Rainer Pollack am 13. Januar 2018
Grußwort von Rainer Pollack zur Neuunterbringung des Goethe-Instituts Kolkata

Neuunterbringung des Goethe-Instituts Kolkata

Es gilt das gesprochene Wort.
Making a start is a strength, completion is power. (Unknown)

With these words and in light of wonderful, completed work, I would like to first wish you all a happy new year and a good start to 2018.

Hon'ble Minister, The Department of Information Technology, Sri Bratya Basu [pronounced Schri Brato Boschu],
Mr Schrod, Deputy Consul General of the Federal Republic of Germany,
Ms Priti Paul,
Mr Sievers,
Mr Maecker,
members of the consular corps,
guests and friends of the Goethe-Institut,

we have gathered here today for the opening of the new building of the Goethe-Institut/Max Mueller Bhavan.

What could be a better start to the year than such a wonderful occasion?
For me, it is a doubly wonderful occasion: Kolkata is my first trip to a destination outside Europe since my assumption of office on 1 September 2017 as executive director and member of the board of the Goethe-Institut.

I am absolutely delighted to be here with you in Kolkata today, despite the tight scheduling which has forced the trip to be limited to a mere two days. Kolkata: a city that is not only colourful and unique but which also holds great cultural interest. Kolkata that can look back on a long and tradition-rich history.

This makes us even more delighted that the Goethe-Institut also has established locations here in India.

With 159 institutes in 98 countries since 1951, the Goethe-Institut is the largest intermediary organisation for Germany’s foreign cultural and educational policy.
But why India? Why Kolkata?

A Goethe-Institut in India is of particular significance. Our countries may not be geographically close but we can look back on a long, common history.
The relationships between Germany and India have been characterised by mutual respect, common values and partner-like support for each other. This is also how our Chancellor Angela Merkel described it in her speech at the German-Indian Economic forum last year in Berlin (30.05.17).

Why do we work together?

It was Jakob Fugger, a merchant and banker from Augsburg, who enabled the journeys of the first German ships to Goa in the 16th century. This opened up the trade route between Germany and India. Between the 16th and 18th centuries, several German companies began trading in India and other East-Asian countries. In the 19th century, it was the German company Siemens that, for example, laid the first telegraph connection between Calcutta and London via Berlin.

And today?

Our cooperation includes a wide spectrum of fields of action – from politics and economic exchange to culture, education and language – and it is right here that we, as the Goethe-Institut, come into play.

India and Germany are important partners.

We, India and Germany combine our powers to master the challenges of the globalised world, for example with regard to climate change, international terrorism or the struggle for sustainable economies.

All this and further themes characterise the work of the Goethe-Institut, too.
Since 1958, the Goethe-Institut in Kolkata has worked successfully in all three sectors – language, culture and education – and in doing so has made an important contribution to German-Indian cultural exchange.

Why Kolkata in particular?

Kolkata is one of India’s intellectual centres with an impressive density of schools, museums and libraries as well as a great and rapidly growing interest in Germany and the German language.

The Goethe-Institut benefits from a high level of exchange with local partners. Many of our partners are here this evening.

I would like to thank you most warmly for your dedication and your openness to our work. It is exactly this collaboration, this network which sets the Goethe-Institut apart throughout the world. The fact that I am allowed to work for such an institution that brings people together fills me personally with pride.

We need you in order to work together in the areas of culture, language and to act as an ambassador for the image of Germany.

We need the ministries in Germany, in particular the Foreign Office, and especially also the ministries and local authorities in our host countries. After all, this value creation, this work does not come free.

We need the artists and teachers, and we need the independent institutions and their representatives.

And of course we need the employees, who embody the values of the Goethe-Institut and who work hard for us, as we have been able to see so clearly here in Kolkata.
In light of security risks and of discussions about freedom of expression and human rights, our role isn’t easy and requires a lot of instinctive feeling and tact by all employees and their partners in today’s situation – in the country, in the region and in the world – to find the right answers and programme, and to react to the situation with heightened awareness and with the appropriate options.

When we look to the future, we can see that the tasks of the Goethe-Institut – as well as of all other national cultural institutions – will become even more vital.

I am not afraid of this future.

I am not afraid because, with the numerous programmes that we organise locally here as a cultural institute but also very specifically as a neutral place to meet up, we impart values and, in particular, free space.

Creating free space – whether physically as a place of refuge and for open discourse in a restricted environment, or digitally with free access to knowledge, educational opportunities and culture.

In many places in the world, we have the impression that these tasks are becoming more and more urgent.

In order to deliver, we need places. Spaces. Today, right here, I walked through the building and can say with absolute conviction: The Goethe-Institut in Kolkata is perfectly equipped to this end.

Everything is arranged and ready to conduct this open dialogue. A future-orientated dialogue and intercultural exchange in which a variety of different – also critical – voices can find an ear.

I am completely convinced that education and culture are key elements for the tasks, which lie ahead of us.

Often art and culture touch on the sore points and create awareness for social problems as well as question values. However, they also demonstrate alternatives and make understanding possible even where the situation seems deeply entrenched. This is a huge challenge.

A challenge that the Goethe-Institut must and wants to take on, however.

A challenge, which we – as we have seen in the past – are more than a match for.

A challenge that can be overcome not least of all through our experience, through our action and particularly through professional facilities and an excellent location.
The Goethe-Institut in Kolkata is just such an excellent location in the best, central site. We are all very proud of it.

The Institut moved into the unfinished premises at the end of May 2017 since the existing rental contract could not be extended. The day-to-day business of the institution carried on despite construction work, which represented considerable strain for our colleagues here.

Now, being able to stand here in this building is something we as the Goethe-Institut have to thank many of you for.

It is only thanks to your great dedication, patience and staying power that we can celebrate this building and the Goethe-Institut being in Kolkata.

Great and particular thanks – and I am speaking also on behalf of my colleagues – goes to Director Ms Priti Paul and her whole team at the Apeejay Surrendra Group, to which our new property, Park Mansions, belongs. She was very generous and open towards us in all negotiations. Ms Paul provided the Goethe-Institut with extraordinary support during the reconstruction phase.

I would also like to warmly thank the architectural team from Blocher&Blocher Partners as well as all companies that were involved.

Without the Goethe team, the whole new lease, outfitting and moving process could never have happened. My thanks to all colleagues at the Goethe-Institut in Kolkata. Please allow me to single out Mr Friso Maecker and Ms Leela Chinoy for a special mention. They always solved the seemingly endless flood of problems and challenges masterfully and cleverly. Without them, the project could not have succeeded or may not even have been implemented at all. Many, many thanks!

Last but not least, I would like to thank other colleagues:

the South-Asia regional team led by Mr Heiko Sievers, as well as Ms Angelika Ridder, Ms Stephanie Wymer and Mr Johannes Albrecht from the Central Services Division/Real Estate Department in Munich.

I am coming to the end of my speech, so let me summarize:
  • I came here in order to meet you all and giving an explicitly thanks for your ongoing hard work.
  • I look forward to a successful German-Indian relationship especially in the context of Goethe-Institut and
  • the third point is to thank everybody who was involved in the project.

I wish our Goethe-Institut in Kolkata, the colleagues, partners and friends of our efforts much success for the coming years and a lively and bustling house that continues to be so intensively connected to the city of Kolkata.

Thank you!