Rolf Stehle is the director of the Goethe-Institut Malaysia. Having studied German philology he became a DAAD lecturer at the University of Limerick from 1984 to 1987. In 1987 he joined the Goethe-Institut and in the course of his career served as its institute director abroad in Cincinnati, Beirut and Dublin. Since January 2013 he has been working in Kuala Lumpur and Malaysia.
Uwe Fischer spoke with him about the work of his institute.
Mr Stehle, can you please outline the function of the Goethe-Institut and what it does to fulfill its mission in Malaysia?
The Goethe-Institut is the official German cultural institute operating worldwide. Here in Malaysia we are working in all the fields of the arts together with our Malaysian partners – in dance, theater, film, music, exhibitions, literature and translation, and science. At our institute we also offer language courses for more than 800 learners every year. Many of them want to study at German universities. There are about 1000 Malaysian students studying there at the moment. We are also promoting the teaching of German in Malaysian schools by supporting the Malaysian teachers of German with training courses and teaching material or through scholarships for attending seminars in Germany.
One of the festivals you regularly enhance with German contributions is the Penang Island Jazz Festival PIJF, which is held annually at the end of the year. In December 2015, for example, the Goethe-Institut presented the Angelika Niescier Trio NOW from Cologne. When did the collaboration with the PIJF begin?
The Goethe-Institut started collaborating with the festival in 2013. Before I came to Kuala Lumpur I was director of the institute in Dublin. Already there I had heard and was aware of the Penang Island Jazz Festival. This is certainly due to the fact that its festival director Paul Augustin is also well connected with the European jazz scene.
Which acts were presented and what criteria were used to select the musicians?
In 2013 we had invited the duo Michael Schiefel (vocals) / Carsten Daerr (piano), in 2014 it was the trio CNIRBS from Bremen. It is important that the groups have a high musical quality with a unique sound. Only acts which rank among the best in the German jazz scene are being invited. Basically, this is always done in consultation with the festival. The Goethe-Institut is working in close partnership and dialogue, which means that joint planning and discussions with partners take place and are the basis of each invitation and program. Cultural exchange between countries works only this way, otherwise one would do cultural import and that is neither effective nor very credible and does not work.
What activities are next on your schedule?
To start off with music: one of the best German jazz trumpeters, Frederik Köster, is coming with a student ensemble to Kuala Lumpur and Penang. In KL they will be playing at the World Youth Jazz Festival on 07 and 08 May. After the festival they will give workshops and concerts with students of ASWARA College. In the second half of April we will show the exhibition “Germany, Country of Inventors” at the University of Malaya. The exhibition focuses on innovative German inventions in the field of science that shape our future. Did you know that cars, TV, computer, the telephone and STED microscopy are inventions from Germany? The event is an interactive exhibition with game elements mainly for young people. For the “Cooler Lumpur Festival” in early June a German writer and journalist will be speaking about current developments, for example the refugee phenomenon in Europe. And at the “Kota Kinabalu International Film Festival” in East Malaysia in July German films will be shown. At the same time the Sabah Film Academy will have film director Rick Minnich from Berlin in Kota Kinabalu teaching young filmmakers and making films with them.
Mr Stehle, thank you for the interview.