The Goethe-Institut
At home and abroad

Migration, climate change, globalisation and, most recently, the pandemic have changed the Goethe-Institut’s work in Germany. From the “Mein Weg nach Deutschland” (My Path to Germany) web portal to international exchange on visions for the future: How the Institut’s work resonates at home.

 Wie die Arbeit des Goethe-Instituts im Inland wirkt

How the Goethe-Institut’s work resonates at home

The teacher sits in front of the camera, somewhat stiffly, and ties a large serviette around his neck. He begins the educational film about customs in German restaurants with the words, “Ich habe Hunger,” (I am hungry). The menu includes goulash, veal escalope and steamed fish. Eating habits in Germany have changed since the 1960s when the Goethe-Institut began using films to teach the first guest workers language skills for life in Germany. This is in part thanks to those self-same immigrants who brought a new diversity of foods with them: Pizza, spaghetti and kebabs have long since conquered the dining tables of Germany.

Language films in the 1960s
„Ich habe Hunger“

In the 1960s, the Goethe-Institut’s first language films dealt with everyday situations, like eating in a restaurant. In the 1970s, films created specifically for migrant workers followed, such as “Wilkommen in Deutschland” (Welcome to Germany).

Sprachlernfilm "Guten Tag - Im Restaurant"
Support for people making Germany their new home has also changed over the decades. Guest workers are now immigrants, and since 2015 there has also been a large influx of refugees from crisis regions such as Syria and Afghanistan. Fostering the integration of people who come to Germany has become an essential social mission – for the Goethe-Institut as well.

Today, the Goethe-Institut’s commitment extends far beyond the language courses it offers. The “Mein Weg nach Deutschland” (My Path to Germany) web portal, which was developed back in 2012 and gets around 700,000 hits a year, helps immigrants avoid many pitfalls in their new home country. Available in 30 languages, the portal teaches key life skills for living in Germany, such as how to use various media or how to navigate things like going to the authorities when they first arrive in Germany. Developed in 2016 by the Goethe-Institut in cooperation with the Federal Employment Agency, Bayerischer Rundfunk and the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees, the “Ankommen” (Arrive) app also guides newcomers through the first steps. Food-related topics are still addressed, but instead of the rules of etiquette for eating goulash, current topics include which foods are halal and which contain gelatine from pigs.

Better prepared –
more easily integrated

Rising immigration to Germany has expanded the domestic policy dimensions of the Goethe-Institut’s work: After all, the better immigrants are prepared for life in Germany, the easier they will find integration.

Germany depends on immigration today and will continue to in future as the large number of babies born in the 1960s gradually retire from the workforce. The resulting shortage of skilled workers is already visible in some professions: According to estimates, up to three million skilled workers will be needed by 2030, which is why a law was passed to allow immigration from third countries outside the EU in 2020.
  Participants at the language qualification course for nursing professionals at the Goethe-Insitut Vietnam. Photo: Goethe-Institut Vietnam Participants at the language qualification course for nursing professionals at the Goethe-Insitut Vietnam.
There is already a glaring shortage of nursing professionals, for example, with around 30,000 unfilled positions. So the summer of 2021, the Goethe-Institut concluded a cooperation agreement with professional associations in the care sector to jointly provide language and intercultural training for foreign professionals – even before they leave their home countries. Dien Ngoc Nguyen from Vietnam, who works as a carer in Berlin and completed a twelve-month specialised language qualification course for nursing staff at the Goethe-Institut Vietnam, emphasises how important this preparation is: “After four years in Germany, I have valuable advice for Vietnamese course participants,” Dien Ngoc Nguyen says. “Take advantage of all the great opportunities the Vivantes programme in Vietnam offers for improving your German. You won’t have much time for it during training.”
  The various Goethe-Institut sites that offer preparatory classes with immigration information and support. Collage: Goethe-Institut The various Goethe-Institut sites that offer preparatory classes with immigration information and support. Dien Ngoc Nguyen is one of more than 750 nurses who have acquired the life skills for living and working in Germany since 2015. In cooperation with Vivantes-Hauptstadtpflege and the Vietnamese Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, the Goethe-Institut Vietnam is helping them enter the German workforce. The institute in Vietnam offers a versatile social programme to reduce the stress of acquiring B2 level language skills in just one year. “The German breakfast is always one of the most popular activities,” project coordinator Balázs Paal reports. “So is our football tournament.”

Every year, the Goethe-Institut provides information and support to 16,000 people worldwide planning to immigrate to Germany for professional or private reasons.

In response to changes in Germany’s immigration policy, the Goethe-Institut is investing more in language instruction abroad. Since 2007, for example, immigrant spouses have had to demonstrate a basic knowledge of German if they want to join their spouses in Germany. This regulation led to a surge in demand for courses, especially at the institutes in South-eastern Europe. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, for example, an average of just eight candidates took the corresponding exam at the institute every year. This jumped to around 800 in 2008.

Exchange is not a one-way street

Opening of the “Invisible Inventories” exhibition at the National Museums of Kenya in Nairobi. Photo: Goethe-Institut Nairobi/Lameck Orina Opening of the “Invisible Inventories” exhibition at the National Museums of Kenya in Nairobi. Growing global mobility – whether driven by flight, immigration, or the migration of skilled workers – also means that exchange is no longer a one-way street. Germany is growing increasingly international, and the influx of people has also brought new cultures of memory, value systems and debates in its wake.

In other words, immigrants are not the only ones who need to adapt. Germany’s citizens also need to listen to the voices from other countries and cultures and face the world, so to speak. The Goethe-Institut serves as a mediator in this process. Former Chancellor Angela Merkel called the effort to explore Germany’s image at home and abroad an “invaluable service”, making this plea for more unity in response to the “Außensicht” study the Goethe-Institut conducted together with the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) and Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) in 2021. The study assessed how Germany was viewed around the world.

The results were mixed: Respondents were very positive about Germany’s economic power, its healthcare system and role in international relations. On the other hand, extremist tendencies, environmental scandals and the lack of digitisation attracted negative attention abroad.

The German attitude toward its own colonial past proved to be another negative perception. This is also a good example of the backlash from international voices to the discourse at home. There is an ongoing debate in Germany about the restitution of colonial cultural assets in museums up and down the country. The “International Inventories Programme” by The Nest (Kenya) and SHIFT (Germany/France) artist collectives raises the question of returning looted art and looks at the positions of both Europeans and the countries concerned. Along with the Goethe-Institut, the National Museum of Kenya, the Rautenstrauch-Joest-Museum in Cologne, the Weltkulturen Museum in Frankfurt am Main and, as exhibition sponsor, the German Federal Cultural Foundation are involved in the project.

As a port city, Hamburg was a centre of German colonialism, and the traces of this period are inscribed in the cityscape. The Goethe-Institut’s International Centre for Cultural Education in Hamburg has set itself the task of rendering this concealed history visible again and thus contributing to the decolonialisation of public spaces with the “ReMapping Memories Lisboa – Hamburg” project.

The online project gathers information on (post-)colonial places of remembrance in Hamburg and Lisbon on a website and serves as a good example of the work carried out by the newly established Goethe-Institut international centres for cultural education in Bonn, Dresden, Mannheim, Schwäbisch Hall and Hamburg. “Through our worldwide Goethe-Institut network, we fully support initiatives and projects that strengthen a plural and diverse society in Germany and add international perspectives,” Schayan Riaz, director of the centre in Hamburg, says of collaboration with partners in Lisbon and Hamburg. “We have plans to use ‘ReMapping’ in other contexts too. We will be taking it into schools and using the project’s content to explore the topic of (post)colonialism.”

Welcoming outside voices in

Artist Carlos Celdran, media scientist Anna Szilágyi und State Minister for Culture and Media Claudia Roth talk with moderator Thilo Jung at the 2019 Kultursymposium. Photo: Bernhard Ludewig Artist Carlos Celdran, media scientist Anna Szilágyi und State Minister for Culture and Media Claudia Roth talk with moderator Thilo Jung at the 2019 Kultursymposium. There is certainly no shortage of global issues at the moment – the issue of postcolonialism is just one of quite a few. Many of these conflicts and problems can only be overcome through cooperation, which is why we need to talk about solutions together. To this end, the Goethe-Institut brings voices from other countries to Germany. This approach is not really new either. As early as the 1990s, the Goethe-Institut was inviting foreign artists and intellectuals to events in Germany organised through the Goethe Forum. The approach has truly expanded its reach today.

Since 2016, international experts have met at the Kultursymposium Weimar in the Thuringian city every two years to discuss options for finding our way in our increasingly complex world. More than 70 experts from 35 countries attended in 2019, which surprised even moderator Vivian Perkovic.

An interview with Vivian Perkovic
“It expands our horizons in the truest sense”

For most people, the Goethe-Institut is an ambassador abroad, but for the “Kulturzeit” moderator “it works the other way around”. In an interview, she talks about her impressions of the Kultursymposium Weimar and the domestic dimension of the Goethe-Institut’s work.

Vivian Perkovic im Interview
Inside and out, life in Germany and life in the outside world: these distinctions are disappearing. Cultural and social issues resonate well beyond national borders and are reflected back to Germany. The same is true of foreign cultural and educational policy – and as such of the work of the Goethe-Institut.
Author: Wolfgang Mulke
Translation: Sarah Smithson-Compton