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Interview
Ute Wörmann-Stylianou

A woman with blonde hair is holding a microphone in her right hand. In her left hand she is holding papers with her speech, which she is reading. She is wearing an elegant green dress. The sky is dark and behind her there are fairy lights hanging.
Photo: Panayiotis Hadjiapostolou

Mrs Wörmann-Stylianou, you worked for several years at the University of Lille in France as a German lecturer on behalf of the DAAD and in parallel as a language teacher at the Goethe-Institut Lille. During this time you met your Cypriot husband, with whom you moved to Nicosia in 1983. Shortly after your arrival, you started working here at the Goethe-Institut as a German teacher and from 1985 you were in charge of the language courses and exams. What was it like at the Goethe-Institut Cyprus in the eighties and nineties? Which institute directors did you experience? And how did the institute work?

First of all, I would like to describe scenes and images that flash before my inner eye in retrospect. They concern the atmosphere in the immediate vicinity of the Goethe-Institut at that time, which influenced our work: In the eighties and nineties, the Goethe-Institut was freely accessible at all times of the day for visitors, especially our learners of German, only from the Greek Cypriot side, i.e., from the Republic of Cyprus. The Goethe-Institut was not only in the buffer zone, but in a militarised zone. Greek Cypriot soldiers were housed in what is now the Château Status restaurant opposite the institute, and soldiers of the Turkish army patrolled the city wall leading to the Goethe-Institut. Guard posts of the local army and UN soldiers were close to the Pafos Gate. In the late 1990s, there was a constant tension in the air. At a time of particular tension, I visited the UN soldiers' liaison officer at Ledra Palace Hotel and consulted with him. He gave me a small key to a door in the fence that separated us from Ledra Palace. We were given permission to lead the students there to safety in the courtyard in case of emergency. This small key reassured many a worried parent that we would take care of their children in case of danger. The Green Line was closed; to visit the northern part of Cyprus you had to apply for a visa. And the Turkish Cypriots who wanted to visit us could only do so with special permission. A pleasant tension prevailed when we organised a first bi-communal German teachers meeting, probably at the end of the 80s in the Ledra Palace Hotel. I remember the cautious, tentative getting to know each other and then the regular teacher training sessions in our hall, which were to connect Greek and Turkish Cypriot German teachers in friendship for all the years to come.

Greek and Turkish Cypriots also consciously worked towards rapprochement. In 1995, 21 years after the events of 1974, a first bi-communal concert took place next to us at the Ledra Palace. The initiator was Michalis Chimarrides, who gained the Goethe-Institut and the Institut Français as partners. Around 2000 people came, who had to sign up on lists for safety. The musicians played traditional Cypriot music, there was dancing, and the popular shadow theatre was shown. There was a happy atmosphere. It gave hope.

At that time, I was allowed to allocate first 6, later 9 hours per week, to organise the language department including teacher training; there were no computers for a long time, but files "en masse". The rest of the contract was for teaching. I was very happy to be able to set up a bi-communal conversation course for the first time, but after an incident at the Green Line, the Turkish-Cypriot pupils were banned from further participation. The beautiful project came to an abrupt end. Rapprochement and sudden distancing were part of the experience during those years.

Dr. Blümlein was my first supervisor, young and unconventional - even then he had the courage to offer the employees the informal “du” form. He had a strong, small team: our always cheerful secretary Christa Papaphilippou, Niovi Makrides for finances, Barbara Walz in cultural programmes, Ulla Hajikakou in the library and for student counselling until the DAAD took over this task. Both also worked as German teachers, as did the wife of our technician, Mr Doulamis. What remains in my memory is intensive film work in our hall and in the PIO (Press and Information Office): a ten-part Fassbinder series with discussion evenings afterwards; another film series on the Third Reich followed by a seminar; Brecht films in conjunction with a Marx seminar; unusually early in retrospect, a lecture on the importance of recycling. The final festival in the summer was always very creatively organised by us teachers. Students and teachers enjoyed theatre plays and musical performances. Thus the course year came to a cheerful conclusion.

Peter Baresel (deceased), for many years head of the language department in Athens, Istanbul and Rome, completed his period of service with us. He was very experienced, calm and humourous. His collaboration with the painter and installation artist Horst Weierstall, who carried out actions related to the wall, for example, which were then in turn documented in exhibitions, remains in my memory. The image of the artist placing a ladder against the wall to overcome it had a particularly strong effect. Mr. Baresel supported our colleague Magda Phantarou, who headed the language department until 1985 and was also a specialist advisor for German in the Ministry of Education and Culture, in the development of a curriculum for teaching German in public schools. He was not afraid to play a funny role himself at the graduation parties at one point. His wife Marie-Luise, a trained kindergarten teacher, was extremely imaginative in looking after the children of the teaching staff in the hall or even at her home. When Sula Akouta joined us, we were able to set up bilingual classes for our children; they became a tradition. Unexpectedly, Mr. Baresel had to undergo a heart operation and was unable to perform his duties for almost half a year. He entrusted me with the supervision and partial implementation of already planned projects in the programme department. One of them was the opening of a seminar on tourism and economy, the other was the opening of an exhibition in the Famagusta Gate in cooperation with the Nicosia Municipality. Little did I know that this would be a first training ground for later tasks.

During the term of office of Hilmann von Halem, a great philanthropist, the first budget cuts were already taking place, so that his hands were gradually tied in the cultural programme work. But his achievements included the magnificent concert in the Ledra Palace next door in 1995. He was to become an insightful witness to the problems that awaited us at the end of his tenure, i.e., the first closure announcement in 1998.

At the end of the 1990s, there was a worldwide wave of restructuring of the Goethe-Instituts, which led to major savings and closures in the institute network due to funding cuts. Nicosia was also on the list of institutes to be closed. This was certainly a big shock for the staff, but also for the partners and friends of the institute. Together with your colleagues, you fought to ensure that the institute was not closed but transformed into a Goethe-Zentrum. How did you experience this restructuring and how did the transformation into and continuation as a Goethe-Zentrum succeed? What could be continued? What had to change?

As I just mentioned, in the autumn of 1998, without any preparation, we learned of the decision by the head office to also end the work of the Goethe-Institut Nicosia as part of a large wave of closures. A formal error prevented the immediate implementation. We had heard about restructuring, also about closures, but we could not imagine that a formerly divided country could close an institute on a divided island in the last divided capital of the world. I can very well understand the people today in the pandemic who lose their jobs from one day to the next. They lose the ground from under their feet. I was the confidential mediator at the time and sent letters of protest to the head office, to the president of the Goethe-Institut, to the Foreign Office, asking how it could be justified that a formerly divided country did not see itself obliged to act in solidarity with a country that was still divided. To no avail.

Under Mr Öppert (deceased), the last director of the then Goethe-Institut Nicosia, the "liquidation" took place in 1999 on the one hand, and the "rescue of the Goethe" took place in parallel on the other. Ursula Kareklas, Dorothea Ioannides and I tackled the matter together as a trio and set about founding a Goethe-Zentrum following the example of other institutes on the closure list, such as Chania and Patras in Greece. The German Embassy was helpful to us. Here I owe a great debt of gratitude to the ambassador at the time, Dr Peter Wittig, later UN envoy in New York: "Mrs Wörmann, you'll have to learn how to go door-to-door now!" That sounded very mean, but it turned out to be the way. Ursula Kareklas and I now went off to visit the German shipping companies in Limassol, which were still flourishing at the time, thank God: Oldendorff, Hahn Stichling, Columbia, Intership and the law firm Medstar, among others. We often took up the cudgels and were finally able to convince the managers to form a board under the chairmanship of the ambassador, which would, in close rotation, observe, evaluate and financially support the activities of the Goethe-Zentrum which was now to be formed. (Here I would also like to gratefully mention a Cypriot company, the photovoltaic company ENFOTON SOLAR LTD of Alex Soteriou, which also facilitated our work financially over the years).

The end of 1999 came: the moment when the administrative programme that connected us to the Goethe-Institut Athens and the head office was switched off; we were released from a community with which we had identified for years – extremely painful, this sudden cut. Horst Deinwallner, director of the Goethe-Institut Athens, became our understanding mentor and also companion in the cultural programme work. From the beginning, our goal was to continue the Goethe-Zentrum Nicosia fully in the tradition of the Goethe-Institut Nicosia that we were familiar with, i.e. cultural and language work in parallel. In doing so, there was always the question of the financial aspect. We had to – very bitterly – dismiss a deserving Cypriot colleague, hoping that as a Cypriot she would find a new job sooner than a German colleague. We could not afford the rent for the building. In extreme situations you do extreme things. I packed our budget in my suitcase, flew to Germany and went to the Oetker company in Bielefeld, where my family and I had worked. After several hours of negotiations with the president of a cultural foundation that had been founded there shortly before, we received a promise of support for the rent. The foundation first paid us half the rent for half a year, then for two years and finally for five years. But at the end of the first year, our survival was by no means assured. Dorothea Ioannides resigned to increase our chances of survival. Ursula Kareklas resumed teaching full time after a year and a half of intense commitment to building the centre. Now we divided the work: Christine Herden-Demetriou, also an experienced teacher for many years, took over the management of the language department, while I was responsible for the cultural programme. From now on, the Goethe-Zentrum clearly worked along the lines of the Goethe-Institut. What was different? 1. There was the constant financial pressure to find the necessary residual funds in addition to basic funding from the head office and to work under close, albeit benevolent, control. 2. Innovations introduced by the head office for Goethe-Instituts worldwide, e.g. in electronic administration, no longer applied to us. We were left out. 3. Nevertheless, we went on an exciting journey of discovery: to accomplish cultural and language work for our country on our own responsibility.

When we met for the first time, shortly after my arrival in Cyprus, you told me that you were glad not to have missed out on this time as director of the Goethe-Zentrum; as exhausting as many things were, you also found your work enriching.

That's right. We enjoyed our work and the response from the public and our cooperation partners. The language department thrived under the leadership of Christine Herden-Demetriou; she was in regular contact with the head of the language department of the Regional Institute and was thus well informed about all the latest developments. One of the main goals was, of course, to maintain and expand contact with German teachers all over Cyprus and to provide regular training. Since the opening of the Green Line, we were also able to welcome Turkish Cypriot pupils. A joy. Here they were now sitting and learning bench-to-bench with Greek Cypriot German learners! To better advise parents and students, Christine Herden-Demetriou learned Turkish, which made communication easier. The range of courses was continuously expanded due to local demand, e.g. courses for early foreign language learning and for bilinguals. Pioneering work was necessary; their experience was in demand at regional training seminars. At the other end of the spectrum were courses for local ministry officials, including a new "blended learning" offer, for which there was no experience yet. Cooperation with schools also gained new momentum through the PASCH initiative. The standardisation of examinations in the European Framework of Reference resulted in a rapid increase in the number of examinations and examination candidates. The new TestDaf exam was another building block. In addition, there were various offers for learners of German, such as the German Olympiad. Christine Herden-Demetriou mastered all these challenges alone.

As far as the cultural programme department is concerned, I will talk about the new momentum of the bicommunal work later. First, we continued existing collaborations of the former Goethe-Institut, each collaboration a discovery, as people and as professionals. Among those we collaborated with were the archaeologist and art historian Anna Marangou, the painter Horst Weierstall/art installations, with Arianna Economou/modern dance, Panicos Chrysanthou/filmmaker, Kaiti Economidou/singing, Garo Keheyan, Pharos Arts Foundation/concerts. And we discovered new partners such as Lily Michaelides & Nora Hadjisotiriou/ poetry readings in a European setting, Achim Wieland & Marios Ioannou/ dramaturges and actor, the sopranos Katerina Mina and Alexandra Gravas, the choir director Maro Skordi with the choir Polyfonia. The Christmas market and Christmas concert in the Catholic Church became a tradition. We were on friendly terms with the Greek- and Turkish-Cypriot-German cultural associations under the chairmanship of Dr Andreas Spyridakis and Ibrahim Toprakci, sometimes through cooperation.

On the other hand, we contributed to intercultural encounters by introducing German artists here. Images pop up: the poet Jan Wagner, later winner of the Georg Büchner Prize, was the first person we invited. In the anxious need to save money, we accommodated him in a too-cramped place, may he forgive us. Nora Gomringer held a fiery slam poetry session in our then library hall. Impressive works by contemporary German jewellery designers presented by Olga Zobel of the Biro Gallery in Munich and exhibited in the Hellenic Bank. Sketches by expressionist painters in the Nicosia Municipal Multipurpose Centre Pallouriotissa Old Market, Meissen porcelain in collaboration with the Leventis Municipal Museum of Nicosia including a song recital with a Cypriot soprano from Dresden, piano recitals with Gerhard Folkerts, the Theodorakis expert, jazz concerts in the University of Cyprus Axiothea Cultural Centre were all part of the summer finale, as were the film evenings in the Constantia open-air cinema in Pallouriotissa in cooperation with the Friends of Cinema Society. Every single project a new journey into the beautiful diversity of the human imagination.

In 2003 the checkpoints were opened; in 2004 the whole of Cyprus joined the EU. How did you experience this time as director of the Goethe-Zentrum?

Unexpected things did indeed happen during those years: I remember 23 April 2003 very clearly. Shortly before nine, I was standing at the entrance to our "Goethe". I had read about relaxations in the northern part of Cyprus, even about the possible opening of the Green Line. I looked back and saw unusual liveliness on the path between the two checkpoints – five people, ten people, twenty then finally 150. It was hot, we fetched water, the UN soldiers also came to help. Probably a good week later, the onslaught from our side began, Greek-Cypriot refugees waited in an endless line of cars for passage; after long years they finally wanted to see their home town, their house again. Some rested in the Goethe Garden: "If we have waited 29 years, we can wait 29 hours now. We want to go home." The Green Line remained open. Many Turkish Cypriots now passed by every day, finding work in the Republic of Cyprus. In this way, people became close to each other in everyday life. The area around the Goethe-Zentrum was demilitarised. The image of the area changed: a restaurant was built in the dilapidated building to the right of the checkpoint in front of the "Goethe", and summer concerts were regularly held in what is now the large car park behind it. But one thing remained at the checkpoint: the long-lasting vigils of the women dressed in black, who held up the photos of their missing husbands, sons and children day after day.

In this sensitive place in the buffer zone, the German Cultural Institute had a task. We were the first to offer the Greek and Turkish Cypriot artists associations, EKATE with Daphne Trimikliniotis and EMAA with Osman Keten as president, the opportunity to meet once a month in our hall. The painter Nicholas Panayi played a mediating role. Each member was given the opportunity to present their art. As a highlight, we organised a joint art exhibition at the Famagusta Gate in cooperation with the Nicosia Municipality. Turkish Cypriot artists also participated, an event. The hopeful spirit of optimism gave rise to more and more new projects: a first bi-communal poetry reading in the hall accompanied by the poet and painter Niki Marangou, who later died suddenly, with Stephanos Stephanides, Lily Michaelides, Neshe Yiashin, Zeki Ali, Gür Genc, Nora Nadjarian and many others. (Later we would continue the idea by participating in Ideogramma's poetry festivals at the Kasteliotissa hall and poetry slam sessions at ARTos Foundation). Talks by investigative journalist Sevgül Uludag, who did intensive reconciliation work with the Turkish or Greek Cypriot bereaved families of the missing. A portrait exhibition by Anna Stelmach with photo portraits of Greek and Turkish Cypriots island-wide and their personal comments on the past and future on the island, this time in cooperation with the Cultural Centre of Laiki Bank; the bi-communal participants were to continue meeting for friendly exchanges at the Büyük Han long afterwards. In 2006 the project "Wall Journey" on the occasion of Germany's Presidency of the Council of the European Union, when in the courtyard of the "Goethe" large Styrofoam stones from Berlin were painted and written on by pupils, artists, poets from all regions of the island – the Republic of Cyprus and the northern part of Cyprus – and we later enthusiastically recognised two of our stones in the middle of the Brandenburg Gate. In 2009, a peace project by Rose Marie Gnausch, "Elephants for Peace", brought together children and adults on both sides of the Green Line at Checkpoint Ledra Street, where the Turkish Cypriot mayor of Nicosia, Cemal Metin Bulutoglulari, and the Greek Cypriot mayor, Eleni Mavrou, opened the street exhibition and later made the small and large works created accessible to all, again at the Famagusta Gate.  From now on, life reigned in our hall. Numerous bi-communal groups now met here until the Home for Cooperation was opened.

So this dynamic of 2003, the willingness to come together again, to work together, clearly had an impact beyond the non-ratification of the Annan Plan in 2004. But it was precisely in this momentous year, with which so many hopes had been associated, that it became very clear to me that our role in this place could in no way mean guardianship, because one had experienced the reunification of one's own country. Before the vote on the Annan Plan, I had invited a Berlin expert on the subject of vested rights, a complex issue then in Germany and now in Cyprus. Turkish and Greek Cypriots attended. We witnessed the depth of the wounds in both communities and went through an intense learning process ourselves, realising how incomparably more complex and difficult the road to reunification is in Cyprus. Based on this realisation, we tried, as a priority, to be a place for intensive encounter for all islanders. The time did not seem ripe for a solution in 2004, but that year nevertheless became a decisive year with Cyprus' accession to the EU.

I would like to talk again about the accession of Cyprus to the EU. In the hope of a reunification of Cyprus, the entire island was admitted to the EU in 2004. Unfortunately, there has been no reunification or solution to the Cyprus problem to date. You experienced Cyprus as an adult, working person before and after EU accession. What was the effect of EU accession? What was positive, what was perhaps more negative and were you able to notice any changes in your work at the Goethe-Zentrum as a result of EU accession?

First of all, yes, Cyprus' accession to the EU meant a turning point. Cyprus forms the outer edge of the EU, it has a fascinating history; not only Persians, Assyrians, Egyptians and Romans left their traces here, but also the not entirely praiseworthy crusaders (English, Franks, Germans). Italians, Ottomans and the British came afterwards. So this small island was always subject to foreign masters. Against the background of these experiences and current power relations, joining the EU was like being admitted to a shelter that provides security but also offers new opportunities, which is of great importance for such a small country. Moreover, one could say, a rather old European bond is being rewoven, but this time in independence. What has become really regrettable is that de facto only a part of Cyprus can practise this membership, because an official exchange of artists between Turkish Cypriot and European artists/countries, for example, is not possible. By joining the EU, however, we intensified already existing "European" cooperation, lived it more consciously. Cooperation with the Institut Français was a matter of course, and to this day I am grateful to the vision of Charles de Gaulle. In 2003, we celebrated the 40th anniversary of the Franco-German Friendship Treaty together, but from 2004 onwards, cooperation became noticeably closer, wherever a good opportunity arose on a small or large scale, and always in friendly cooperation with our colleague there: Bertrand Dubart. One particularly nice detail: the director of the Institut Français was also our German student for a time. The cooperation with the Polish Embassy and the Polish Friendship Association MALWA was also very important to me. We organised joint concerts and exhibitions. This cooperation was significant in itself, but also meant as encouragement. Divides can be overcome, even if they are very deep. We also took part in the creation of the European Dance Festival (now Cyprus Contemporary Dance Festival) in cooperation with the Ministry of Education and Culture and the Rialto Theatre in Limassol, which became a permanent feature of the programme over the years.

In January 2011, Angela Merkel visited the Goethe-Zentrum. In June 2011, the Goethe-Institut was reopened. The then president of the Goethe-Institut Klaus-Dieter Lehmann had campaigned for it and in 2011 you handed over the keys to the director of the institute, Björn Luley, who was previously at the Goethe-Institut Damascus, which had to be closed because of the civil war in Syria. How did the reopening come about and what did the reopening mean to you personally?

At the end of 2010, after 10 years of activity, we received a friendly visit from Dr Rüdiger Bolz, the then director of the Athens Regional Institute. To our great surprise, he asked us if we would make our centre available, so that a new opening of the Goethe-Institut in Cyprus could take place. – Astonishment and, yes, the perception that the management in Munich had recognised after all that the closure of the former Goethe-Institut Nicosia had sent the wrong signal. Unexpected, of course, was the visit of the German Chancellor to Cyprus and also to the Goethe-Zentrum in January 2011. Without a doubt, this was a very special moment. We first welcomed her for a joint discussion that focused on our experiences in this special place in no man's land, after which Mrs Merkel was ready for a question and answer session in which advanced students from both sides of the Green Line participated. She proved to be a good educator and a lively, serious exchange ensued. In June 2011 we celebrated the opening of the new Goethe-Institut Cyprus, as it was now called, in our garden. The President of the Goethe-Institut, Mr Klaus-Dieter Lehmann, opened it in the presence of many guests of honour, including the President of the Republic of Cyprus of course. For our most important sponsor, who had invested a lot of time and money in the Goethe-Zentrum, our closure meant a bitter disappointment, which he also expressed very clearly. Nevertheless, it turned out to be a good solution to continue working on a secure foundation from now on and to hand over the key to Mr Luley, who of course now also faced a challenge: transforming a Goethe-Zentrum into a Goethe-Institut.

Looking back, I remember the very difficult times before and after the closure of our dear old Goethe-Institut Nicosia and then ten good, rich professional years in exchange with cultural partners and artists, for which I am very, very grateful. I am grateful to all the supporters over the years and especially to our team with Christine Herden-Demetriou as co-director, Irini Hadjikypri, later Elena Petrou and Dagmar Pashia. The opening of the Goethe-Institut Cyprus made it clear that our work was not in vain. Now I could calmly enter a new "existence of unrest”, that of retirement.

What do you wish the Goethe-Institut Cyprus for the next 60 years?

In the summer of 1974, I walked past the Goethe-Institut for the first time through no-man's land to see the Frankish Cathedral in the northern part of the city with my own eyes. Only a little later, the Institute was in the middle of the battle zone. A dividing line was created. Almost 30 years later, this dividing Green Line opened up, unexpectedly! Through my work at the Goethe-Institut, I got to know Greek and Turkish Cypriot students and parents, artists, NGOs and committed people on both sides of the Green Line who are working heart and soul for peaceful coexistence in this small country. I wish for the Goethe-Institut that it accompanies all such people and groups and continues to be a place of encounter even in difficult times that may still come, apart from the pandemic. About 15 years ago, Prof. Dr. Manfred Lange from the Cyprus Institute gave a lecture on the impending desertification of Cyprus, which could or will take place within the next 50 years. Hopefully, we still have 35 years, but man-made climate change is threatening us here and worldwide. Perhaps, like the pandemic, it is a strong wake-up call, a chance for the inhabitants of this beautiful island to look forward together, to join forces and work intensively on projects to remedy and prevent further environmental damage, so that life on the island is also guaranteed in the future. The Goethe-Institut could support these projects with experts and their know-how and in 60 years celebrate a green island where fearless, peaceful coexistence has gone from dream to reality. At any rate, this is what I wish the Goethe-Institut Cyprus and all the people on this island with all my heart.

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