History of the Goethe-Institut

1969 Goethe-Institut Murnau Photo: Michael Friedel

Year  Event
1951 The Goethe-Institut is founded as successor to the German Academy (Deutsche Akademie, DA). Its first task is to provide further training for foreign German teachers in Germany.
1953 The first language courses run by the Goethe-Institut begin in Bad Reichenhall. Due to growing demand, new centres of learning are soon opened in Murnau and Kochel, the focus of selection being on towns which are small and idyllic and which show post-war Germany at its best. Lessons are taught from the first textbook developed by the Goethe-Institut, the now legendary "Schulz-Griesbach".
1953–55 The first foreign lectorships of what was the German Academy are taken on by the Goethe-Institut. Responsibilities include German tuition, teacher training and providing a programme of cultural events to accompany courses.
1959/60 On the initiative of the head of the arts sector of the Foreign Office, Dieter Sattler, the Goethe-Institut gradually takes over all of the German cultural institutes abroad. This development of a broad international institute network signals an intensification of Germany's foreign cultural policy.
1968 Influenced by the student revolts of the late 1960s the Goethe-Institut readjusts its programme of cultural events to include sociopolitical topics and avant-garde art.
1970 Acting on behalf of the Foreign Office Ralf Dahrendorf develops his "guiding principles for foreign cultural policy". Cultural work involving dialogue and partnership is declared the third pillar of German foreign policy. During the Willy Brandt era the concept of "extended culture" forms the basis of activities at the Goethe-Institut.
1976 The Foreign Office and the Goethe-Institut sign a general agreement governing the status of the Goethe-Institut, henceforth an independent cultural organisation.
1980 A new concept regarding the location of institutes within Germany is drawn up. Places of instruction in small towns, mostly in Bavaria, are replaced by institutes in cities and university towns.
1989/90 The fall of the Berlin Wall also marks a turning point for the Goethe-Institut. Its activities in the 1990s are thus strongly centred on Eastern Europe. Numerous new institutes are set up as a result.
2001 The Goethe-Institut merges with Inter Nationes.
2005 The Goethe-Institut is honoured with the Prince-of-Asturia-Price of Spain
2006 Founding of EUNIC (European National Institutes for Culture). One by one, around 30 national cultural institutions and organizations from different European countries come together under one roof.
2008 As a result of the Federal Foreign Office’s Aktion Afrika programme, a special focus is placed on the Goethe-Institut’s work in Africa. Founding of the institute in Luanda (Angola) and reopening of the institute in Dar es Salaam (Tanzania).
2011 The Goethe-Institut marks its 60th anniversary with a ceremonial act in Munich and Berlin. The guests include Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, his predecessor Hans-Dietrich Genscher, Monika Grütters and the Jens Friebe Band.
2015 “Managing the Arts”, an online course (MOOC) presented by Chris Dercon and lasting several weeks, reaches 17,000 cultural managers all over the world.
2016 With a three-day festival devoted to “Sharing and Exchange”, the Goethe-Institut launches its new “Kultursymposium Weimar” series.


Presidents of the Goethe-Institut

Dr. Kurt Magnus (1951-1962)
Dr. Max Grasmann (1962-1963)
Peter H. Pfeiffer (1963-1971)
Hans v. Herwarth (1971-1977)
Klaus v. Bismarck (1977-1989)
Hans Heigert (1989-1993)
Prof. Dr. h.c. Hilmar Hoffmann (1993-2001)
Prof. Dr. Jutta Limbach ( 2002-2008)
Prof. Dr. Klaus-Dieter Lehmann (since 2008)

Secretaries General of the Goethe-Institut

Helmuth Brückmann (1952-58)*
Richard Wolf (1958-1965)*
Dr. Werner Ross (1965-1973)*
Dr. Christoph-Ulrich Wecker (1973)
Hans Kahle (1973-1976)
Dr. Horst Harnischfeger (1976-1996)
Dr. Joachim Sartorius (1996-2000)
Prof. Dr. Joachim-Felix Leonhard (2001-2003)
Dr. Horst Harnischfeger (2003)
Dr. Andreas Schlüter (2004)
Dr. Wolfgang Bader (2005, interim)
Dr. Hans-Georg Knopp (2005-2012)
Johannes Ebert (since 2012)

* bis 1973 lautete der Titel Hauptgeschäftsführer bzw. Direktor des Goethe-Instituts