Heidi Trautmann

261 - Through Life with a Boy Scout’s Motto – The Director of the reborn Goethe-Institut


By Heidi Trautmann


On June 14 Mr Björn Luley, the newly appointed Director of the Goethe Institute, received the key to the premises of the Goethe-Zentrum from Ms Ute Woermann-Stylianou who, together with her colleagues had led the institution from 1999 onwards in the true sense of Goethe, the great humanist. I have reported on the Goethe-Zentrum in an interview held in 2006, also included in my book Art and Creativity in North Cyprus, and have reported on many bi-communal art activities hosted and supported by them during the last years.


A new era has begun with the re-establishment of the Goethe-Institut just shortly after the visit of the German chancellor Ms Angela Merkel as the 150th institute in the worldwide net and in time for its 60th anniversary. I reported on the opening ceremony in my website. Who is this man who has taken over the reins from the hands of Ms Ute Woermann, retired cultural director. I went to talk to him to find out where he himself sees the future of the Nicosia Goethe-Institut, so ideally situated in the buffer zone with its doors open to both sides of still divided Cyprus. I have well remembered one word from Mr Luley’s opening speech that is ‘independent’, the independent Goethe-Institut, and that is my first question to him, what does it signify?

“First of all I want to make clear what the outlines of the Goethe Institute’s duties and principles are: The Goethe Institute is a non-profit German cultural institution operational worldwide, promoting the study of the German language abroad and encouraging international cultural exchange and relations. The Goethe-Institute also fosters knowledge about Germany by providing information on German culture, society and politics. This includes not only the exchange of films, music, theatre, literature, and the like, but also the values of civil society. The Goethe-Institut draws its material from many sections of the cosmopolitan German society and culture, combining the experience and ideas of its partners with cross-cultural expertise, the principle of dialogue and partnership, offering support to all those actively involved with Germany and its language and culture. The Goethe-Institut e.V. is an autonomous body and politically independent. Partners of the institute and its centers are public and private cultural institutions, the federal states, local authorities and the world of commerce. Much of the Goethe-Institut's overall budget (roughly 2/3) consists of yearly grants from the German Foreign Office and the German Press Office. The relationship with the Foreign Office is governed by general agreement. Self-generated income and contributions from sponsors and patrons, partners and friends broaden the scope of the work of the Goethe-Institut. The Goethe-Institut carefully coordinates its activities with other mediators of cultural and educational foreign policy.”

“And to finally answer your question what direct meaning the word ‘independent’ has: We are free to make our own educational and cultural programme as long as it remains within the framework of our house principles and within the limits of our budget and as long as we do not work against the general values of the German Foreign Office policies concerning the host country.”

Will the educational and cultural programmes continue as we have come to enjoy them during the Goethe-Zentrum period, I ask.

“We shall continue our German Language Centre with the help of the remaining valuable staff of the Goethe-Zentrum according to the CEF standard (Common European Framework of Reference for Languages) and we shall continue to support and initiate cultural cooperation with - in our case both partners of  Cyprus, the Greek and the Turkish Cypriots - and these are invited to come and talk to us about their bi-communal projects. We shall continue to support efforts of approach to understand each other and cooperate on a common level.” (Note by the author: In 2005, along with the Alliance Française, the Società Dante Alighieri, the British Council, the Instituto Cervantes and the Instituto Camões, the Goethe-Institut was awarded the Prince of Asturias Award for outstanding achievements in communications and the humanities. In 2007, it received a special Konrad Duden Prize for its work in the field of German language).

Will there be activities especially designed for the German citizens living on the island?

“The German citizens are always most welcome to any of our events but our programme does not include events for their entertainment or getting together and as far as I understand there are numerous German clubs around the island.”

Who is Björn Luley, I want to know, what are his experiences and his expectations of the island he has only recently come to with his wife.

“I was born in 1949 in Frankfurt. The course of my life adapted itself automatically to the interests I had, be it as a boy and young man or throughout my entire life. I was an active boy scout because the ideas and the motto went well with me, to look beyond my limits, to meet people and try to understand them, to travel intensively to get to know them better and learn about their culture. I was only 17 years old when I biked all the way to London.” He laughs delightedly: “There is a German poet Joseph von Eichendorff whose famous poem explains just what I feel: ‘Wem Gott will rechte Gunst erweisen, den schickt er in die weite Welt’ meaning that if God wants to honour someone he sends him travelling around the world.” Also my studies went along with my interests,  that is history and politics. After university I went into teaching and during our holidays – my wife was also in teaching – we did a lot of travelling, individual journeys by car through Arabic countries, Near and Far East countries. In 1975 we took an off-time from school for one year and travelled as far as Japan and that is during this one year that I met with destiny. On our travels we usually visited the Goethe institutes in the bigger cities in order to get all information available on culture and its institutions of the guest country and I was most impressed with the work they did until one day one of the Goethe directors said to me: Why don’t you apply for a position at the main office in Munich? To cut a long story short, I did, and after two years, including application and training seminars, I got my first appointment abroad.

1977, that makes 34 years altogether in the service of the Goethe-Institut, that is amazing, where have you been in those years, I ask.

“My first appointment was for Calcutta, then Tokyo after five years – the period is usually five years – then I was stationed at the main office in Munich where I was in charge of the international promotion of the learning of the German language. From there I went to Damascus; I was there twice, after a second appointment to Japan but this time in Kyoto, and Damascus was my last post again before I and my wife came here. It was an incredible hard job there, especially lately, to see a country suffer under a decades long dictatorship which the people will hopefully get rid of soon.


Cyprus is not an easy post either with the ongoing and never ending negotiations, diplomatic traps and sensitivities, how will he get around it, I ask.

“First of all, I will establish my own idea of both sides by studying the people, by meeting them, visiting cultural events, just in the same manner as I always did, open for new things to learn and keeping in mind our main target to further the exchange of culture.  Although I will need some time to get the institute running according to the rules - we will hopefully get some additional staff –but the house will continue its operation; after the summer holidays I shall continue to get acquainted with the island’s traditions and culture.”

Is there already some cultural event on your agenda of this year, I ask him.


“Yes, there are the projects still planned by my predecessor like a big exhibition of a reknown German photographer in Nicosia’s prestigious Municipal Art Centre Power House, and a classical concert in November and a recently added project, the “Prix Jeunesse International” which is awarded every two years, a Germany based international festival to promote the quality of children and youth TV programmes, and here we will try to bring together  responsible TV directors from both sides. All other future events will develop and be placed to the knowledge of Cypriots, also via our new website which will hopefully be operational in autumn.”


I say goodbye to Börn Luley, wish him luck and assure him of our support in his efforts. What is the foremost thought when he sees the momentarily somewhat chaotic situation until the metamorphosis is completed, and all the papers and judicial steps are sorted out, I want to know.

“Keep calm and carry on!”



Please also read my report on the opening evening of the new Goethe-Institut under Cyprus Art News No. 255

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