Beer and cars are the first things that come to mind when people in China think of Germany. But a new national image campaign is out to change that.
Germany has more to offer, says the image campaign in China
There's never been anything like it in the 6-million strong city of Shenyang: a huge open-air festival in Zhongshan Park, where retirees typically come to do their quiet Tai Qi exercises.
Instead, thousands of young people sway to the music of a different German band each evening. The park concerts are part of a project called "Germany and China move together." It was launched in the southern Chinese city of Nanjing in 2007 and is one its way through five additional cities until 2010.
Organizers hope the festival will lead to better cultural understanding
For 10 days, Shenyang is getting a taste of German culture, beyond the usual stereotypes of lederhosen, beer and brass bands. Here, Germany wants to present itself as the "country of ideas," innovation and green technology.
But the campaign's message goes beyond boosting Germany's image in China, said project organizer Michael Kahn-Ackermann from the Goethe Institute in Beijing.
"We're faced with tasks that a single country, even one as big and strong and confident as China or as high-tech as Germany, won't be able to solve alone," he said. "The message is simple: 'Let us start to learn how we can successfully work together.'"
For Germany, the attempt to promote its ideas, values and visions in China through "soft power" doesn't come cheap. The events in Shenyang alone are slated to cost 2.3 million euros ($3.2 million), two-thirds of which are coming from public funds.
The rest is sponsored by large German firms, which are there presenting their concepts for a greener future - and, of course - their products.
German firms used the festival to show off green products like this electric Smart car
With pop music coming from the stage outside, Siemens promotes its energy-saving light bulbs, Bosch displays its earth-friendly washing machines and BASF presents its insulation material inside the covered pavilions.
The organizers insist that advertising isn't the focal point of the event. Still, a young salesman at the Daimler pavilion was encouraged by the large crowd. An electric Smart car outside the tent was attracting visitors.
"It's about sustainability here; it's not a sales show in the typical sense," he said.
Stereotypes hard to break
But the visitors didn't just come to shop. Everything that's perceived as traditionally German proves to be a big hit.
The hurdy-gurdy man plays for a large group of school kids, and women dressed in traditional Black Forest costumes are busy posing for photographs with visitors.
Some things are easier to get a grip on than sustainable industrial policy
While enjoying bratwurst and beer in the beer garden, the guests didn't hesitate when asked what they associate with Germany: "Cars," "beer," and "technology" were the quick answers.
The scheduled discussions on topics including ecological farming, sustainable industrial policy, and waste management and recycling didn't resonate quite as well with the visitors.
"For us simple people, it's all too far away," said a 44-year-old man, who had brought his daughter along. "We don't know much about that stuff."
Nevertheless, the project organizers hope that the image of an innovative and different kind of Germany will stick.
"Afterwards, if the people have a more positive impression of Germany, that's not bad," said Kahn-Ackermann.
Author: Ruth Kirchner (kjb)
Editor: Sean Sinico