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Ex-German ambassador to China: Culture key in Sino-German ties

By Feng Minghui | chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2019-09-27 15:20

"Culture is like the flowers. Culture is the greenery. Cultures are what you have to strive for. All other things are just figures," Joachim Broudré-Gröger, Germany's former ambassador to China, told China Daily website when asked what culture meant to him during an interview at the China Cultural Center in Berlin on Sept 22.

"Culture is the icing on the cake. Culture is what keeps societies running internally, but also globally. You cannot understand a country without understanding its culture. Many times, misunderstandings between countries are a misunderstanding of culture. The more we understand culture, the more possibilities or grounds for cooperation in other fields. I cannot imagine that only economic relations will govern our relations," added Broudré-Gröger.

Broudré-Gröger's first acquaintance with Chinese culture came during a rendezvous in Spain where he was studying Spanish. "I met a young Chinese and she taught me my first Chinese. She became a quite well-known writer, Sanmao."

Sanmao, also known as Echo Chan, is a household name in China who has published a range of well-received autobiographical pieces, travel works and self-reflective novels. She also worked as a translator and taught German before embarking on a career as a writer.

Since then, Broudré-Gröger's interest in Chinese culture and language grew over the years, and as luck would have it, he was assigned to a diplomatic post in Hong Kong in 1972, and later took office as Germany's ambassador to China from 2001 to 2004.

To him, China has undergone tremendous changes since he first stepped foot into the ancient civilization that is striving to develop.

"My impression of Guangzhou [of South China' Guangdong province, in 1972] was an immense crowd of bicycles. When I came to Beijing [in 2001], it was a developing capital with businesses running and high buildings being constructed. Everything was already open, open-minded, open-eared and open-eyed. I felt welcomed."

To the former ambassador, China and Germany have reached a normal state in less than 40 years of diplomatic relations. Both parties regard one another as important partners, and both always welcome discussions, which are conflict-solving and reliable.

"I think China knows that in the face of common interests, we will side with China, wherever we can."

Joachim Broudré-Gröger, Germany's former ambassador to China, sits down for an interview with China Daily website at China Cultural Center in Berlin, Germany on Sept 22. [Photo by Feng Minghui/chinadaily.com.cn]

Broader and stronger cooperation and relations

Since the founding of New China and as China grows at a rapid speed, cooperation between the world's second-largest economy and the world, including Germany, have spread from just economic ties to more chances to work together in fields of culture and art.

Theatertreffen, a German theater festival and one of the three major theatrical festivals of Europe alongside Britain's Edinburgh Arts Festival and France's Festival d'Avignon, made its debut in China in 2016. Art exhibitions are also frequent callers, including German 8, one of the largest exhibitions held in China that features works by German artists.

Broudré-Gröger said the interest in one another's culture is mirrored in Germany, but the country should do more.

"We may have interests that are the same. The Silk Road transferred silk and harmony. The efforts of Chinese people in bringing forward achievements in science and the economy is admirable. The interest of the general public to China is big, and dates back to the 19th century, not only because they admire the development of China but also because they feel that China has played a positive role in international relations. There should be more effort to offer Chinese in schools here, because a language is something that takes the longest to learn."

To Broudré-Gröger, the deepening of cultural and art exchanges between the countries is a good sign, and care should be taken not to cut down, rather increase, these cooperation, especially among youth. "I think the time is right for China and Germany to think about that. We have to start early. If you want a big tree, you should put a lot of water onto the seedling."

Broudré-Gröger added that talking the talk is not enough, as decision-makers must turn words into action that bears fruit. It is not enough to just allocate a budget for the development of culture. Programs must be fostered. Changes must be made. Permanent contact and exchange of opinions are necessary. It is a daily effort, and it should concern a broader spectrum and level of population on both sides.

"There is no free culture. With starving artists, no culture is served. As citizens of the world, we should insist that there should be money not just for the next missile to the moon, but also for the next museum, or the next gallery. This should be a concern for all countries. This is the way. It's not just the economy that has to develop, culture has to develop as well," he said.

Broudré-Gröger, who loves spicy Chinese food, said he plans to visit China again next year. It will be his first time in 15 years. "Transformation" would be a keyword that summarizes what he wants to see during his next visit.

"I see a country which has overcome - within less than two generations - the gap between a developing country to become a superpower. I see a country which reached, in almost all fields, the top of global development. I see a country which has to decide in the future if it only wants to be China, or a player with a global responsibility."

This year marks the 70th anniversary of the founding of People's Republic of China. As the relationship between China and Germany move forward hand-in-hand, Broudré-Gröger had nothing but warm and positive wishes for the future of the two old friends.

"I only wish that China enjoys that which China has been building up [in] the recent 70 years for at least 10,000 years more. Not only will then China have a beautiful future, but also the rest of the world, including Germany. I wish for all the best for Germany, also the best for China."

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