The Magdeburg to German Culture
Diplomat interviews Angela Kaya on her work as the new Director of the Goethe-Institut London
1. When did you arrive as new Director of the Goethe-Institut London? Can you give me a brief rundown of your career and how you got to this position today?
I arrived in November 2013 to become Director of the Goethe-Institut London and Regional Director for North-West Europe having previously been the Director for the Goethe-Institut Munich and Regional Director for all Goethe-Institutes in Germany. I have worked for the Goethe-Institut since 1989 and have been based in Italy, Turkey and also in the HR Department at the Head Office.
2. Did your upbringing influence your choice of career? Have any of your family members had a background in culture and/or diplomacy?
I was brought up in Stuttgart where I attended a Waldorf (or Steiner) School, and even though my family has no diplomatic background we are very open-minded, international and multilingual; my grandfather was originally from Estonia and my brothers and sisters have been living abroad for many years. Before I started working for the Goethe-Institut, I spent several years in the Middle East and Turkey.
3. What are the main issues that you deal with as Director of the Goethe-Institut London? Obviously the two go hand-in-hand, but can you explain the distinctions between the cultural and educational arms of the Institute?
The Goethe-Institut London is active in several fields. Our Language and Education Departments focus on the promotion of German as a foreign language through our courses and examinations, and through teacher training, providing resources for schools and organising networking events. Our Library and Information Service provides material to help people improve their knowledge of Germany through books as well as a range of other media. Our Culture Department encourages cultural cooperation through working with partners to organise and develop events either at the institute or in partner venues.
We’re very lucky to be experiencing a growing interest in both German and Germany itself. We’re seizing this wonderful opportunity to broaden our activities in London and beyond. We want to reach out to new groups through digital events and information sources, whilst continuing to strengthen our presence through film seasons, readings, lectures and other events.
4. What are your main plans and priorities for your role as Director of the Goethe-Institut London? What are the main projects that you’re currently working on?
As Director, I am primarily responsible for the strategic framework of the institution. We want our work to be both of a high quality, but also sustainable. We also want to be a reliable partner while simultaneously remaining open to new ideas. For these reasons we need to define the scope of our work on a multiannual basis. This makes us develop our work methodically, prioritise our projects and communicate clearly.
At the moment, there is a big focus on the remembrance of the outbreak of World War I. We are very pleased that we have found so many partners who are interested in collaborating with the GI-London on WWI projects throughout the year.
5. Do you think ‘cultural diplomacy’ is part of every mission’s mainstream workload these days – in London anyway? Do different governments view the importance of cultural diplomacy to varying degrees? Does it vary from country-to-country throughout the globe?
Absolutely: cultural diplomacy has become an important part of international communication and cooperation. It enables us to make ourselves more – and more easily –understood, and to respect other people and cultures. Multicultural places like London need mutual understanding in order to shape public goodwill and their future.
Of course, governments differ in their views concerning cultural diplomacy depending on their historical experiences and political identity. As a consequence of the terrifying period of the Nazi Regime, the newly-established German government decided in 1951 to create an independent organisation to ensure that culture could never again be misused for political reasons. The Goethe-Institut was founded to fulfil this task. A basic agreement governs the cooperation between the Goethe-Institut and the Federal Republic of Germany, represented by the Foreign Office. After more than 60 years we can proudly say that this special model has helped us to regain confidence and to build new and stronger relationships worldwide.
6. Can you tell me about the Goethe-Institut London’s work with EUNIC & other cultural bodies in London?
The Goethe-Institut is the national cultural institute of Germany, but at the same time we see or understand ourselves as a European institution. Permanent cooperation with other European institutions is crucial, including an active cooperation with EUNIC. The London cluster is an extremely active and lively one. Through being a strong partner within EUNIC we become more successful in strengthening language learning within an educational concept of multilingualism, and by organising cultural programmes in and outside of London we help to raise European visibility and awareness.
7. What do you think has been the most memorable day or event of your career to date? (Good or bad.)
I don’t think I can single out a particular day or event. There have been lots of wonderful projects so far. Even though I’m used to switching between different cultures, coming to a new country is always challenging. Therefore the greatest moment is feeling in the right place and being able to understand what makes sense and what really matters.
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