October 8, 2010 | German

Appointment at the Goethe-Institut

The Goethe-Institut offers a window into German culture. Plus it's cool.

Last night at 11:00 (being able to shop around midnight is one of the reasons I love New York City), I went to Barnes & Noble and bought some McGraw-Hill German books as well as some SparkNotes flashcards. I love flashcards. These things were purchased at the soon-to-close Barnes & Noble at 66th and Broadway, whose imminent departure from the neighborhood saddens me.

72 Spring, Home of the Goethe-Institut

72 Spring, Home of the Goethe-Institut

This afternoon, following some studying, I headed to the Goethe-Institut in SoHo for a 3:00 p.m. appointment. I arrived at 3:00 to the minute, German style. I am in fact very German in my punctuality.

Whenever I am reminded of my own punctuality, usually by other people’s irritating lack thereof, the title of a Heinrich Böll story always floats into my head: “Der Zug War Pünktlich” (“The Train Was on Time”). I’ve never even read the story. I understand it is grim.

The Goethe-Institut is located at 72 Spring Street, relatively new digs for the organization, which was on Fifth Avenue for many years. 

The mission of the institute, according to the official copy on its website, is to “promote the study of German abroad and encourage international cultural exchange,” as well as “foster knowledge about Germany by providing information on its culture, society and politics.” There are events, exchange programs, a library, classes, and testing services.

The folks at the institute have kindly agreed to let me do a little translation-for-conversation exchange, kind of like I did at the Italian company where I worked briefly last winter. In other words, I do a little translating, and in exchange, people will speak to me in German.

My main contact is Joanna Lang, a university student from Germany who is in the U.S. for several months working on the German American Partnership Program, which organizes exchanges between German and U.S. high schools.

Joanna Lang of the Goethe-Institut (Who Is an Excellent German Instructor)

Joanna Lang of the Goethe-Institut (Who Is an Excellent German Instructor)

Joanna, who was born in Poland but grew up in Germany, speaks German, English, Polish, and Spanish. Europe seems to have a lot of fully quadrilingual, quintilingual, etc., people. I find that remarkable. And enviable.

Joanna and I spoke, in German, for most of the two hours I was there this afternoon. And, as she and I talked along, I noticed my skills start to decline.

For some reason, I find that after 15 minutes or so in German, it usually becomes harder for me to continue to produce articulate German sentences. You’d think it would be the opposite, because I would get warmed up, but it’s almost as though I use up all the words I know and become depleted of vocabulary. A couple of times when I was talking to Joanna and ran out of ways to express coherent thought in German, I switched to Spanish. That felt less like cheating than resorting to English would have.

As someone who has spent a lot of time in Germany, I have been aware of the Goethe-Institut probably most of my life, but this is the first time I have ever had anything to do with it directly. There are in fact nearly 150 Goethe-Instituts around the world, including in Afghanistan, India, China, Chile, and other countries you wouldn’t necessarily associate strongly with German cultural organizations.

The institute’s offices have a combination SoHo-and-German chic to them. On the premises is is a library where you—meaning anyone—can hang out, read German newspapers and magazines, check out German books, etc. 

SoHo Chic: The Goethe-Institut's Offices

SoHo Chic: The Goethe-Institut’s Offices

Their Library: A Cozy Place to Do Your German Reading

Their Library: A Cozy Place to Do Your German Reading

Ever the repository of useful questions, I inquired whether they have a problem with crazy people camping out in their library. I was told they do not.

Comments (1)

Ken • Posted on Tue, October 12, 2010 - 1:52 pm EST

Goethe is also in Brazil.  And I can’t thank them enough for bringing the band Die Haut with Nick Cave down for a short tour in 1993, allowing me to see them and then hang out with them and Nick (the hanging out being one of the freakiest coincidences of my life).

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