The Instruments of Cultural Diplomacy: 70 years of German-Indonesian relations

Following 70 highly successful years of cultural relations between Indonesia and Germany, guests were warmly welcomed at the House of Indonesian Culture (Rumah Budaya Indonesia Berlin)

October 07th, 2022
Emily Ball, News from Berlin
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[Image credits: Indonesian Embassy Facebook]

In 1952, diplomatic relations between Indonesia and Germany were established, and to celebrate this 70th anniversary, the Embassy of Indonesia welcomed guests to the House of Indonesian Culture in Berlin (Rumah Budaya Indonesia Berlin) for a conference on German-Indonesian Cultural Diplomacy.

The ‘LET’S TALK CULTURE – 70 Years of Cultural Exchange and Beyond: A Conference on German-Indonesian Cultural Diplomacy’ took place using a hybrid format, which seamlessly brought together experts and officials from Berlin and Jakarta. The GoetheHaus stage in Jakarta hosted speakers Stefan Dreyer (Goethe Institut Jakarta), Rizki Resa Utama media artist) and Laksmi Pamuntjak (author), discussing the topic of the Instruments of Cultural Diplomacy. Meanwhile, on the House of Indonesian Cultures stage in Berlin, guests could hear the insight of Claudia Kaiser (Frankfurt Book Fair), Sally Below (urbanist and creator) and Bilawa Ade Respati (musician and performing artist).

Stefan Dreyer initiated the panel discussion by explaining the role and responsibilities that the Goethe Institute exercises in Indonesia, particularly as one of the arms of Germany’s approach towards Cultural Diplomacy, alongside the Deutsche Welle, The German Academic Exchange Service, the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation and more. He describes where the focus of the Goethe Institute lies, deeming it to be a method of widening exposure to the German language and culture, as seen in the interest that surrounds Germany in Indonesia. This can be seen in the number of students at the institute, as well as the variety of target groups, spanning from students interested in studying abroad in Germany to prospective workers, seeking to learn the language before moving to Germany for work. Within the Goethe Institute, Dreyer describes the desire for less emphasis to be placed on the presentation of German culture, instead working towards creating something more mutual, with the establishment of a meaningful dialogue between cultures. This is accompanied also by an acknowledgement that cultural diplomacy is a process which takes time, continuous effort and patience, and thus one shouldn’t expect fast results, but instead the slow growth of trust.

The conversation then moves to author Laksmi Pamuntjak, who worked with a German publishing house to promote Indonesian literature on a global stage, seen in her success winning the Literaturpreis in 2016. She shot into fame, appearing in magazines, newspapers, on TV, billboards, and even the information screens on the UBahn in Berlin. The reception of her novel ‘Amba’, which detailed the bloody communist purge in Indonesia in the 1960s, proved the interest abroad for new voices about different parts of the world. Those who knew little about Indonesian culture previously gained an insight into a part of history unknown to them.

Claudia Kaiser, as the Vice President of Business Development at the Frankfurt Bookfair, detailed her involvement in further promoting Indonesia in literature on the world stage by orchestrating Indonesia to be the guest of honour at the Frankfurt Book Fair in 2015. As the first southeast Asian country to occupy this prestigious role, knowledge and interest in Indonesian culture can be seen furthered once again, with UNESCO deeming Jakarta as a city of literature.

Architect Sally Below went on to describe the role of architecture and style in Germany and Indonesia alike. She spoke of the growing interest that Germany takes in south-east Asia, particularly the modernist buildings erected after Indonesia’s independence, which bear a resemblance to buildings in a similar style in Berlin.

Bilawa Ade Respati describes his journey to Berlin, first as a student, then staying for longer term employment. His work received funding from the Music Forum, to support his ideas and concepts, and is heavily dependent on such funding to continue. Furthermore, Respati spoke of his work as a freelancer, and his use of algorithms and technology in developing music, combining tradition and modernity.

Rizki Resa Utama then took to the stage to describe the feeling of in-between, between languages and cultures, which forms the basis of his art. Whether through the culture shock he experiences or the language difference, he speaks of how he put himself at the object of his own research. With regard to cultural diplomacy, he discusses the role of cultural background and how this can lead to misunderstanding, and thus the challenge is to create new or mixed pieces from his own background and German culture. The conversation returns once again to the importance of funding and collaboration in this field, and thus the role of institutions.

The main takeaway of the event and the conversation was the importance of public backing in order to uplift and support the arts and cultural diplomacy, taking place on a governmental level, as well as on a person-to-person level. Alongside these practical discussions, the event proudly displayed the cross-cultural relations, with a deep level of respect for both cultures.


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