As the largest mediator organisation involved in German foreign cultural policy, the Goethe-Institut also represents a united Europe in the world. In tandem with other European cultural institutions, it works for European cohesion and stands for shared values.
Mediating German and European identitiesEurope – diversity is what makes it so special as both a continent and a community. The European Union (EU) has unified people from 27 different nations, cultures and languages who have grown closer in recent decades without giving up their diversity or regional identities. Still, the financial crisis in Europe, the rise of nationalist and populist movements and Brexit have all put this solidarity to the test over the past decade.
There are 24 official languages in the EU – including German, of course. While the Goethe-Institut’s original role was to convey German language and culture, the cultural institution’s mission and self-image have changed in a united Europe. Together with other European cultural institutions, the Goethe-Institut transmits a shared vision of the EU to the outside world today. Internally, it works to help shape the European ideal and strengthen cohesion.
Building bridges in the EUPhoto: Lillo Mendola A visit with Elke Kaschl Mohni in Brussels. She has headed the Goethe-Institut Belgium since 2019, serves as regional director for Southern Europe and represents the Goethe-Institut at the European Union. In its European role, the Goethe-Institut Belgium focuses on particularly topical issues: cohesion in the EU, ecology and sustainability, digitalisation and artificial intelligence, remembrance culture, and the cultural and creative industries.
Since the EU’s 2007 European Agenda for Culture incorporated cultural work as an official element of EU policy, the Goethe-Institut has become a reliable contact for European institutions in matters of international cultural and educational relations. It has been certified a “pillar-assessed entity,” a privileged contractual relationship with the EU that allows the EU to entrust the Goethe-Institut with the administration of EU funds.
Networks of exchangePhoto: Roberto Ilardi What is going on in Palermo, Italy today is an excellent example of what European cultural work can look like: In 2021 the “Kultur Ensemble”, the first Franco-German cultural institute, was established based on the Aachen Treaty. Together with Italian partners, it operates a residency program for artists. For three months at a time, two artists come to work in the Sicilian city and exchange ideas with the local arts scene. “We are creating a common cultural platform and taking responsibility for Europe,” Michelle Müntefering, then Minister of State at the Federal Foreign Office, said at the opening.
“Together with the Institut français and the city of Palermo, establishing the first ‘Kultur Ensemble’ in Sicily, Italy, of all places, the heart of the Mediterranean, is a great opportunity and an example of European solidarity,” director of the Palermo institute Heidi Sciacchitano enthuses. “Italy is a founding EU state and Sicily has always been a place of cultural interaction and integration – and as such, a model for Europe.” As a Swiss-born Sicilian, she emphasised the positive way that the Franco-German cultural institute in Palermo would bridge “the distance between Sicily and Central Europe.”
A successful model outside Europe too: The French-German Cultural Centre in Ramallah is one example of European cultural cooperation beyond EU borders. The Goethe-Institut and the Institut français have jointly run the centre since 2004. “We benefit greatly from each other’s expertise and network,” Mona Kriegler, former director of the Goethe-Institut in the Palestinian territories, says of the collaboration with the Institut français. “Our long-standing cooperation means we are seen as a European institute.”
Photo: Katherine Huber In 2006, the Goethe-Institut joined the Association of European Cultural Institutes (EUNIC) to form a European network of organisations. A total of 38 institutes have come on board since then, including the Institut français, the Instituto Cervantes and the Società Dante Alighieri. Members of the EUNIC network are primarily active outside of Europe: In more than 100 countries, they organise joint events and projects designed to promote diversity and intercultural understanding.
Countering pessimismThe Goethe-Institut also promotes exchange and mobility for creative and cultural professionals in Europe. Such as through “i-Portunus,” a European Union programme and consortium led by the Goethe-Institut with the Institut français and Izolyatsia. It is referred to tongue-in-cheek as “Erasmus for the cultural sector” and funds travel for artists, translators, and other creative professionals, promoting international collaborations and production-oriented residencies in Europe.
The “House of Europe” in Kiev promotes creative exchange between Ukraine and EU countries with travel grants and co-productions. But when the pandemic made it impossible to meet face to face, the EU programme provided emergency funding for the cultural sector, which was particularly hard hit by the pandemic, replacing study trips with digital hackathons. “In the most challenging times, creative people always manage to come together in support of a larger objective, solving problems to serve the good of society,” said Denisas Kolomyckis, an artist and curator who was one of more than 1,200 participants in the “Hatathon Hack the Culture.” “The Hatathon was a great way to experience this.”
Back to the European capital and the Goethe-Institut Brussels though, where director Kaschl Mohni is confident that culture can contribute to understanding between nations: “The power of culture creates space for debate.” Despite differences, she says, people can talk to each other here. This is not just about developments in the EU, she adds, as Europe must always be seen in a global context. A lot of small and large projects support this mission. One example was the 2018 “Tashweesh” festival, which brought together feminist concepts from North Africa, the Middle East and Europe. This is particularly important to Kaschl Mohni, as she worked for the Goethe-Institut Cairo before her time in Brussels. “It’s worthwhile to keep crossing borders,” she notes, not only with a view to the festival, which will be held again in 2022.
The multiplicity of languages – a European treasureIn Brussels, promoting the German language within the EU also crosses borders. Kaschl Mohni does not see this as a competition with other languages, but rather as fruitful cooperation: “Europe is colourful and diverse, that’s a treasure, our cultural heritage.” After all, talking to each other does not necessarily mean always speaking the same language.
Encouraging the diversity of languages is an EU objective and is promoted as such. While the Goethe-Institut was once considered responsible solely for teaching the German language, today it assumes a dual role. On the one hand, the Institut promotes multilingualism and addresses its social consequences. On the other hand, the Institut offers German courses in all European countries and strengthens the teaching of German in the curricula of schools in host countries.
Grafik: Europanetzwerk Deutsch Digital formats such as “kurz & bündig” supplement the language courses. In the German-language podcast, experts discuss topics relevant to the EU and ranging from the energy transition to foreign trade with China. Worksheets with language exercises round out the podcast.
These digital and hybrid formats for conveying information have become an integral part of the Goethe-Institut’s everyday work. They serve the overriding goal of using different languages in Europe while speaking the same language based on a shared understanding of openness, freedom and equality. “We don’t all think the same way,” Kaschl Mohni says, “but if we explore the synergies and deal with the differences, we all win.”
Translation: Sarah Smithson-Compton