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360° view of Germany

13.03.2013 - Article

As part of our series “On a diplomatic mission”, our colleague in São Paulo tells us about organizing the Year of Germany in Brazil.

The Year of Germany in Brazil 2013‑2014 begins in May and will run under the motto “Where ideas connect”. Things like this are almost routine for the Federal Foreign Office now, as similar events in Japan, China, India and Russia have shown just what Germany has to offer. But, as of May, it is the Brazilians who will have the chance to get to know us from our best side – through culture, commerce, science and education. Heightening interest in Germany strengthens cooperation, opens doors for German companies and is intended to improve our image and bilateral cooperation. Ralf Heinkele, responsible for cultural affairs at the German Consulate‑General in São Paulo, describes this sporting challenge.

Year of Germany logo
Year of Germany logo

From May 2013 till May 2014 Brazil will be able to see, taste, smell, feel and hear Germany. We’re calling it “a 360° view of Germany”, but it could equally be described as experiencing Germany with all the senses. The important thing is that the Brazilians get a positive and multifaceted picture of Germany. Luckily, there is already a good deal of sympathy and goodwill for Germany here in Brazil: basically the Brazilians already think well of us, so they will undoubtedly take part in the several hundred events we’ve planned.

The problem is that this sympathy is often due to positive prejudices and the assumption of typical German virtues: we’re regarded as punctual and reliable, as hard workers who’re not happy until everything is perfect.

How do Germans think and feel?

But we Germans want the world to have a different image of us today: we want to be regarded as creative, humorous and open as well. Besides, most Brazilians cannot really picture anything very concrete when they think of Germany, as many of them would rather fly to Miami to go shopping, to Paris for culture, not to Berlin. Hardly anyone here really knows what things look like in Germany, or how the Germans think and feel. And unfortunately there isn’t really the level of interest we would like to see.

Culture shock

São Paulo, Brazil’s commercial centre
São Paulo, Brazil’s commercial centre© picture - alliance / ZB

So the real challenge in Brazil is not so much to create a positive image of Germany, but to create an image at all. For Brazil is a young country; the state and social structures and people’s mindset are constantly shifting, and culture here is often defined in terms of consumption. And although we often believe the opposite, Brazilians don’t think European at all. Culture shock and misunderstandings are therefore more likely to arise here than in countries where the culture is not European‑inspired.

On the other hand, Brazilians don’t necessarily associate “German” with the same things we now do: modern Germany doesn’t fit the traditional cliché. Moreover, Brazil may be the size of a continent, but for centuries it has tended to focus on itself. The country is only just beginning to take a differentiated view of the rest of the world, and it is this we want to achieve through the Year of Germany.

Not just beer and cars

So there’s a lot of openness here, but we also have to realize that Brazilians see the world very differently from us – and very differently from the way we think they see it. So the true challenge is not to present a 360° view of Germany, but to ignite more than a firework of fun. If, at the end of the year, Brazilians have learnt not just to associate us with beer, football, cars and coldness, then we’ll have achieved a great deal.

Read other articles from our series “On a diplomatic mission” – members of the Federal Foreign Office staff report on their work

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