Alongside classical diplomacy and foreign economic policy, cultural relations and education policy form the third pillar of German foreign policy. Its key objectives include laying strong foundations for relations to other countries and fostering dialogue among people and peoples by means of exchanges and cooperation in the fields of culture, education, and scholarship. The foreign cultural policy thus paves the way for mutual understanding, an important bedrock for policies committed to the peaceful settlement of differences. Other tasks include promoting the German language around the world, showcasing Germany as a country with a successful and diverse cultural scene, and communicating a contemporary image of Germany abroad. Current initiatives include promoting a variety of cultural programmes, such as exhibitions, guest performances by German theatres, supporting literature and films, and projects in dialogue with the Islamic world as well as kulturweit, a scheme that enables young people from Germany to spend a year doing voluntary service abroad.
The programmes and projects rest on a comprehensive understanding of culture
The Federal Foreign Office only implements the smallest part of its cultural relations policy itself. It primarily entrusts these tasks to intermediary organisations active as entities under private law and each with its own special focus. They include the Goethe-Institut, Institute for Foreign Cultural Relations (ifa), the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), the German Commission for UNESCO, and the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation (on foreign education policy, please turn to the chapter on Education and Knowledge).
The work of the cultural intermediaries is defined in agreements on goals, but they are largely free to structure the programmes and projects themselves. The Goethe-Institut has a total of 159 institutes in 98 different countries. It promotes a knowledge of the German language abroad and nurtures international cultural cooperation. The ifa dedicates itself mainly to cultural dialogue – in the form of exhibitions and conferences. The current trends in cultural dialogue: digital cultural and intermediary services and the new opportunities for interactive participation. In all the projects, since the 1970s foreign cultural policy has emphasised a holistic, non-elitist concept of culture that does not limit “culture” to “art”.
That said, the focus is not just on German culture. The preservation of cultural heritage programmes supports upholding important historical cultural assets worldwide. For example, from 1981 to 2016 the Federal Foreign Office helped fund some 2,800 projects in 144 countries, including the preservation of the Timbuktu manuscripts in Mali, the creation of a digital registry of cultural assets for Syria, the digitisation of traditional music in Cameroon, and the restoration of Borobudur Temple in Indonesia.