On Display: “African” activities of the German Goethe-Institut

The Goethe-Institut is the Federal Republic of Germany’s cultural institution operational worldwide. It promotes the study of German abroad and encourages international cultural exchange. The network of Goethe-Instituts, Goethe Centres, cultural societies, reading rooms and exam and language learning centres plays a central role in the cultural and educational policies of Germany. It promotes German-African relationships and provides platforms for intercultural dialogue. This blog article presents seven snapshots from the activities in Africa South of the Sahara.


1.) Cultural Bridge

In Edéa, Cameroon, the mutual history of Cameroon and Germany was commemorated at a massive, 100-year-old steel structured bridge that the German colonial rulers once had built. The artist Pascale Marthine Tayou together with his team draped huge wooden figures standing on steles about it, did an intercultural production of Goethe’s Faust – another perennial favourite – and set up an installation based on the indigenous Cameroon writing system, finishing “Les flâneurs d’Edéa” (The Ramblers of Edéa).

2.) Literature Forum

The Literature Forum in Kenya brings together upcoming women writers and literary critics to share and discuss stories, poems and current literary trends with the aim of enhancing their creativity. The forum provides a space to listen to the voices of established and budding female writers – voices of women with a passion for literary adventure. “AMKA – Space for Women’s Creativity” and the Goethe-Institut organise monthly readings in the library of the Goethe-Institut every last Saturday of the month. Participation in the forum is open to both men and women.

3.) Writing about Africa

This brilliant internet feature allows the discovery of new German literature representing diverse images of Africa and is hosted by the Goethe-Institut South Africa. Selected books by German speaking authors who deal with Africa in all its many facets are reviewed and biographical information on the authors are given. The selection of books covers the following genres: Novels and stories, travel journals, journalistic reports and critical essays about Africa, biographies and autobiographies, youth literature and stories for children. The website also gives an overview on the most actively German publishing housed engaged with Africa. Read more of this post

African libraries in “Library World Records” by Godfrey Oswald

For the ones who love rankings and are interested in libraries and Africa I want to recommend Godfrey Oswald’s book Library World Records. Here are some quotes to attract your interest…

Notable people who have worked in libraries or as librarians (p.121):

“Christopher Okigbo, the Nigerian poet, was acting librarian at the University of Nigeria in Nsukka, where he helped to found the African Authors Association. He was killed while fighting as a soldier during the Biafran war.”

Unusual things that happened at libraries (p.111):

“The National Institute of Studies and Research Library in the capital of Guinea-Bissau was turned into a military garrison by soldiers in 1998. But first they had to destroy several thousand books to make way for military equipment and sleeping quarters.”

Libraries that have suffered devastating fires or natural disasters (pp.107):

“Fourah Bay College Library in Free Town, Sierra Leone, […] was obliterated during the civil war of the early 1990s. It has since been rebuilt.”

And there is a list on the oldest university libraries in Africa (p. 83) – third is Monrovia University Library, Liberia, 1851. And the oldest public library in Africa (p.34.) was Luanda Municipal Library in Angola, founded in 1873 by the Portuguese colonial government. The two oldest national libraries in Africa “are the National Library of South Africa, Cape Town branch, founded 1818, and the National Library of Tunisia, Tunis, founded 1845.” (p.13).

And finally, what do you think: Which is the oldest existing bookstore in Africa (p.195)? Its Juta Bookshop, Cape Town, South Africa, founded in 1923.

Source: Godfrey Oswald: Library World Records, 2nd ed., Jefferson, NC, 2009.