Ten Years of kulturweit “A manoeuvrable and stable ship”
In a ceremony in the Berlin Funkhaus, alumni and politicians celebrated the tenth anniversary of the international volunteer programme kulturweit. In 2009, volunteers were sent to Goethe-Instituts and partner schools of the Goethe-Institut abroad for the first time. Then as now, curiosity and a dose of courage are important prerequisites.
By Annette Walter
It was less formal than expected; the spectators were sitting on colourful cushions distributed on the many steps in the imposing, wood-panelled hall of the Funkhaus on the banks of the Spree. Since 2009, Anna Veigel has been the head of the kulturweit programme in which around 4,000 alumni have participated so far. Each of her comments on stage was acknowledged by the predominantly young audience with loud applause. There’s no doubt that this woman is passionate about her job – that makes her so popular with the participants. The participants had travelled to the Funkhaus by boat so a beautiful seafaring metaphor she mentioned was well suited: “kulturweit is a manoeuvrable and stable ship that’s unsinkable even in stormy seas.” For sometimes adversities also need to be overcome in order to attain the social and political relevance that, according to Veigel, kulturweit has by now developed.
Stories of adventurousness and homesickness
In her speech, the SPD politician Michelle Müntefering, Minister of State for International Cultural and Educational Policy at the Federal Foreign Ministry, regretted that she herself had never participated in a programme like kulturweit for, “You get the feeling you missed out on something.” She hoped to compensate a little for this by letting the alumni tell her about their experiences, “Stories of adventurousness and homesickness, far from their own comfort zone.” For her it is a programme that gives young people the space to get to know the world. The connecting components are for her “curiosity and a dose of courage. Your view changes after a time abroad. Programmes like this can upset stereotypes.” For the politician, although kulturweit is part of German foreign policy, she doesn’t see it as an export programme for German culture, but as an important opportunity to create freedom for dialogue and exchange. The alumni are ambassadors of this approach. For the future, she hopes that the campaign against climate change will be tackled even more intensively and that there will also be increased assignments in facilities such as geoparks.
From Hamburg via China to Munich
Closing with the words “Long live freedom” she welcomed Maria Böhmer on stage, the President of the German UNESCO Commission. Böhmer began her lecture with an ironic quote from a kulturweit alumnus who said, “I feel very rooted in Hamburg and I don’t know if I would have moved to Munich if I hadn’t gone to China with kulturweit.” So the aftereffects of participation in kulturweit could sometimes lead to moving within Germany; a move the person previously considered problematic. “With kulturweit we promote a culture of understanding,” emphasised Böhmer. This lends international dialogue a new dimension. “It’s not just politicians who have to encounter one another; people have to approach one another.” She hopes there will be even more volunteer positions for future and that the Bundestag continues to provide sufficient financial resources. Therefore, it would be an ideal assurance for the future if kulturweit could operate as a fixed programme instead of a project – that is how Böhmer formulated her wish for the coming years.