The candidates for the Goethe Medal are nominated every year by the Goethe-Instituts abroad in close collaboration with Germany’s diplomatic representation offices. The Goethe Medal Conferment Commission, consisting of persons from the fields of science, the arts and culture, pre-selects the awardees who must then be confirmed by the Board of Trustees. The chair of the Goethe Medal Conferment Commission is the cultural scientist and Vice President of the Goethe-Institut Christina von Braun.
The Goethe Medal was established by the Executive Board of the Goethe-Institut in 1954 and acknowledged as an official decoration by the Federal Republic of Germany in 1975. Since 2009, the award ceremony has taken place in Weimar on 28 August, Goethe's birthday. Thus, the ceremony fits seamlessly into the Weimar Kultursommer and one of its highlights, the Kunstfest Weimar. Together with the Kunstfest, the Goethe-Institut organises a fringe programme that rounds off the festivities for the conferment of the Goethe Medal and offers further opportunities to meet the awardees.
Since it was first awarded in 1955, a total of 357 people from 70 countries have been honoured. The awardees have included Daniel Barenboim, Pierre Bourdieu, David Cornwell AKA John le Carré, Sir Ernst Gombrich, Lars Gustafsson, Ágnes Heller, Petros Markaris, Sir Karl Raimund Popper, Jorge Semprún, Robert Wilson, Neil MacGregor, Helen Wolff, Irina Shcherbakova, Shirin Neshat, Ariane Mnouchkine, Yoko Tawada or Sofia Gubaidulina.