Some three years ago, the Tripoli branch of the German cultural center Goethe Institut was closed down due to financial reasons. The semi-private, semi-public institute could not afford to maintain two branches in such a small country as Lebanon.
Closing down cultural centers had been a trend that spread all over the Middle East: The Goethe Instituts in Tehran, Iran and Khartoum, Sudan, had also been closed. In Jordan and Palestine, for example, instituts existed, but they did not possess any media - no libraries with books, videos or audiotapes in German.
As a consequence of Sept. 11, 2001, though, the European governments started to think twice - and one conclusion was that there was a need for cultural dialogue between the Orient and the Occident. In the case of Germany, the Foreign Affairs Ministry pumped new funds into the region, and part of this money went into a project called "Point of Dialogue - German."
The Lebanon-based Point of Dialogue will be located in Tripoli and will be inaugurated on Thursday, in partnership with the Safadi Foundation - a Lebanese organization that is active in the field of education. The president of the Safadi Foundation, the parliamentarian Mohammed Safadi, and the German Ambassador Guenther Kniess, as well as the director of the Goethe Institut Rolf Stehle in Beirut will jointly inaugurate the new center.
Safadi donated the location and will pay the salary of a librarian/supervisor, whereas the Goethe Institut donated computers, and all materials for a decent library. The library will contain all important German reference books - around 300 - relevant to fields of philosophy, art, and history, among others. A focus will be put on German literature that has been translated into Arabic. There will be books, newspapers, magazines and multimedia materials available for students studying German, and, in a kids' corner, the youngest readers can delve into children books.
Some books and multimedia materials will also be available in French and German. There will be free access to the internet - particularly important for students who want to do research about German universities. A satellite connection will also be put in place, so that those interested can hear German radio and watch programs on German television.
In partnership, both the Safadi Foundation and the Goethe Institut will re-establish a cultural program for the region of North Lebanon. "It is much better when you have a local partner in place," said librarian Barbara Kassir.
The Goethe Institut will mainly be responsible for the content of the cultural program, as it was for the materials put in place in the new library. "But we certainly welcome ideas from our partner," the librarian stated. The Lebanese partner will mainly be responsible for organizing these upcoming cultural events.
Kassir believes that projects such as this one are a current trend. "Germany puts a much greater emphasis on inviting Arab scientists to conferences, for example, and there has been an ongoing exchange of Arab and German writers," she explained. In general, the awareness of the Arab world and the interest in the Orient have risen in Germany after Sept. 11, 2001.
The Point of Dialogue in Tripoli is the second of eight new or extended information centers. In Tehran and Sudan, new points will be opened. Amman, Ramallah, Tunis, Marrakesh and Sanaa, where Goethe Instituts exist, will finally get decent libraries.
For the citizens of northern Lebanon, the new information center will at least partially replace the closed Goethe Institut. They will no longer need to travel all the journey to Beirut in order to get books, newspapers, or assist German-Lebanese cultural events.
The new "Point of Dialogue - German" will be located in Tripoli, Ibrin Str, Centre Espace, 2nd floor.