Obituary “For her, culture was an essential part of society, not a decorative element”

Hildegard Hamm-Brücher with Klaus-Dieter Lehmann and Jutta Limbach (2008).
Hildegard Hamm-Brücher with Klaus-Dieter Lehmann and Jutta Limbach (2008). | © Goethe-Institut e.V.

Dr. Dr. h.c. mult. Hildegard Hamm-Brücher, retired minister of state, has passed away at the age of 95.

We are mourning for a great figure, who, as a member of the Goethe-Institut since 1970, exemplified and imparted the ideal values of German foreign cultural and educational policy: appreciation of diversity, equality of cultures, discourse and considering interpersonal encounters in life as a cultural achievement. Hildegard Hamm-Brücher passionately advocated giving the cultural work of the Goethe-Institut an independent structure, in particular in her capacity as Minister of State at the Federal Foreign Office from 1976 to 1982. For her, culture was an essential part of society, not a decorative element. Foreign cultural policy was the third dimension of foreign policy for her and she acted accordingly.

We feel fortunate and grateful to have experienced her as an active member in our ranks for 45 years. Her presence was exemplary, her passion was stirring and her commitment to democracy was absolute. She never neglected the fact that a future can only be gained if we face the past. Her voice was heard, and her lived citizenship moved us all. In a weakening Europe, in a time of resurgence of populism, chauvinism and nationalism, we must not forget the narrative shaped by its liberal power.

My personal attachment to Hildegard Hamm-Brücher arose from many conversations. One major focus of them was the consequences of the great bloodletting that resulted from the emigration and annihilation of European Jewry and the painstaking efforts towards sincere reappraisal and reconciliation, also on the path of cultural cooperation in the world. This was major concern for her, who knew Sophie Scholl of the White Rose movement so well.

Her life compels us to vigorously defend the values of democracy and the rule of law, to enable diverse forms of access to education, and to grasp openness towards the world as a value. We will miss her as a valuable counsellor and interlocutor in our annual general meeting.

Klaus-Dieter Lehmann, President of the Goethe-Institut