By Peter Goßens

In the first issue of “Notices”, that came out in November 1951, the Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen (the Institute for Foreign Relations, or ifa) set out its remit. The aim was the “furthering of intellectual and sympathetic exchange between peoples… [in the] service of supranational understanding”. In its work it would stand in opposition to the “one-sided propaganda” of former eras and would view “art and culture” as a collective “spiritual legacy” belonging to all nations.

There now came, in place of the “delusion” of 19th-century imperialist politics, a “mutual give and take” (1 and 2/1951). Because of its violation of civilised norms between 1933 and 1945, the land of poets and thinkers had definitively forfeited its role as an international leader in the cultural realm. Exchange and openness towards others were now becoming new principles underpinning the nascent German Federal Republic. ifa, which had existed as the Deutsches Ausland-Institut (the German Foreign Institute) since 1917, was reconstituted as the Institute for Foreign Relations. In his December 1951 opening speech, Theodor Heuss called for “Weltluft” – a cosmopolitan atmosphere – instead of a “stifling in monopolising self-congratulation”. “‘Weltluft’ means […] being open, in order to perceive that the world comes from all directions, from west and east, from south and north” (2/1951).

An outward-facing cultural policy is no longer an “echo chamber” of national self-affirmation, but rather “an open, porous space for dialogue” in the words of Frank-Walter Steinmeier at ifa’s 2017 centenary celebration. In this space of cultural exchange you can “discern […] in the mirror others, in order to recognise yourself” (2/1951). External cultural policy is from now on an “early warning system”, as Hans Magnus Enzensberger put it in 1995, that indicates the state of international contacts.

In this type of system, cultural affairs periodicals like Kulturaustausch function like seismographs. They record alterations and tremors in mutual international relations and represent the memory, repository and mirror of a country’s cultural self-image. They are also at the vanguard of exchanges between cultures: Kulturaustausch today conveys to its readership (in at least 146 lands) not just an image of a globally connected Germany but also, and above all, of a partner in a dialogue that spans our world.

It took a long while before Kulturaustausch really fulfilled this remit. But exchange and dialogue in a global context has been part of its agenda from the start, leaving a substantial imprint on the history of the magazine. Looking at it today, the beginnings of Kulturaustausch seem humble. The first issue of ifa’s “Notices” – all four pages of it – came out in November 1951. The “Notices”, according to then chief secretary Franz Thierfelder, was supposed to be a “speaking tube and connection” to “for the moment in modest attire […] give coherent reports of our work” (2/1951). But the first edition wasn’t limited to documenting ifa’s international activities but to giving a diverse group of interests the chance to participate.

But at the same time, editions like the one on Israel used stereotypical images and a nationalist perspective to depict other cultures


Several key themes have evolved up until the present: one is supporting the German language abroad, whether in education and international politics or through German-speaking minority communities, some of whom had emigrated centuries before. Migrants and migration accordingly make up a further theme that regularly comes up – the opportunity is given to those who live elsewhere to keep in touch with Germany and up to date with German-speaking culture in their own countries and beyond. On the other side, the magazine tries to help Germans who are interested in moving abroad with pointers to employment and advice about the infrastructure in other countries. Finally, the “Notices” addresses, as another target audience, actors on the international political stage who have been linked with the institute since its founding in 1917, offering them a communal publication platform.

Initially a monthly periodical of announcements, it became a quarterly magazine in 1955, keeping its readers informed above all by means of special issues about cultures around the world. The size of the issues grew continually, with the original four sides expanding to up to 16 pages of reports. The first double issue, in 1952, featured an overview of the institute’s activities across 100 pages. Just as comprehensive was a special issue at the end of 1953 dedicated to increasingly close Franco-German relations.

There are already country-specific topics in earlier editions (for example, issue 5/1952 on Italy), but ever since the issue dedicated to France they have shaped the image of the magazine over the years. The approach to countries is quite varied – the edition on Uruguay (2/1954) has topics covering the representatives of German-speaking culture such as schools, associations and churches, the history of the settlement of Uruguay by Germans and how German culture has been received.

The Afghanistan edition (5/1954) not only report on the history of a mostly unfamiliar culture but also features translations of contemporary literature from the country. Alongside these are the yearly editions looking at fundamental themes of culture policy abroad, for instance an overview of cultural journals throughout the world (2/1955) and issues on development aid (2/1960), education systems in other countries (2/1961) or partnerships between cities (1/1965). But at the same time, editions like the one on Israel (3/1965), used stereotypical images and a nationalist perspective to depict other cultures, whereby the burden of Germany’s Third Reich past was completely airbrushed out.

In 1973, not only the external look of the magazine but the entire direction of its content is altered 

It was during the premiership of Willy Brandt that cultural policy became the third pillar of foreign policy. The new premises of cultural policy also led eventually to the magazine taking a new direction that went far beyond the changes resulting from the transition of the chief editor and ifa chief secretary in 1960, when Franz Thierfelder was replaced by Michael Reh, and the name change in 1962, when “Notices” became the “Zeitschrift für Kulturaustausch” (“Journal for Cultural Exchange”). Because in 1973 it wasn’t just the external look of the magazine but the entire direction of its content that altered. The “most longstanding specialist journal for international relations (1/1973) decided on a “streamlining of themes” and a “stronger mouthpiece for the exchange of professional experience with the outside world” (1/1973).

With a new layout and smaller format, it was running the risk of losing its established readership in radically reflecting on a new conception of culture and how to put this into practice with its “guiding principles of cultural foreign policy” (1970). The new series of issues began with an edition looking at the fresh orientation to “cultural foreign policy” (1/1973). These reflections on the basics were complemented in later issues by Gerd Gerken’s idea of cultural foreign policy as a reciprocal “process of communication”: “When it’s no longer about ‘selling Germany’ but on generating common processes to safeguard freedom, it should at the same time be said that, from now on, proficiency in the communication process must be present” (2/1973).

So that year’s third issue mused on the “influence of stereotypes on international cultural relations” (3/1973) – a phenomenon that had led previous cultural policies down a dead end. Up to 1996 there were occasional long articles discussing the state of cultural foreign policy and full of new buzzwords: acculturation, technology, decolonialising and transmission are just some of the topics addressed. The number of “Special Country Issues” shrank and contributors from other cultures were given a voice. The world’s countries and continents – Africa, Asia or Islamic cultures – are no longer objects of inquiry, and eurocentric perspectives on these are being interrogated.

Similarly, migration to Germany and the challenges of an emerging “migration society” are also being examined (as in issue 1 of 1985: “… But the Stranger is in Me”). The fascinating series of issues that came out at this time were, however, not necessarily thought of as appealing to a wider audience. The magazine instead increasingly took on the form of a specialist journal whose audience came above all from academia. From today’s perspective, when pithy and visualisable information is the norm, the issues read like dense forests of text.

Germany is now a part of global culture

After Hans Magnus Enzensberger kickstarted a debate about cultural foreign policy in the pages of “Der Spiegel” in 1985, this withdrawal from the public realm, symptomatic of the period, began to break down. Cultural policy is a key parameter for foreign perceptions of Germany in the world. The “Journal for Cultural Exchange” was quick to react to the new situation and in 1996 changed its basic concept. Out of the text-heavy, theme-based issues of previous decades arose a magazine that, while still focusing on themes, above all put communicating and informing centre stage. This new conception enabled a wider public to be kept up to date with current debates in the field of cultural policy.

But although the editions published between 1996 and 2005 are, with their aspirations to serious journalism and a strong connection between image and text, similar to today’s magazine, the radical nature of the break is reflected in its retitling in 2006 as “Kulturaustausch – Magazine for International Perspectives”. Foreign authors are not just reporting on the cultural landscape of their own country, but the key themes of individual issues are now increasingly shaped by international writers contributing their inspiration to a range of current – and in particular global – debates. The focus is no longer the national perspective, as Germany is now a part of global culture.

So Kulturaustausch has asked authors from acround the world about their sense of individual identity in the face of the challenges of globalisation (4/2016: “Me and Everyone Else”). The themes that Kulturaustausch focuses on can only be viewed through an international lens: societal and social questions (2/2015: “We’ve Got Time. The Slowness Issue”; 2/2017: Breaking News. The Media Issue”; 3 and 4/2018: “The Poorest/Richest Country”) have been overarching themes as well as global climate change (2/2018: “Heated Times”; 1/2018: “How Are You, Earth?”).

Finally there have been further country issues, emphasising how a country’s society is changing: “The New Italy” (3/2016) or “Une Grande Nation. The France Issue” (4/2017) that present our friends in a new way; in contrast, “The Paradise of Others. The Maldives Issue” (4/2019) showcases a culture that’s disappearing because of climate change. Even though the story of Kulturaustausch Magazine is marked by change and rupture, over the last 70 years it has consistently succeeded – by finding a balance between the vagaries of foreign politics and discussions about principles regarding transnational themes – in becoming a space for an outward-looking cultural policy whereby, in the words of Frank-Walter Steinmeier, “common ground can arise from difference”.   

Translated by Scott Martingell