Gutenberg Award 2016 „Books were my key to the world“

The Mayor of Mainz Michael Ebling presents the Gutenberg Prize to the President of the Goethe-Institut Klaus-Dieter Lehmann
The Mayor of Mainz Michael Ebling presents the Gutenberg Prize to the President of the Goethe-Institut Klaus-Dieter Lehmann | © AZ/Braun

Klaus-Dieter Lehmann, the president of the Goethe-Institut, received the 2016 Gutenberg Award from the International Gutenberg Society and the City of Mainz.

The 10,000-euro Gutenberg Award is awarded annually, alternating with the City of Leipzig, for special services to books and book culture. At the award ceremony at Mainz City Hall, the chief editor of the ZDF, Dr Peter Frey, praised Klaus-Dieter Lehmann as a “charmingly resolute cultural persuader,” whose pioneering ideas and visions made a visible mark in particular on the cultural city of Berlin.

Receiving this special award, said Lehmann, touches him deeply since, alongside his diverse cultural commitments, he always has been a “man of books.” “To make science public knowledge has always been my credo.” He also explained that in the process of digitalization the cultural sector is faced with major challenges, but that it must not close itself to this development. “There is no reason to refuse the digital medium, for it offers too many attractive options. Digital abstinence by users is ultimately impossible. What matters is whether we simply stand by and watch while the digital medium develops as a technical phenomenon or whether we take it into the service of culture.” In his career as a librarian he was always influenced by two forms, “by the printed book and the digital product.”

The award committee consists of individuals from the International Gutenberg Society, the Johannes Gutenberg University and the city council as well as the City of Leipzig. The committee explained its decision by citing the great merits of Klaus-Dieter Lehmann, for example in the merger of the Deutsche Bücherei in Leipzig and the Deutsche Bibliothek in Frankfurt (together with the German Music Archive in Berlin) in the 1990s to form today's Deutsche Nationalbibliothek (German National Library).

As president of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation in Berlin from 1999 to 2007 he also worked for the preservation of cultural heritage, such as the Pergamon Museum, and the reconstruction of the State Library in Berlin. As the president of the Goethe-Institut today Klaus-Dieter Lehmann is a groundbreaking advocate of the German language and culture abroad, but also a promoter of language courses, for example for immigrants, here at home.

Other awardees in the past include the inventor of e-paper, Joseph M. Jacobson of MIT, the director of the Harvard Libraries, Robert Darnton, Henri-Jean Martin from the Sorbonne Paris and, two years ago, the semiotician and author Umberto Eco.