When austerity measures force the closure of the Goethe-Institut Reykjavík, it receives a true Viking send-off – and hundreds of Icelanders gather to pay their respects with tears in their eyes.
Since the Goethe-Institut has had to accept a reduction in public funding since German reunification and has also suffered losses in its own funds, red ink means cuts have to be made somewhere, and Iceland is the victim in 1998. Iceland, of all places, where German numbers among the most beloved foreign languages. The president of Iceland, the bishop and prominent business leaders all sign an open letter to the German Foreign Office protesting the closure, to no avail. In keeping with Viking traditions, a life-size statue of Goethe is interred off the coast of Iceland, and artist Wolfgang Müller protests in true, artistic style: In the Living Art Museum in the Icelandic capital, he creates an installation consisting of a desk, a pot plant, and telephone that still rings every time someone dials the former institute’s number.
Together with the Institut Français, the Goethe-Institut opens the first German-French Cultural Center at the political heart of the Palestinian Territories. Along with language courses, the center houses a library and hosts cultural events, serving as a model of cooperation and understanding in the region.
The Goethe-Institut has increased its activities in crisis regions in recent years with the goal of promoting tolerance and mutual understanding through culture and education. The German-French Cultural Center is the first port of call for any resident of West Jordan, Eastern Jerusalem or Gaza interested in learning French or German today. Along with language courses, the center features a multi-lingual library and a German-French library on wheels for children and young adults (“Bibliobus”) and organizes a range of cultural events. Funded by cultural broadcaster Arte and the European Union as part of EUNIC Palestine, the center promotes close ties with Europe. In June 2021, the first German-French Cultural Institute (DFKI) based on the Aachen Treaty opens in Italian Palermo under the name “Kultur Ensemble”.
The Goethe-Institut’s activities and objectives now go far beyond teaching German. For its exceptional efforts in conveying “the culture as well as the humanitarian and democratic values of Europe”, it receives the 2005 Prince of Asturias Award along with five other major European cultural institutes.
Former recipients include Nelson Mandela, Mikhail Gorbachev and the UN Refugee Committee: Every year, the Spanish heir to the throne honours individuals and institutions that serve as examples of international cooperation and understanding with the Prince of Asturias Award. The Goethe-Institut receives the prize in the Communication and Humanities category together with the British Council, the Spanish Instituto Cervantes, the Italian Società Dante Alighieri, the Alliance Française and the Portuguese Instituto Camões. The institutes are European ambassadors to the world, the then Crown Prince and now King Felipe says in his laudation.
National cultural institutes and organisations around Europe come together to form the “European Union National Institutes for Culture” (EUNIC), a network dedicated to strengthening European cooperation through cultural outreach.
In 2006, six international, European cultural organizations, including the Goethe-Institut as a founding member, join forces in Brussels. By 2021, the EUNIC network comprises 38 members from all EU member states. They work closely together, especially through their international locations, organizing joint events and projects in art, education and intercultural dialogue in more than 100 countries. EUNIC’s mission is to use cultural relations to build trust and understanding between people in Europe and the whole world.