has used his voice to fight for freedom and reconciliation, even beyond Poland's borders, and has always "thought and acted as a cultured Central European". Prior to 1989 he refused in particular to allow the country's link to Germany to be destroyed. As Lehmann stated in his address, the Goethe-Institut is honouring "a brave, incorruptible and tolerant Polish rebel who has never tired of speaking out in the European public sphere".

The Goethe Medal was also awarded to Ariane Mnouchkine, the French "director goddess". Her life's work has "rendered outstanding services to international cultural relations", stated Lehmann. Over 40 years ago, she established the "Théâtre du Soleil", of which she is the artistic and stage director. Even today, its alternative approach to theatre is unique. Her productions tell of how cultures coexist and battle against one another. During the course of her travels, which have taken her all over the world – there have been also guest performances of numerous productions in Germany – she has become a mediator between peoples, religions and cultures. She has tirelessly fought for artists who have been subjected to political persecution, as well as for migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers on the fringes of European society. In his laudation, Klaus-Dieter Lehmann underlined those aspects of her creative oeuvre which have also shaped the work of the Goethe-Institut: "her commitment to the freedom of arts and artists, her respect and openness towards other cultures and the importance of art for civil society". Ariane Mnouchkine, who was unable to attend the ceremony in person, was represented by the actress Shaghayeg Beheshti from her ensemble.

The formal address which then followed was given by John le Carré, which he devoted to his "love affair" with Germany. Having felt a close bond to the poets of the classical and romantic eras from his earliest youth, he explained that German language and culture had strongly influenced his life and work. In his speech, le Carré also addressed the political challenges currently facing Europe. In view of recent events in Great Britain – the phone hacking scandal and the riots in a number of cities – le Carré described his country as suffering from "a moral vacuum". He also believes that hard times lie ahead for Europe. Used to influencing policy, the continent must nowadays accept a role as a mere observer of global events. Given the current challenges, le Carré considers cohesion between the members of the European family more important than ever – and Germany more important than ever for its European neighbours.

On the day before the awards ceremony, the Goethe-Institut, in cooperation with the "pèlerinages" Kunstfest Weimar, organized a matinee with the prize-winners: on Saturday, 27 August 2011, John le Carré, Adam Michnik and the historian Étienne François joined Christina von Braun, cultural studies expert and vice-president of the Goethe-Institut, in a discussion of "Europe: Borders and Neighbours". The event began at 11 am in the seminar building of the Weimarhalle.

The Goethe Medal was established by the executive committee of the Goethe-Institut in 1954. In 1975 it was acknowledged as an official decoration by the Federal Republic of Germany. From 1992 to 2008 the Goethe Medal was awarded each year in Weimar on the anniversary of Goethe's death. In 2009 the award ceremony was held for the first time on 28 August, Goethe's birthday. The medal honours foreign personalities who have performed outstanding service for the German language and international cultural relations. Since it was first awarded in 1955, a total of 326 personalities from 58 countries have been honoured. Previous prize-winners include Pierre Bourdieu, György Ligeti, Ágnes Heller and Daniel Barenboim.

The award ceremony was hosted in cooperation with the Klassik Stiftung Weimar. The matinee featuring the prize-winners was staged in close partnership with the "pèlerinages" Kunstfest Weimar.

Pictures are available to download from the following link:
Pressebilder der Verleihung 2011

Laudations and the speeches of the prize winner are available under:
David Cornwell alias John le Carré
Adam Michnik
Ariane Mnouchkine