That About Sums It Up

by Caitlin Morrison

For my final essay, I wrote about the cultural diplomacy of the Goethe-Institut.  I wanted to post my concluding analysis here in case anyone was interested.

The Goethe-Institut is one of the world leaders in cultural diplomacy programming.  After World War II, cultural diplomacy practitioners in Germany did not need to look far to find new and inspiring theories on cultural engagement from their own Lord Dahrendorf, or to have the importance of culture in international affairs be named as one of the three pillars to foreign policy by Willy Brandt.

German cultural diplomacy also finds credibility in the way it is situated administratively.  As Cull explained, the target audience best accepts cultural diplomacy work when it is seen as distant from the government of the country it is associated with.  German public diplomacy, and specifically cultural diplomacy as a subset of public diplomacy, is perfectly situation to be accepted by foreign audiences given the distance it has with the federal government.  The Basic Agreement between the Goethe-Institut and the Federal Foreign Office secures this distance and grants the institute the autonomy it needs to be credible on the global stage.

In terms of its methodology, the Goethe-Institut certainly accepts the instructions of Lord Dahrendorf and most of today’s scholars as well in promoting engagement over exportation, all while continuing to adhere to their three-pronged mission.  Language instruction, what the institute is primarily known for, is part of engagement as well, in that the courses offered provide not only formal language instruction but also a shared space for ideas and conversations.  In an interview with the author, American student S. Spencer explains:

Whereas I have put a lot of effort into individually learning Danish, Denmark […] has no ‘language’ or cultural arm into the world beyond its standard embassies. If I want to take really comprehensive classes or take an official exam, I need to do it in Copenhagen, which is a time drain, expensive, and a paperwork hassle. Having the Goethe-Institut up and running really shows that Germany/Germans are putting an investment into getting people learning about their culture and culture and learning their language. On a practical level, it attracts Germans visiting or living in DC and also makes it easier to meet them. [Just] putting the time and money to get speakers, films, etc. over here builds a sort of good will I think, because they’re doing a lot of the work for me [and] meeting me halfway.[1]

Beyond typical classroom activities, German examinations are administered worldwide that can be used as professional certifications and there are extensive support programs for teachers of German.

Along similar lines as engagement, collaboration is also key to successful cultural diplomacy, and is something the Goethe-Institut has an impeccable record of doing successfully.  Large multi-partner program examples such as the ‘Schools: Partners for the Future’ program, and smaller endeavors such as the ‘Neighborhood X.0’ exhibit showcasing work from a Bulgarian-Greek-Turkish project, show the range of collaborative powers that the Goethe-Institut has.[2]

These collaborations are necessary for the sustained future of the Goethe-Institut.  Unfortunately, with constant global economic issues, government funding to public diplomacy projects is often one of the first things to be reduced.  The Goethe-Institut often sees budget cuts and must close offices.  With continued use of strategic partnerships, the institute will not only be able to continue forward with steady momentum, but will continue to expand its horizons and audiences.

Another area of focus that the Goethe-Institut has adopted and is critical to public diplomacy today is engagement of youth worldwide.  Although educational aspects are divided amongst different organizations in Germany, the Goethe-Institut is an important partner in enacting international education programming.  Again, the ‘Schools: Partners for the Future’ is one lofty illustration related to education, but there are countless small programs on the ground connecting youth globally in a myriad of ways.  The Goethe-Institut, for example, hosts a portal for German and Russian youth interested in journalism to discuss timely topics.  The most recent topic at hand is the 2012 apocalypse predictions.  In this virtual the students discuss their thoughts on these predictions and make their own.[3]  There are similar youth engagement platforms for students in a number of other countries as well, from China to the Czech Republic.

Based on the information outlined in this essay, the Goethe-Institut is undoubtedly a forerunner of cultural diplomacy, among the ranks of the world-renowned British Council.  Every center is a hub of language learning, cultural expression, collaboration, and bonding.  Their situation in Germany along with their extensive system of partnerships makes the institute extremely capable of credibly conducting cultural diplomacy globally.  Despite the possibility of continued budget cuts or freezes, there is very little doubt that the network of Goethe-Institut enthusiasts will ever let them fail.


[1] S. Spencer, Interviewed by Caitlin Morrison, Personal interview, Washington DC, December 10, 2012.

[2] “Immersion,” Goethe-Institut, http://www.goethe.de/uun/bdu/sze/en10023857.htm (accessed December 10, 2012).

[3] “To4ka-Treff: Austausch Und Junger Journalismus Auf Deutsch Und Russisch,” Goethe-Institut, http://www.goethe.de/ins/ru/lp/prj/drj/top/wel/deindex.htm (accessed December 10, 2012)

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