It’s all about German culture

The Goethe-Zentrum has been an integral part of Hyderabad’s cultural landscape since it opened a decade after the Max Mueller Bhavan closed. It offers a kaleidoscope of events and engages in a range of activities contributing in its own way to the city. As it celebrates 15 years of existence, Amita Desai, director of the Goethe-Zentrum, highlights the centre’s work, popularizing the German language and showcasing the rich cultural diversity of Germany and India in this interview.

Excerpts from an interview:

What led to the opening of the Goethe-Zentrum in Hyderabad? It started a few years after Max Mueller Bhavan closed

Goethe-Zentrum opened about 10 years after the closure of Max Mueller Bhavan (MMB) in Hyderabad. I remember that in 2002/3, the then German President, Johannes Rau, visited Hyderabad. At the official state dinner, the CM at the time asked for the German airline and the cultural center. Within approximately 12 months, the two agencies were established in Hyderabad. I had recently moved here from Mumbai after 10 years of MMB service there. I was invited to start language lessons here. We did a sample lesson and found huge demand. As a result, the German missions in Chennai and Delhi and the regional headquarters in Delhi, the Max Mueller Bhavan initiated this project and asked me to do a feasibility report as well as help them start such a cultural organization. It was in December 2004 that we opened our doors in Hyderabad at the Hermitage Office Complex.

What was the answer to learn the German language?

It was a whirlwind. With approximately 180 odd students we trained in 2005, we now come across over 1,100 students per year at our center alone. Today we have over 20 schools with over 5,000 students taking German courses each year. Language courses are organized for companies on their premises, in schools, colleges and in our centre. The demand has continued to grow and we are happy to say that we have also been able to increase the faculty strength from three teachers to triple now. We organize teacher training courses, supervise and monitor school teaching and organize public examinations. We are an accredited exam center with over 1,300 students per year taking these public exams. We are pleased that Germany is considered a destination for higher education, for world-class research and other academic pursuits.

The Goethe-Zentrum has completed a decade and a half in Hyderabad. What events/programs are organized on this occasion?

Goethe-Zentrum Hyderabad will complete its 15th anniversary in December 2019. We had kicked off a year-long commemoration with a jazz concert, and we will end this with another scintillating concert later this year. The highlight of our celebration was KUNSTMARKT. This is a new feature launched by our center to invite young and established artists to share their work with visitors, interact with each other, listen to live music, enjoy food and to linger in the creative space that GZH was transformed on that day.

Over two dozen artists participated and over 500 visitors came to the event spread throughout the day. There was bonhomie, creativity, warm encounters and the general atmosphere of a happy mela of creativity.

How do you see the role of the center in the cultural landscape of the city?

It has been exciting to be part of the cultural landscape of Hyderabad, from day one! The city has soaked up all the experiences we have offered: classical concerts, contemporary composers, electronic music, children’s theatre, open-air dance theatre, slam poetry, collaboration between Indian and German choreographers, film screenings on Charminar Walls, Old City, World Music Day, Endometriosis Candle Walk, 70-member Orchestra at Shilpakala Vedika, Jazz Concerts, Science Mela, Women’s March, Earth Day Program, nearly 85/90 events every year for 15 years! The city was kind and received everything extremely well. We once had a memorable project with 16 different school children painting on 16 wooden benches, which were then placed outside in the Durgam Cheruvu area. We are happy that our cultural space is seen where alternative thoughts are promoted, we bring together actors from the fields of science, education, media, fine and visual arts, photography, literature , dance, music, etc. It’s an incredible experience – vibrant, dynamic and truly exciting.

Many cultural events are organized by the center. How do you conceptualize them?

Well, we are facilitators – we connect through language and culture. We like to participate in city issues. So there are projects that we visualize and see if our partners are interested. Some are offered to us by our regional headquarters and still others that our local partners bring to us and seek our support.

Working with Shaheen, for example, is one where we are often invited to partner. We have been collaborating with the Shrishthi Art Gallery for over a decade where we jointly present young artists – this is run by the gallery. Hyderabad Literary Festival, International Jazz Festival are platforms where we invite others to join us.

Another branch was opened at Kukatpally in Hyderabad. What necessitated this?

Indeed, we have opened classes in Kukatpally and Secunderabad. The distances are great. There is interest and demand is growing, so we have two branches in the city to relieve the load on the streets as well as our own classrooms. This despite the fact that we have added three additional classrooms to our current office space – i.e. we have seven classrooms in the main center building complex, plus evangelisms in other parts of the city.

Goethe-Zentrum is the main partner of the Hyderabad Literary Festival? How was this association born? What are the plans for the next HLF in January 2020?

We are happy to be the center of the HLF office. We joined the organizing group already in the second year when Germany was invited as a guest nation. Since then, we have taken on a more central organizational role. The team has also grown over the years and it shows in the exponential growth of Lit fest literature and side events. HLF 2020 will mark the 10th edition. We hope that this festival “by the city, for the citizens” will continue to attract young and old, readers, writers, poets and creators fully celebrating life and letters. Every year, we are able to add a new feature, like Kaavya Dhaara the latest edition – we hope to bring more in the next edition, which will be held on January 24-26, 2020.

What are the future projects?

We hope we can connect more with the city, civic issues, provide a platform for hatke experiences and of course learn German and understand people from Germany – create spaces for more interaction and collaboration.