Interview with the Secretary General of the Goethe-Institut Johannes Ebert

How can we turn the city into a freedom zone for all? Do you think segregation is responsible for the rise of fascism in big European cities? Where does freedom start and end? Is the Europe we inhabit the Europe we want it to be? These were some of the questions that artists from European cities tried to answer within the framework of the FREIRAUM project, a project involving Goethe-Instituts in 42 European cities. I met the director of the Goethe-Institut, Johannes Ebert, in Berlin and asked him about the project. Here’s what he said.

Interview by Vasiliki Grammatikogianni

Vasiliki: Judging from the feedback you’ve had so far, are you optimistic that we can redesign cities in the 21st century and restore middle class values in order to strengthen freedom and a broader sense of democracy?

Johannes Ebert: I think this is a very big political challenge for European cities. To include all their citizens to make them all feel secure and socially strong. Lending money and providing housing is the big issue for cities today. Though it’s not a materialistic matter or even a social issue, but a question of the European spirit. How can we understand others? How can we strengthen our sense of belonging, the feeling that we are all Europeans? I think this is one of the big challenges and we have to get on it. Not only political organizations, but cultural institutes have to work on this too if everyone is to feel part of Europe. I’m optimistic but there’s still a lot of work to do.

Secretary General Johannes Ebert Photo: Martin Ebert Vasiliki: Looking back on the experience of the Freiraum project, do you think a United States of Europe is feasible?

Johannes Ebert: We are far away from that. I think that right now we have to work together much more at the European level and at very different levels. Freiraum brought various organizations together to work on the question of our future. European artists came together and discussed certain European Union values like freedom and
democracy, but I think that we have to discuss them at many different levels of society. People who work in ordinary jobs, someone who works in a bakery, for example, could spend a month in another European country. People from various strata of European society should take part in such exchanges in order to get to know one another.

Vasiliki: Did you ultimately come up with any creative answers to the question of freedom?

Johannes Ebert: Freedom is a process and I think this was the idea behind the Freiraum project. What is freedom for us? What does freedom mean for the future? I think we will never come up with the ultimate answer, but the process of working together is fundamental. As far as I can see from the discussions, it was a good process. So I think from this point of view the Freiraum project was successful. However we have to keep going. And not just the Goethe-Institut, but other institutes as well should be doing projects on European corporations in different levels and on the question how we want Europe to be in the future. Freedom and democracy play a very important role in this discussion.

Vasiliki: Thanks for the interview, Mr Ebert.