Obituary Thank you, Hans-Dietrich Genscher

Klaus-Dieter Lehmann and Hans-Dietrich Genscher
Klaus-Dieter Lehmann and Hans-Dietrich Genscher | © Goethe-Institut e.V.

We mourn the death of Hans-Dietrich Genscher. He was not only a great advocate of the Goethe-Institut; he was our friend. A tribute by Klaus-Dieter Lehmann

The Goethe-Institut owes a great deal to Hans-Dietrich Genscher. As Germany’s foreign minister between 1974 and 1992, he decisively shaped a foreign policy that established culture as its third pillar alongside politics and industry.

“Germany is not only a leading industrial nation, we are a cultural nation. That alone prohibits an economization of Germany’s image in the world. Foreign cultural policy is more than a decorative accessory of our foreign policy, and it is certainly not an aesthetic form of foreign trade promotion.” This guiding principle of Mr Genscher strengthened the Goethe-Institut in its independence, its ability to enter into discourse and its collaborative work. With him, it was possible for us to incorporate our national social debates of the 1970s and 1980s into our programme work abroad and to credibly convey the process of democracy in Germany. It was an exciting time of cultural departures that corresponded to a fundamental emancipatory attitude even in its contradictions.

Hans-Dietrich Genscher at the opening of the Goethe-Institut Prag in 1990 Hans-Dietrich Genscher at the opening of the Goethe-Institut Prag in 1990 | © Goethe-Institut e.V. After the fall of the wall in 1989, Mr Genscher enabled us to establish new institutes in that previously closed part of the world. Shortly beforehand, on 1 November 1988, after lengthy negotiations with China he was able to set up a Goethe-Institut that remained the sole foreign cultural institute there for sixteen years. It developed splendidly and, in October 2015, expanded to an additional venue in the 798 Art Zone. It is a place after his wishes, which I characterized at its opening by saying, “I hope for a dialogue of practical action here, a dialogue of openness. For us, freedom of expression is a precious asset.” That would have pleased Mr Genscher. The notion of dialogue was central to Genscher and it is central to the Goethe-Institut. He considered it the best guarantee against new hostilities and marginalization and it was therefore indispensable to him. He knew that dialogue alone is no panacea – that would also necessitate suitable political frameworks such as rule of law and human rights – but certainly the only way to move ahead.

For him, culture was not a personal playground for artists and intellectuals, but the foundation societies need to be open and innovative. All of this strengthened his belief that the Goethe-Institut should be given lasting, steady working opportunities in order to be able to afford long-standing, credible dialogue. Hans-Dietrich Genscher was not only an advocate of the Goethe-Institut; he was our friend. He remained interested in our work to the end and was pleased to learn that we will be establishing a Goethe-Institut in Windhoek this year, in a country whose constitution he actively helped to shape on its independence in 1990.

After his passing we will continue to adhere to his conviction that culture should not be a competition between systems, but should further cultural dialogue on equal footing and the appreciation of diversity.

Klaus-Dieter Lehmann, President of the Goethe-Institut