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“Deutschland Express” Virtual Festival
Virtual rail replacement service

Virtual exhibition preview of artworks by the Russian artist Ustina Yakovleva with German artists Various & Gould as part of the festival “Deutschland-Express”.
Virtual exhibition preview of artworks by the Russian artist Ustina Yakovleva with German artists Various & Gould as part of the festival “Deutschland-Express”. | Illustration (detail): © Goethe-Institut hb

The “Deutschland-Express” organised by the Goethe-Institut in Moscow toured for a full six weeks as an online festival. Its purpose was to make Russian-German exchange possible during the pandemic.

By Tatjana Brode

“From the Goethe-Institut’s point of view, it’s not a question of if but more a question of when we will feel at home with these digital cultural spaces. Artists and creatives will play an important role here because they will design these cultural spaces in the future”, said Johannes Ebert, General Secretary of the Goethe-Institut, in his speech on the virtual “Deutschland-Express”. He was speaking in the shape of an avatar in a virtual 3D exhibition room on the platform Mozilla Hubs. Somewhat unusual – but digital cultural technology has been developing at breath-taking speed during the pandemic.

Since 18 May 2021, the “Deutschland-Express” virtual festival has broadcast 48 events via various platforms to mark the Germany Year in Russia: streams via social media channels and the website, live events and encounters in the 3D train. Above all, it’s about encouraging people from two countries to enter into dialogue and cooperate with one another. “We have been able to use the virtual festival to intensify networking between people in Russia and Germany, despite the difficult pandemic situation”, said Dr. Heike Uhlig, head of the Goethe-Institut in Moscow. “We are particularly delighted about the interest and desire for exchange on the part of the Russian public, who went on this journey with us in various digital formats.”

Thousands of passengers in six weeks

The team at the Goethe-Institut in Moscow and the Playersjourney agency combined the most interesting digital formats generated by the accelerated digitalisation during the corona pandemic. The festival programme included sketchnoting workshops, taster German language courses, poetry slams, theatre performances and a DJ set on the radio. Three exhibitions in 3D show artworks by artists from both countries that feature visual connection lines. Each of these exhibitions started with a virtual preview during which the guests could speak directly with each other and the artists – as avatars. German and Russian writers, experts and creative artists met in talk shows that incorporated questions and comments from the public.

More than 5,000 “passengers” visited the wagons of the virtual “Deutschland-Express”. The contributions can be called up in the Mediathek. The idea for the project came from Minister of State Michelle Müntefering, who had developed it for the Germany Year before the pandemic: a train filled with German creative artists and experts was supposed to travel through Russia, with many stopping-off places. Instead of this, they met up with their public in the digital expanses of the internet.