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Germany

Germany's Goethe Institute Gets New President

The Goethe Institute's new president is Klaus-Dieter Lehmann, an arts administrator known to be both pragmatic and pioneering. He's even been called culture's answer to Chancellor Merkel.

Klaus-Dieter Lehmann

Like Merkel, Klaus-Dieter Lehmann is a trained scientist

Klaus-Dieter Lehmann was inaugurated as the Goethe Institute's new president in a ceremony in Munich attended by Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier on Monday, March 31 and officially took over his new job on Tuesday. The former head of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation since 1999 was unanimously voted as successor to Jutta Limbach in September 2007, when she announced her resignation.

Appointed head of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation in 1999, Klaus-Dieter Lehmann has already spent a good 10 years treading German culture's corridors of power, overseeing such ambitious undertakings as the revamping of the capital's landmark Museum Island. The new post confirms his status once and for all as one of the country's elder statesmen of the arts.

Few job offers could have enticed him away from this position, but Lehmann's switch to the Goethe Institute seems like a logical step. From serving as a trustee of German culture within the country, he is now set to help export it abroad.

"I am really looking forward to my new role," he told Deutsche Welle. "I have plenty of experience to bring to the position, and have frequently worked abroad on major exhibitions. My international experience has been very encouraging.

"Culture and education are becoming more key than ever to international cooperation," he said, adding that politics has finally woken up to the significance of culture.

Best man for the job

Indian students hold up placards bearing German words

The Goethe Institute wants to launch a German language offensive

Insiders have welcomed Lehmann's appointment. The broad consensus is that after serving as vice president to Limbach since 2002, he is indisputably the best man for the job.

As a mathematics and physics graduate and an honorary professor of business informatics, he has a refreshingly down-to-earth approach to arts management and was even compared in the daily newspaper taz to Chancellor Angela Merkel, another science graduate with a cool eye for what works and what doesn't.

"Culture can be more effective than politics because it has more forms of expression," he has said. "Art can be provocative, entertaining, and outrageous."

As the freshly-minted president of the Goethe Institute, Lehmann is expected to initiate increased co-operations with other European cultural organizations and focus on promoting the German language abroad. One new project foresees introducing German to curricula in up to 500 schools over the next 10 years.

"I believe that we have a lot of scope to position ourselves within Europe and establish the German language as one of the main European languages," he said. "I feel very passionately that the German language is not just a tool but a rich source of culture."

A new dawn

The Goethe Institute's headquarters in Munich

The Goethe Institute's main offices in Munich

In the past, new projects have often meant that existing ones have been cancelled. But after a long period of penny-pinching, the Goethe Institute's finances are now looking up once again.

Although many of its 147 offices in 83 countries were forced to close in recent years, the times have changed, and Lehmann says that he hopes to step up the German presence primarily in Africa and Asia. New offices have already opened in Tanzania and Angola -- and apparently, that no longer means other countries lose out.

"We're delighted that we will not need to compensate for new programs in Africa and Asia by shutting offices in other countries," Lehmann said.

While Jutta Limbach oversaw a difficult phase in the Goethe Institute's 57-year-history -- despite a number of coups such as the reopening of the Kabul office and the inauguration of a German reading room in Pyong Yang -- Lehmann looks set to have it easier. Now that the era of compulsive cost-cutting appears to be history, he can feel free to enjoy what his predecessor called "the best honorary post in the world."

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