Johannes Ebert am 23. März 2015
Neue Räume für das Goethe-Institut New York

Rede von Johannes Ebert anlässlich der Eröffnung der neuen Räumlichkeiten des Goethe-Instituts in New York am 30 Irving Place

Dear Mr. Steinlein,

Dear Ms Abaywardena,

Dear Ms Wagener,

Dear Christoph Bartmann,

Liebe Gäste,

ich freue mich sehr darüber, dass ich heute hier sein kann, und das neue Haus des Goethe-Instituts in New York eröffnen darf.

Wir sind hier an einem neuen Ort, der offen ist, der sichtbar ist und der zum Hereinkommen einlädt. Man kann durch das Schaufenster reinsehen und stößt auf deutsche Kultur, auf Bücher, Medien, es wird Lesungen geben und andere Veranstaltungen und zum ersten Mal auch Deutschkurse am Goethe-Institut New York.

So for everybody who did not understand what I said right now, there will be soon be the opportunity to learn German in the Goethe-Institut New York as well. Diese Räume sind wunderbar. These rooms are simply magnificent.

One year ago, when I first visited our new Goethe-Institut, things looked different: the floor was broken in several corners, the windows were dark, the colour brownish, the electricity cables looked more like an art installation. But having been responsible as a Goethe-Institut director for building projects in interesting places like Moscow or Cairo, or in Ukraine where we constructed a new Goethe-Institut literally out of the ruins, I was struck the first time I saw these premises by the potential they have. And I was right, which I'm afraid is not always the case.

During the last year there have been important changes to the building: an open and very light library, attractive learning and reading areas, functional event space and, of course, very impressive new classrooms on the fourth floor. Thus, 50 years after the founding of the Goethe House on Fifth Avenue, the Goethe-Institut New York is something it never was before: a cultural institute working in every field – the German language, arts, culture, education and information about Germany – in an appealing location and superbly equipped.

Many people and institutions to thank! Not only because it is so splendid, but also because everything went so fast!

Thanks for this are due first of all to the Foreign Office and the Consulate General in New York, most notably the property department of the Foreign Office (Ms Hachmeister is also in the audience), furthermore to the architects Sebastian Kaempf and Anke Roggenbuck, to the lessors, SAMCO, namely Jeffrey and Michael Smith, and, of course, the administration and staff of the Goethe-Institut New York and our colleagues in the head office who supervised the project.

Everything worked out very well despite the short time available for planning. We met the deadline and adhered to the budget and today can open a house that we believe and hope will be here for a long time and grow to become a new attraction in New York.

The Goethe-Instituts worldwide are named after the great poet, writer, statesman and scientist Johann Wolfgang von Goethe – not only because he is so famous but because many of his concepts and thoughts are highly contemporary: the dialogue between east and west, the concept of “Weltliteratur” – world literature, his openness towards other cultures and new developments in life. So let me briefly draw your attention to the bust of Goethe in the library. It has been standing in the Goethe-Institut New York since the beginning back in the late 1950s when there was not yet a Goethe-Institut, but a Goethe House on Fifth Avenue. There the role of the Goethe-Institut gradually grew until the Goethe House was then renamed the Goethe-Institut in 1984.

The bust of Goethe is always pictured in photos from the founding years, whether with Federal President Theodor Heuss and John McCloy, or with Chancellor Adenauer, or with Willy Brandt and Henry Fonda. The bust stood in the house on Fifth Avenue for decades, then it moved along with the institute in 2009 to Spring Street in SoHo, and it has now found a new home on Irving Place.

In the more than 50 years since its founding, the Goethe-Institut New York has changed very much, but it has remained true to itself and “our” Goethe has always provided the right inspiration for both continuity and change.

It’s not often that one is given the opportunity to build a new cultural institute. What we see here is the realization of this rare opportunity. What capabilities must a cultural institute dedicated to dialog and gatherings have in 2015? We thought it should be easily accessible. Now, just a block from Union Square, that goal has been achieved. It should also be visible from the outside. That was difficult on the 11th floor on Spring Street, but now, thanks to the illuminated sign above the entrance and the street level location, the Goethe-Institut can’t be missed.

A Goethe-Institut should offer language courses, and ideally it should have a library. Not just as a place to store books, but as a place where people meet, where people work or, what’s important in New York, sit down for a cup of coffee now and then. That is why this space also has a coffee bar for our visitors.

And finally, a Goethe-Institut, even if many of its activities do not take place in the building or even in the city, should be a venue for events, for interesting, relevant, lively occasions. Now all of this is possible in these rooms, which makes us very happy. And don’t let me forget to mention our art space Ludlow 38, which we operate together with BMW/Mini and which continues to be an important and very popular branch in Chinatown. Thanks to Thomas Girst.

Goethe-Instituts are there for everyone, or they are meant to be; they are Germany’s offer to the world to conduct an exchange and lead a dialogue. When the Goethe House was established in New York many decades ago, not by the German government, but by private American citizens, it was mainly a matter of reconciliation after the Second World War and the Holocaust.

The house on Fifth Avenue quickly grew to become a place-to-go for New Yorkers of all origins and biographies. The Goethe House and the later Goethe-Institut did not forget its founding mission and perhaps that is why it kept up with the times.

A new audience, a new clientele, demands new topics and subjects. After 1989, reunified Germany and the new Berlin were pushed into the limelight, triggering a great deal of interest. Strangely, this interest has not ebbed since. Today the Goethe-Institut sees itself primarily as a platform for this post-1989 Germany yet it does not renounce the older, historical, difficult issues.

One important and maybe the most important foundation and basis for our work is the cooperation with partners. Together we develop projects, together we address audiences and together we work on international dialogue and exchange. So at the end of my speech I want to thank you all, the representatives of our partner institutions, artists, writers, teachers and intellectuals who work with the Goethe-Institut, and who make the Goethe-Institut New York what it is:  a place where cultures meet, a place of dialogue and discussion, a place of Americans and Germans alike – and from today on in a new, very beautiful house.

Thank you!

Gehalten am 23. März 2015 in New York.