Since 1955, the Goethe-Institut has awarded the Goethe Medal annually as an official decoration of the Federal Republic of Germany. The Goethe Medal honours public figures from all over the world – for some time now three cultural notables from different regions each year – who have rendered outstanding services to international cultural exchange and the teaching of the German language. The Goethe Medal is the most important award of the Federal Republic of Germany’s foreign cultural policy.
The well over three hundred awardees from 70 countries so far include Daniel Barenboim, David Cornwell aka John le Carré, Ágnes Heller, Petros Markaris, Jorge Semprún, Robert Wilson, Neil MacGregor, Helen Wolff, Yurii Andrukhovych, Irina Shcherbakova, Shirin Neshat, Ariane Mnouchkine, Yoko Tawada, Sofia Gubaidulina, Dogan Akhanli, Zukiswa Wanner and Princess Marilyn Douala Manga Bell.
The candidates for the Goethe Medal are nominated by the Goethe-Instituts around the world in close consultation with Germany’s diplomatic missions. From these nominations, the Goethe Medal Jury, consisting of persons from academia, art and culture, draws up a selection of awardees that must then be confirmed by the president of the Goethe-Institut. The Goethe Medal is grounded in the close exchange of Goethe-Institut staff around the world with the various local cultural scenes and their observation of contemporary cultural and civil society developments. The awarding of the Goethe Medal makes globally relevant cultural issues and actors known to the public in Germany and supports the internationalisation of the German cultural landscape.
Since 1992, the medal has been awarded in Weimar, since 2009 on 28 August, Goethe's birthday. Together with Kunstfest Weimar, the Goethe-Institut organises an accompanying programme that rounds off the Goethe Medal festivities and offers opportunities to meet the honourees. Since 2022, the awardees have been able to strengthen or establish new relationships with institutions and individuals working in Germany as part of a networking trip to Germany.