Promoting the German language is a major objective in cultural relations and education policy. But how do you translate that into actual projects and activities? Our colleague Wiebke Brahe has been cultural affairs officer at the German Embassy in Riga for three years. She reports here on the many activities run by the Embassy and German cultural organizations whose work in Latvia includes supporting the German language.
When we talk about improving relations between two countries, people usually think of diplomatic visits or international treaties. However, good relations are founded on understanding – in every sense of the word. If you can speak German, you will have access to information about Germany’s positions on things and debates going on in the German media, and you will be able to find partners for your business among Germany’s many SMEs. The German language awakens people’s curiosity about the country and its people.
Very practical diplomacy
That is why part of my job as cultural affairs officer at the German Embassy in Riga is to encourage German language teaching. In that regard, my diplomatic mission often takes the form of very practical activities – be it visiting a German lesson to talk to Latvian pupils about what the end of the Cold War has meant for them, or providing last‑minute help with costumes for nursery children when Rolf Zuckowski’s musical “Vogelhochzeit” (The Birds’ Wedding) was performed with the composer himself.
German‑Latvian relations are very close and amicable. The two countries are connected by more than 800 years of shared history. That is reflected in the popularity of the German language, which about 18 percent – so nearly one in five – of all pupils in the capital city are learning. Germany is by no means a secret language in Latvia. This is very helpful in day‑to‑day life, whether in business relationships, cultural exchange or political talks.
Close cooperation with cultural organizations
To keep it that way, 16 schools in Latvia are taking part in the Schools: Partners for the Future (PASCH) programme, plus the country has one advisor for German and five German teachers seconded from Germany’s Central Agency for Schools Abroad, two German university tutors sent by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), a DAAD information centre and a Goethe‑Institut with its own library and range of language courses. One of my jobs is to coordinate the operations of these cultural organizations.
This collaboration is working very well. To give an example, we have together already held German Language Days in 9 cities. We have organized German language games in schools and arranged concerts and film nights. On one day, our programme even had 21 events running parallel! The Embassy approached the political level and the school administrators, the Central Agency for Schools Abroad provided training for teachers and parents information evenings, the Goethe‑Institut talked to nurseries and primary schools about teaching German early, and the DAAD organized talks with alumni.
Games, concerts and the German language
Another example from my work shows just what astounding ideas there are to be had with the German language. Pupils at the cathedral choir school in Riga had been looking at lyrics by the German rock band Rammstein in their German lessons and then adapted them, on their own initiative, for choral singing. When I told the members of Rammstein about this, they liked the idea so much that they let the pupils perform as their warm‑up band at one of their concerts – in front of about 15,000 people!
The German Language Days were an unmitigated success. In several places, the numbers of people learning German rose measurably. And everyone was left with memories that testified, “German is fun!”