Isolated images do not tell the whole story

28.03.2013 - Interview

Minister of State Pieper warns against being too negative about the way Germany is seen in the countries hit hardest by the euro crisis, adding that demand for German language instruction is rising fastest in southern Europe, at the Goethe-Institut in Nicosia, for example, which was opened two years ago directly on the border to the Turkish side of the island.

Interview with Minister of State Cornelia Pieper on Germany’s reputation in Europe and the role of cultural relations and education policy. Published in the Mitteldeutsche Zeitung on 28 March 2013.


Football coach Otto Rehhagel is to promote sunnier attitudes towards Germany in Greece. How many footballers does the German Government intend to have tour Europe to improve the country’s reputation?

Germany has a good reputation. In a survey regularly conducted in 27 countries by BBC World Service, Germany has been in the absolute top ranks in terms of international recognition for many years.

But in Europe, especially in the south, this reputation has been damaged by Berlin’s tough anti-crisis policies.

The European financial and debt crisis makes our situation difficult. But look at Greece, for example. These policies tangibly stabilized the situation there. The branches of the Goethe‑Institut in Greece and elsewhere are practically being overrun at the moment. Interest in German language instruction has risen by 20 percent in Greece. That shows what great interest there is in Germany and the German language.

Apart from “Ambassador Rehakles”, what is Germany’s cultural relations policy doing abroad to improve the general mood?

There are 150 branches of the Goethe-Institut all over the world. We opened a new one in the Cypriot capital, Nicosia, two years ago. It is located right on the border to the Turkish side to help promote dialogue between the two parts of the country.

How have the German language courses been received there?

Just as well as in Greece. Nowhere is demand increasing as quickly as in all of southern Europe. We have just made around eight million euros available to promote German language learning in southern Europe in particular.

Are people interested in learning German in order to emigrate from crisis countries to Germany?

There are various reasons. The main thing is that Germany is an attractive country. We are a role model in Europe for many young people, because we have come through the crisis more smoothly than many of our partners. We are of course very pleased that many of them want to work or study in Germany.

First we break their social welfare systems with our austerity policies and on top of that we are now enticing young southern Europeans away from their home countries...

No. On the contrary. Together with the German Academic Exchange Service, we have just established a special programme with short-term scholarships for 1000 young people over the next three years to motivate them to put their countries back on the path to growth. This is a signal to Greece, as well.

But it must be cause for concern that Angela Merkel is portrayed in caricatures with a Hitler moustache.

That is not how I imagine communication between friendly countries should work, but we should not make generalizations about the mood of the population as a whole based on isolated images. We also see that many people understand Germany’s position on the debt crisis.

What do you hear from German embassies? Surely they hold events where this is discussed. Are these more of an occasion to vent anger or to ask for information?

I think most people want information. I went to the anniversary celebration of the Goethe‑Institut in Athens. It is sixty years old, the oldest Goethe-Institut of all. I heard many questions there that had to do with people’s uncertainty and fears, but we were able to clear up most things by talking to one another. The most important thing in this situation is dialogue. That is the only way to overcome mutual prejudices.

Questions: Thomas Kröter. Reproduced by kind permission of the Mitteldeutsche Zeitung.

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