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Das Goethe-Institut

An Indispensable Resource for German

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1999 was das Goethe-Jahr, the year of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's 250th birth anniversary. That's when I first wrote about the worldwide institution that bears the name of Germany's most famous writer/philosopher: das Goethe-Institut. Since then, the German government has — rather unwisely in my opinon — made serious budget cuts that have forced the closing of several Goethe Institutes in the U.S., Canada, and other locations around the globe, or have led to service reductions at the remaining Institutes. However, the Goethe-Institut and its excellent Web site continue to be a valuable resource for students and teachers of German.

In 2001 the Goethe Institute and a similar cultural organization named Inter Nationes were merged in another money-saving measure by the German government. Both agencies have a tradition of providing cultural and language materials to teachers and students of German, as well as to anyone interested in German and Germany. More recently, the German government has shown signs of correcting its shortsightedness, and the Goethe Institute has seen some improvement in its financial support.

The Goethe Institute, either online or at its still numerous worldwide locations, is unentbehrlich (indispensable) for any serious student or teacher of the German language! If you aren't familiar with this wonderful German institution, you need to be. Even if you are familiar with it, you may not be aware of all of its extensive offerings.

I fall into the latter category myself, and at the SWCOLT language conference in Reno, Nevada in April 1999 I was smart enough to attend a session conducted by Renate Saggau of the Goethe Institute in Houston, Texas. (Unfortunately, the GI Houston is one of several U.S. Institutes that were closed for budgetary reasons.) It was at this session, appropriately entitled “How to Find the Needle in the Haystack,” that I rediscovered the depth of the Goethe Institute's (GI) Web site and its ever-expanding resources for both students and teachers of German. Even in a 90-minute session, Frau Saggau could only touch on a few of the many links and resources that the GI Web site has to offer. Here too, I will only be able to give you a hint of what awaits you online. But before doing that, a brief outline of just what the GI is about:

What is the Goethe-Institut?
From a GI brochure: “The Goethe-Institut is a worldwide organization active in the promotion of the German language and culture. On behalf of the Federal Republic of Germany it carries out cultural exchange abroad.” Founded in 1951, the Institute is a non-profit organization that gets most of its funding from the German government. The world headquarters are located in Munich.

What does the Goethe-Institut do?
Again, from GI's own informational material: “The 128 Goethe-Institut branches in 76 countries [now 175 branches in 90 countries] ... provide cultural programs, supply current information about Germany, offer German language courses and continuing education for teachers of German. The Goethe Institutes work in close cooperation with diverse partner institutions in their host countries.”

There are Goethe Institutes in cities from Kabul, Afghanistan to Harare, Zimbabwe. As of January 2007, there were seven GI branches in the United States and 14 locations in Germany. Australia has Goethe Institutes in Melbourne and Sydney, Canada has three (Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto), while eight Indian cities can claim a Goethe Institute. (For links to many GI locations worldwide and a complete list, see the next page.) Unfortunately, budget cuts have forced Goethe Institutes in Ann Arbor, Houston, and Seattle to close their doors. In Canada, the Vancouver Goethe Institute also vanished. Even existing locations have faced serious cutbacks. The San Francisco branch shut down its German library, and the New York GI had to eliminate its language instruction program. (The New York Goethe Institute now cooperates with the Deutsches Haus at NYU to offer language lessons.)

Despite such setbacks, the Goethe Institute is still a wonderful resource. For example, over the past few years I have enjoyed attending the “Hollywood Talks Shop” sessions at the Goethe Institute in Los Angeles, where German-born filmmakers talk about their work in Hollywood. Past guest speakers include film directors Roland Emmerich (Independence Day), Werner Herzog, and Wim Wenders, plus the former actress Elke Sommer. The San Francisco GI sponsors the great “Berlin and Beyond” German film festival in northern California every January. Other GIs around the world present similar cultural and language programs.

On the next page you'll find links to Goethe Institutes around the world with their local and online programs and resources.

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