Much like its namesake, the poet, philosopher and statesman Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832), the Goethe-Institut brings a renaissance experience to people from more than 90 countries around the world.
Founded in 1952 and headquartered in Germany, the Goethe-Institut is the cultural outreach organization of the Federal Republic of Germany. Focused on contemporary German culture, the organization integrates visual art and design, music, theater, film, literature and language programs into a shared global conversation.
In 2018, the Institute, which maintains 159 locations in 98 countries, launched pop ups in seven cities across the United States, one of which is Kansas City.
Jutta Behnen is the director of Kansas City’s Goethe Pop Up, which is located on Main Street in the heart of the Crossroads Arts District.
“During the war, German culture was appropriated and used to propagate the war effort,” says Behnen, who was born in Cologne, Germany, and is a consultant and lecturer in German as a Foreign Language. “The goal of the Goethe-Institut was to detach from that experience and bring the goodness of the German culture to other countries.
“The organization was formed post-war as an avenue to establish international relationships not based on politics. Our cultural language became a key to this communication with the world.”
Kansas City’s Goethe Pop Up was launched in November 2018 and will end this year Nov. 9 — a date which coincides with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. The theme of the Pop Up is “Wunderbar, The Year of German American Friendship.” All of the year’s events and activities circle back to this theme.
The Pop Up calendar features a number of large and small events, along with several ongoing activities.
As an inauguration in December, the space held a month-long exhibit by Luftwerk, the German-American artistic collaboration of Petra Bachmaier and Sean Gallero. Inspired by Johann Goethe’s “Theory of Colors,” the work “Haze|Trübe” explored the principles of light and color interactions.
German and American jazz will take the spotlight in April and May, with performances by two acclaimed groups, The Chicago Plan and Der Lange Schatten Berlin.
In May, “Celebrating 100 Years of Bauhaus,” a virtual exhibit, will begin its run. In June, the venue will feature Berlin Alliierten Museum’s “Berlin Airlift Exhibition.” In November, Hamburg-based Thalia Theater will perform a production of Franz Kafka’s “Amerika.”
Until Nov. 9, contemporary German films can be viewed each Wednesday at the Pop Up venue and will often be preceded with critiques by area film scholars.
In a collaboration between the Pop Up and Kansas City Young Audiences, German play dates for children are scheduled throughout the year. Artists’ talks and German language and conversation events are also on the agenda.
In addition to upcoming events held around the city and at the venue on Main, there are several opportunities to engage online with the Goethe experience. More than 50 contemporary German movies can be streamed, at no charge, through the end of the Wunderbar year. Also, a free listening series, The Big Pond, features 50 cultural and current event podcasts.
“The Goethe Pop Up has something for everyone, and it’s a playful way to learn about contemporary German culture,” says Philipp Eirich, German-born art collector and founder of Cerbera Gallery in the Crossroads. “It’s really good to have this pop up in Kansas City because there’s not much access to German culture here. It’s underrepresented in the heartland.”
According to Eirich, contemporary German culture is thriving. Yet, when Americans think of German culture, they typically think of the past, not the contemporary scene.
“Several German cities are cultural hot spots right now and recognized internationally,” Eirich said. “This speaks to the depth and richness of current German culture, especially in cities like Stuttgart, Berlin and Cologne. A vibrant art scene is something Kansas City shares with these cities.”
Kansas City’s Goethe Pop Up is located at 1914 Main St. Events and activities are scheduled at this location and several venues across the metro through Nov. 9, 2019. Hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. every First Friday. For more information: www.goethe.de/ins/us/en/sta/ppk.html
Photos by Tal Wilson