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Young people dressed in lederhosen and dirndls and holdings up beer glasses at Oktoberfest in Munich
Certainly what Germany is known for: Munich's OktoberfestImage: picture-alliance/F. Diemer

How does the world view Germany?

Stefan Dege
July 8, 2021

Culture is a top priority, but Germany lags behind in the digital sector, according to a survey conducted abroad. Efficient, reliable but inflexible and hesitant — why Germans are respected, and what people dislike.


Three German organizations with an international orientation — Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), and the cultural Goethe-Institut — presented a study entitled "Aussenblick: International Perspectives on Germany in Times of the COVID-19 Pandemic" on Thursday in Berlin. The organizations interviewed more than 620 experts from 37 countries within the cultural, science, and international cooperation sectors.

In a video message, German Chancellor Angela Merkel called the results of the survey a "fascinating snapshot with partly expected, but also, surprising answers." The positive feedback, Merkel said, is confirmation of what has been achieved so far, an incentive for further commitment. However, Merkel added the "critical comments should be an incentive for us to work on improvements."

CO2 lit up in flames in front of the Brandenburg Gate, Berlin
Germany has catching up to do when it comes to climate protection, some say Image: Jörg Carstensen/dpa/picture alliance

In fact, the 120-page paper reads like a to-do list for the new German government once they are elected in September. The study aimed to "compare self-perception and external perception," said GIZ board spokesperson Tanja Gönner, Goethe Secretary-General Johannes Ebert and DAAD Secretary-General Kai Sicks. According to the foreword to the study, in the midst of "the wide-scale disruption we're currently experiencing as a result of the coronavirus," the study's authors turned to "experts and outstanding authorities on Germany from all over the world ... to give our international partners and friends the opportunity to outline their perspective on our country."

'Discrepancy between ambition and reality'

The results of the survey are hardly surprising: Germany has top scores for its economic strength, democratic stability and cultural appeal. However, the respondents see a need to catch up in terms of digitization, the climate for innovation and access to German universities. Although Germans seem to be greatly interested in environmental issues, according to the respondents, companies do not focus enough on environmental protection. The respondents also felt Germany is "not sufficiently" dealing with its colonial history.

Goethe Institute's ​​​​Johannes Ebert wearing a suit jacket and holding onto a banister
Goethe Institute's ​​​​Johannes Ebert Image: Herlinde Koelbl

The study lists a rise in populist and extremist tendencies as one of the greatest risks, with respondents stating they have experienced less friendliness in Germany in recent years, and feel increasingly unwelcome.

Germany should also take a clearer international stance, but without being dominant, according to the GIZ, DAAD and Goethe-Institut study. It is perceived as important how Germany handles foreign policy, for instance, the tension between China, the US and Russia, the study argues. Germany should also represent a strong Europe.

Culture is respected 

Germany could commit more strongly to international exchange in the areas of research, science, art and film. "Germany continues to be seen as a country with a cultural scene that has international appeal," said Johannes Ebert, Secretary General of the Goethe-Institut. "The fact that theaters and museums were supported with great financial commitment even during the pandemic is seen as clear social commitment to the importance of culture." According to the survey, Germany's global cultural and scientific relations, with their cooperative approach, received special recognition.

Medical masks, small insignia of German flag and federal eagle
Germany got good marks for its handling of the COVID pandemic during the first lockdown in Spring 2020 Image: Bildagentur-online/Ohde/picture alliance

The study also looked at how Germany coped with the coronavirus pandemic. The country received excellent marks for its handling of COVID in the spring of 2020, but the slow rate at which the vaccination campaign was launched during the second wave came as a surprise, as did people's unwillingness to adhere to pandemic rules.

What are the conclusions of the joint study? "Digital transformation plays an increasing role in our work," said the GIZ's Tanja Gönner, adding that the organization is "working hard to bring in and expand" its creative power. DAAD Secretary-General Sicks mentioned a desire in the international community for easier access to the German education system. And the Goethe-Institut's Ebert confirmed the globally active cultural institute feels encouraged to ″further develop and strengthen German language-learning opportunities at home and abroad."

This article was translated from German.

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