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Klaus Krischok's speech at the anniversary celebration

Klaus Krischok talks at the 25th anniversary
© Thabang Radebe

The following is a transcript of the speech given by Klaus Krischok, Regional Director of the Goethe-Institut in Subsaharan-Africa, on 28. Feb. 2020 in the Auditorium of the Goethe-Institut Johannesburg.

Sawubona, good evening und Guten Abend!
A warm German welcome to each and everyone of you.

We are here to celebrate 25 years of the Goethe-Institut in South Africa. 
To pay tribute to this event we have organised tonight in two parts:

  • A more reflective and intimate part 1 with a few speeches and an eminent panel, which will discuss our role here
  • A more public part 2 – a celebration, in which your participation is of the essence: you will be required to sing and yes, we would like to dance!  

To kick it all off, allow me to give you a short account of what happened so far:
The story of the Goethe-Institut Johannesburg reflects the history of Southern Africa in the post-apartheid era as well as that of Germany in the post reunification era.
This institute here is one of the younger additions to the global network of the German cultural institute, which currently consists of 160 institutes worldwide, 15 of them in Subsaharan Africa. 
The Goethe-Institute has been active in Africa since the 1960s, such as in Lomé, Yaoundé or Dar es Salam, notably former German colonies, but also in Accra, Lagos or Addis.
Cultural and educational activities with a permanent representation on the ground in South Africa were out of the question during the 1960s, 70s and 80s.
There were, however, ongoing exchanges administered by the German Embassy in Pretoria, largely focussing on education.
The momentous changes of 1989 and 1990 both in Germany and in South Africa lead to new approaches, they were of course a game changer in South African-German cultural relations.

The former Goethe-Institut in Harare was initially and after 1990 tasked to organise cultural exchanges with and in South Africa – and they found that challenging, to say the least. Our institute in Harare closed later, when the decision to open here was taken. It took a few more bureaucratic years to get started: It was the German Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel who opened our offices in early 1995 – 25 years ago today!
The choice was obviously Johannesburg and not Cape Town, even if some German colleagues  at the time regretted not being posted by the beach.

We started out modestly with rented offices in Rosebank, 17 Baker Street and we used furniture sent down here from Harare. In 1996, we commenced giving German classes – at the time at Wits University – still one of our most prominent partners here in town. When the decision was taken to close the German Consulate here in Johannesburg, the occasion arose to give us a permanent home – right where we are today There was an issue however: The Villa was much too small for our purposes. Where you are sitting now, the former consul and his wife worked on their suntan – the atrium outside was a pool and a tennis court. Those were the days!

The extension building, where you are sitting right now, was then opened on 03 October 1999. Mind the date: This was also the 10th anniversary of German Reunification. Just like German Reunification itself our building then was quite a work site.
Back in 2009 and on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall some courageous people decided to „tear down that wall“ –and they made national headlines in both Germany and in South Africa. It was of course the wall surrounding our now beautiful little campus here.
At about the same time, the idea of Music in Africa was born – now an independent foundation and offspring of the Goethe-Institut, which has grown to a very adult size over the years. You will find their office just up the road next to the Mercedes dealer btw – and its CEO Eddie Hatitye will be on the panel later. For many years we provided the Maboneng  „Arts on Main“ gallery, the idea of which was to help revitalise this area of Johannesburg. It succeeded, I believe, and is now followed up with the roaming Goethe Project Space.
In 2016 and 2017, we decided to revamp our library, now officially the coolest library in town, with space for creative entrepreneurs, game designers and book lovers alike.
Then, in 2019 we officially opened GIPO – our external office for projects in support of the creative industries here in South Africa. You will find them between here and the Mercedes dealer.
Let us not forget that we have a branch in Cape Town after all – the Goethe Centre, now also in a mature adult age.

Apart from all these physical changes I believe we have also undergone some fundamental mental changes: Whereas in the 1990s cultural dialogue was very clearly established as the global concept of the Goethe-Institut, it still lived under the assumption that the GERMAN element in this dialogue had to be very strong. In some cases, we were seen as a showcase institute for Germany.
These days, we see each other more aware of the need to be a facilitator to foster inner-African dialogue on an equal basis. We form networks and we create platforms.
And we have of course become more European. I believe it was a very adequate idea to start our week of celebrations on 22 February with an all African-all European day celebrating the diversity of languages in this country. 

Today, we are a regional office overseeing and coordinating the work of 15 Goethe-Instituts and six Goethe Centres in the region, from Dakar to Addis and from Kigali to Kinshasa. 
After just one year here - I am beginning to know what I am talking about: More than possibly ever before, Africa is a focus of German and European politics. And this includes culture and education!
One word on language: The core idea of the Goethe-Institut is and was the German language. In contrast to more pessimistic predictions a few years ago, the interest in our language is  experiencing a renaissance, you may even call it a boom. „Learning German“ is no longer about heritage, tradition or family links – it is so often about life opportunities.
Germany and German companies can provide these opportunities. With Germany seeking skilled labour force and relaxing immigration, we play a vital role in the biographies of young people in our guest countries as well as for the prosperity of our own country.

I perceive this Goethe-Institut as a happy place, we work hard, we welcome people from all walks of life, with different interests and different opinions. We foster open dialogue and are not afraid of opposing positions. We have a zero tolerance policy on violence and on any kind of discrimination - and we endeavour to be as inclusive as possible. Our offerings include one-off projects as well as sustainable networks. The aim is to make „Friends for Germany“ – yes we still persue this aim, but we also aim to have a positive impact on the biographies of the amazing talents this country has.
Do judge for yourselves if we fulfill this pledge. 

I would like to thank everybody who has worked with us in the past 25 years. First and foremost our audience and our partners in South Africa, our staff and our clientele. But of course – and much on an equal basis – the German Embassy. Without their constant help, support – and sometimes guidance - we would not be here today. 
So, if you would please welcome his Excellency, the German Ambassador, Dr Martin Schäfer.