Frank Baumann, Director, Goethe-institut

It Will Be Continued

The Goethe-Institut in Belgrade adapted its programmes to the conditions imposed by the pandemic, preparing for the time when it will again be possible to function without the threat of the virus

The commemorating of this year’s great jubilees – the 30th anniversary of the reunification of East and West Germany and the 50th anniversary of the establishing of the Belgrade centre of the Goethe Institute (Goethe- Institut) – has been adapted to the conditions of the COVID-19 pandemic, but that didn’t reduce the quality of the celebrations. Apart from these major anniversaries, here we also discuss the experiences of the previous seasons for this German cultural centre with its director, Frank Baumann.

Unification is at the very foundation of the Federal Republic of Germany, so commemorating the anniversary of your country’s reunification will serve to remind us all of one good example and good practise. During this year, the Goethe- Institut commemorates half a century of its existence. How will you mark these jubilees?

– Yes, 50 years of the Goethe-Institut in Belgrade is certainly something special; something to be proud of, to be thankful for and to prompt us to stop for a moment, looking both back and forward at the same time. The official reception should have taken place in June, with some high-ranking guests from Serbia and Germany. And a big fat party with some cool live music and all of our friends, clients and partners around, in a cheerful mood, down at Dorćol Platz – that was the idea. The Coronavirus pandemic destroyed everything, as you can imagine. What remains are memories of 50 years of the German culture and language in Belgrade, good years mainly, though some tough ones as well, and one of the strangest right now. But no complaints, many people paid a much higher price than cancelling a single event. For the culture scene, both the independent and the state-run, it’s a disaster. I wish someone could see some light at the end of the tunnel, but this nasty virus probably came to stay for a while longer.

Regarding the commemoration of 30 years of the reunification of the two Germanys: well, to me that’s first of all a political date, a historical landmark, and as such it’s up to our Embassy to communicate. I’m sure they will, probably in some combination with the current German presidency of the EU, which would make sense to me. When it comes to culture and ordinary people, we could discuss the extent to which Germany is unified today. To a certain degree, it’s still a divided country, not only between east and west. The Coronavirus alone makes no difference.

50 years of the Goethe-Institut in Belgrade is certainly something to be proud of, to be thankful for, and to prompt us stop for a moment, looking both back and forward at the same time

How did the Coronavirus pandemic lead to changes in the Goethe-Institut’s plans? Which programmes did you have to cancel or postpone? Judging by announcements on the Institute’s Facebook page, you maintained a very rich online programme.

– Well, first of all our ongoing language courses were paused. We had to stop them immediately, and those which were about to start were cancelled. Luckily, a vast majority of our students agreed to continue by switching to an online format. The language course office promptly coordinated this with our teachers, who did their very best to make it happen, though it came over them just out of the blue, but mutual goodwill on each side made it a success for most of our customers and colleagues. We even extended our online portfolio during the lockdown phase and saw a significant increase of interest in this format.

Regarding cultural events, we had to cancel or postpone performances of several German authors (Noor Kanj, Marion Poschmann, Robert Menasse), as well as several exhibitions, among which “Missing Stories” was an incredible loss. This is a highly rated international art exhibition on forced labour under the Nazi occupation. Two years of work, a grand opening at the Salon of Contemporary Art in Belgrade, and then – back to storage. It will be continued, hopefully, in 2021. Still, we did our best to use the potential of the all-round virtual space. For example, we presented a digital exhibition, “Abandoned” by Sanja Latinović, through our YouTube channel. The panel discussion with the artist happened on Instagram. That’s also the place where we later celebrated World Book Day. It worked pretty well, even if all these streaming actions cannot replace personal contacts, as everybody now knows. Still, we’ll stick to it in the future and keep having online talks on literature. In June we presented a music documentary as a live premiere by Belgrade-based saxophonist and composer Hayden Chisholm on our YouTube channel.

Also in June we started the experiment of a real exhibition in the gallery of our library. It turned out to be extremely challenging to follow all health recommendations and restrictions of the Serbian government and the World Health Organisation. However, given that not everybody feels comfortable to come around personally despite all measures being taken, we keep on streaming everything for remote use.

Apart from our own online events, we did our best to keep in touch with our audience on social networks, sharing relevant German content, such as virtual exhibitions from important German museums, online concerts and DJ sets, even films for free streaming etc.

Finally, our so-called e-Library, which has been very well known to our regular readers in Serbia since 2014, has been used more frequently than ever during the past few months. With its huge offer of German e-books, films magazines etc., as well as regular updates, it has become one of our most popular online content.

People in Serbia know exactly why they’ve chosen German and the Goethe-Institut – better business opportunities in Serbia and job opportunities in Germany

It can be said that the Goethe-Institut has a comprehensive programme of German language courses – for both beginners and experts. Are you satisfied with the response; how do you compete with the popularity of the English language?

– Yes, we have a wide range of courses from the age of six onwards, as well as many different course formats – super intensive, two extensive options, online and blended learning, which is 50% in person and 50% online. Something for everyone! We don’t feel like we have to compete with the popularity of the English language that much, since speaking English is a given now and most children learn it at school from an early age. German is usually a second foreign language that people in Serbia learn and they know exactly why they’ve chosen German and the Goethe-Institut: better business opportunities in Serbia, as well as job opportunities in Germany, further education in a German-speaking country, to name a few.

Škograd is one of many programmes with which the Goethe-Institut is present in our area. How is progress being achieved for this open classroom in which schools and local communities cooperate in sorting out their local environment?

– Thank you for this question. The long-term cooperation with the (still young) Škograd crew is one of our beacon projects. It’s based on a civil society platform that we established a couple of years ago, called “Next Generation”, and aims at fostering a new understanding of the school/town relationship in a specific environment through mutual participation.

The focus of the activities is on a suburban area of Belgrade, the agglomeration of Ledine, established not too long ago, with its inhabitants facing quite a few challenges and open issues. So, on the basis of numerous activities organised by Škograd in cooperation with local school kids, the activists developed a kind of methodology that was previously presented at several conferences outside Serbia.

Frank Baumann, Director of Goethe institut Belgrade

Sharing experiences with other expert groups from Germany and other countries strengthens the position of Škograd, enhances their networking and, finally, helps to continue the beneficial work for (not only) underprivileged kids in local summer schools, but also open classroom formats (“Infrastructure of hope”), among others. For the latter, Škograd was just awarded by the 2020 Belgrade Salon of Architecture / BINA, and I really hope that this cool initiative (one for our children that are about to grow up) will remain an integral part of the city’s cultural landscape.

The Goethe-Institut traditionally collaborates on many important festivals that are held in Belgrade, to mention only BITEF and Beldocs. How has this year’s cooperation been realised, given the changes to conditions as a result of the pandemic?

– The novel COVID-19 outbreak also caused many changes in realising our planned programme activities in the realm of arts and culture. Strictly following current epidemiological rules, our traditional partners, Bitef and Beldocs, have managed to be among the rare festivals presenting their programmes in September, alongside the safest place – online, also in physical spaces such as squares, open-air cinemas etc. The 13th Beldocs presented i.a. seven carefully chosen German documentary productions and co-productions.

Through this year’s cooperation with Bitef, everyone involved in the project was facing the importance of quickly finding alternative ways of doing things, caused by many uncertainties in every respect. As an outcome, the German guest performance “Uncanny Valley” of Rimini Protokol and Kammerspiele Munich was one of two solo lecture performances presented at the Prologue Edition of the 54th Bitef festival. The digital body of a performer (German author Thomas Melle) on the stage of Bitef Theatre raised many important issues, wonderfully mirroring the momentum.

During this time when we’re talking for CorD, it is almost certain that the traditional Belgrade Book Fair won’t be held this October, though that has not yet been confirmed officially. If the Fair is cancelled, do you plan to present the latest editions of German publishers in some other way?

– Well, of course we couldn’t replace or at least compensate for activities of German publishing houses. It’s just a very small window to some carefully selected releases of the book market that we could contribute. But Goethe- Institut used to present itself at the Belgrade Book Fair together with other European cultural institutes at a common EUNIC stand, until 2016. In 2017 Goethe-Institut was widely present as a partner of the joint project “4 Countries, 1 Language”, presenting the literature works of four German-speaking countries as “guests of honour”.

We later decided to support the Book Fair by organising different events prior to it, or in the context of it, such as the EUNIC conference for librarians “What kind of library do we need?”, which took place at the National Library of Serbia in 2018. As far as I know, something similar won’t happen this year, as it was too complicated to organise it in an online format. But, given that the Belgrade Book Fair is the biggest and most important event of its kind in the entire Western Balkan region, I’m sure this is just an exception due to the overall situation.

Related Articles

Dr Christoph Veldhues, Director Of The Goethe-Institut Belgrade

Dialogue Is Key

Belgrade itself has such a rich cultural life that the Goethe-Institut is happy to be a small part of it by providing German artists...

Aleksandar Goračinov, Project Director, SME Hub

Encouraging Domestic Producers To Grow And Develop

The project SME HUB is the result of a public-private partnership between the Government of Switzerland, which is represented by the Swiss Agency for...

Cooperation Between Serbia, Germany In Field Of Climate Action

Prime Minister Ana Brnabic attended today the signing of the Joint Declaration of Intent regarding strategic cooperation in the field of climate action between...

Hartmut Koschyk Visits Serbia

Germany’s Federal Government Commissioner for Matters Related to Ethnic German Resettlers and National Minorities has visited the German minority in Serbia Hartmut Koschyk, Germany’s Federal...


People With a Danubian Mentality

History records that 500,000 Danubian Germans lived on the territory of the Serbian districts of Srem, Banat and Bačka. The Danubian Germans came to...

Gabriel Feltz, Chief Conductor Of The Belgrade Philharmonic Orchestra

Society Is Sick Of Isolation

He is ‘Generalmusikdirector’ of the Dortmund Opera and the Chief Conductor of the Dortmund Philharmonic Orchestra, while for the last five seasons he’s also...

Milomir Gligorijević, CEO Of Telegroup System

Knowledge Leaps Borders

TeleGroup system is one of the leading technology companies in the field of information and communication technologies, the modernisation of the electricity industry, technical...

Ljiljana Topić, Director, Galenika Pharmacia

Nurturing It’s Own Leadership Position

Galenika Pharmacia produces more than 50 different medical devices - sterile and non-sterile compresses, plaster strips, bandaid plasters, bandages and sanitary materials, vehicle first...

H.E. Luca Gori, Ambassador of Italy

More Italy in Serbia

Serbia is now among the few non-EU Countries to boast such a strong presence of the ‘Italian System’, underscoring this market’s strategic importance to...

Patrizio Dei Tos, President of Confindustria Serbia

Bilateral Trade on the Rise Again

Confindustria Serbia has established itself as a central point of reference for Italian companies and institutions in relations with Serbia. Its goal is simple:...

Annino De Venezia, President of the Italian-Serbian Chamber of Commerce (ISCC)

EXPO 2027 Calls for Cooperation

The Chamber has recorded significant interest from Italian firms eager to explore opportunities at EXPO 2027, and I am confident in the enthusiastic collaboration...

Matjaž Han, Slovenian Minister for the Economy, Tourism and Sport

Fostering Cooperation

World Expo 2027 certainly represents an exceptional opportunity for Slovenian contracting and service companies, especially in the areas of the sustainable development, infrastructure construction,...

The Foreign Investors Council and EBRD Hosted Conference On Financial Services

The Foreign Investors Council of Serbia, in cooperation with the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), organised the...

Belgrade Prepares for Expo 2027 with a Focus on Play and Creativity

Belgrade is gearing up to host the Specialized Expo 2027, a global event set to captivate the world from...

Sweden’s National Day Celebrated in Serbia with a Touch of ABBA

The Embassy of Sweden in Serbia celebrated the nation's 501st National Day in a lively reception hosted by Ambassador...

Serbian High Jumper Angelina Topić Wins Silver at European Championships in Rome

Serbian high jumper Angelina Topić secured a silver medal at the European Championships in Rome, clearing a height of...

Angola’s Foreign Minister Visits Belgrade, Emphasizes Stronger Ties with Serbian Companies

During an official visit to Belgrade, Angola's Foreign Minister Tete Antonio highlighted the importance of strengthening ties between Angolan...