ifa staff during the 1970s; photo: ifa archives, Fellbach
ifa staff during the 1970s; photo: ifa archives, Fellbach

The Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen in the 1950s-90s

The re-establishment of the Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen (ifa) (Institute for Foreign Cultural Relations) was decided upon by the Württemberg-Baden government on July 5, 1949, and ifa was set up as a public body on a non-profit basis. The official beginning of work in the newly reconstructed quarters was in 1951.

By Udo M. Metzinger

But first ifa had to find its place within the political system of the new republic. The premise of politics in Bonn was to prove in an international environment that Germany was a reliably democratic state after World War II, and to gradually alleviate reservations abroad concerning Germany. Practical cultural activities were one of the tools to that end. As one of the so-called intermediary organisations (non-governmental bodies with a German government mandate that operate under strategic guidelines laid down by the government), the Stuttgart-based institute began working in various fields of foreign cultural policy: first exhibitions of visual arts within Germany and abroad were organised; in the departments responsible for various regions of the world, relationships were maintained with North and South America, Eastern Europe and the developing world; foreigners received information about Germany in seminars, German professionals were geared up for work abroad, the first German courses for foreigners were offered; the library was enlarged until it became one of the largest specialised libraries within German-speaking areas for information on foreign countries; with its Mitteilungen (Communications) – as of 1962, the Zeitschrift für Kulturaustausch (Magazine for Cultural Exchange), and since 2006, Kulturaustausch – Zeitschrift für internationale Perspektiven (Cultural Exchange – The Magazine for International Perspectives) – there emerged a forum of research and journalistic support for foreign cultural policy.  

Establishment of the Galleries

In May, 1971, the Forum für Kulturaustausch (Forum for Cultural Exchange), today, ifa Gallery, opened its doors in Stuttgart. Hence the Institute (again) had exhibition space in its own building. The first exhibition was entitled Makonde – an East African Documentation, and since that time, visitors have been able to above all do one thing: discover other cultures, and widen their own horizons. In 1980 the ifa Gallery in Bonn began its work, pursuing similar goals. Since the 1970s, the responsibility for arranging exhibitions of German art abroad has rested with ifa.

Anthony Balthazar Nyaki, Embassador of the Republic of Tanzania at the Makonde exhibition in Stuttgart, 15. May 1971
Anthony Balthazar Nyaki, Embassador of the Republic of Tanzania at the Makonde exhibition in Stuttgart, 15. May 1971
Opening of the Makonde exhibition in Stuttgart, 1971; photos: ifa archives, Fellbach
Opening of the Makonde exhibition in Stuttgart, 1971; photos: ifa archives, Fellbach

The Tübingen-based professor Walter Erbe became the first chairman of the board of the ifa in 1951, and Franz Thierfelder was named the first Secretary General. Both of them, despite certain differences, conceived of the work of the Institute as a "cultural two-way street." Michael Rehs, who headed the organisation as secretary general from 1960 onward, added to this concept the definition of a "dialogue of equal partners" as the basis of the Institute's work. In this time period, ifa developed new forms of international cultural cooperation in the areas of exhibition exchanges, libraries, and documentation, and became a recognised partner in a continually growing system of international cultural exchange. Following the death of Walter Erbe, in 1968 the attorney Adalbert Seifriz, who was also a former minister in the state government of Baden-Württemberg, was named chairman of the board of directors. In 1978, Wilhelm Hahn, a former minister of education and cultural affairs for the state of Baden-Württemberg, and the former rector of the University of Heidelberg, assumed responsibility for the fortunes of the Institute, which he was to lead until 1992. The historical turning point of 1989/90 proved to be profound in many respects for ifa. 

'Foreign Cultural Policy of the Federal Republic of Germany', ifa Gallery Bonn; photo: ifa archives, Fellbach
One of the first exhibitions at the new gallery in Bonn was 'Foreign Cultural Policy of the Federal Republic of Germany'. Hildegard Hamm-Brücher, state secretary at the Federal Foreign Office, and Getrud Kuhn, Head of the ifa Library on 21. May 1980; photo: ifa archives, Fellbach

New areas of responsibility after the German reunification

5 years after the breakup of the Soviet Union – in 1996 the Zeitschrift für Kulturaustausch asks for the status quo of the cultural relations to Central and Eastern Europe
5 years after the breakup of the
Soviet Union – in 1996 the Zeitschrift
für Kulturaustausch asks for the status
quo of the cultural relations to Central
and Eastern Europe

After the demise of the German Democratic Republic, the art collection belonging to its Zentrum für Kunstausstellungen (Center for Art Exhibitions) found a new home at ifa. Following the sudden death of Michael Rehs in December, 1989, Klaus Daweke became the new Secretary General of the Institute in the spring of 1990. In 1991, the ifa Gallery in Berlin opened. The Institute's new responsibilities necessitated a change in working structure – three subject-area departments were set up (Exhibitions, Events, and Media Relations). But all of the efforts to make the Institute fit for the future foundered in the (press) turmoil around the person of the Secretary General, who was accused of, among other things, favouritism. These were times of crisis for ifa. In September, 1996, Klaus Daweke was suspended from office. The chairman of the board of directors, Paul Harro Piazolo, a former state secretary in the federal Ministry of Education and former head of the Villa Vigoni (a centre founded by the German and Italian governments that fosters the relationships between Italy and Germany in the fields of scientific research, higher education and culture in a European and international perspective), resigned from office in 1996. Following him into office during ifa's period of transition into an association was the rector of Hohenheim University, Prof. Erwin Reisch. Under Secretary General Udo Rossbach, who held office from 1996 to 1998, and under the founding president, Dr. Bernt Graf zu Dohna, ifa took advantage of the opportunity for reflection, for concentration on new subjects, and for organisational changes. There was very much an awareness that with the advance of globalisation, the upheaval in and collapse of systems in Eastern and above all Southern Europe, and in the face of the new cultural self-awareness in many regions of the world, international cultural dialogue would become more and more important – also as a counter-model to the often discussed 'clash of civilizations', which Samuel P. Huntington has announced by this time.

Udo. M. Metzinger works as a tutor and author among other things on the “Netzwerk Politische Bildung” (Network Political Education) at the Bundeswehr, at the University of the Bundeswehr in Munich, at the Federal Office for Civilian Service and at the adult education centres in Leipzig and Munich.


Cornerstone ceremony fot the 'Haus des Deutschtums', headquartes of the DAI. Welcome adress by Theodor G. Wanner, 28. May 1924 © Bundesarchiv Koblenz

The First Years

The Deutsches Ausland-Institut was founded in 1917. Its actual work could begin only after World War I. Von Kurt Düwell [+]

Labor Day procession in front of the Gestapo headquarters for Württemberg and the DAI, 1. Mai 1933 © Stadtarchiv Stuttgart

The DAI, 1933–1945

Co-opting and rise of the DAI (German Foreign Institute) during the 'Third Reich'. Von Katja Gesche [+]

Stuttgart after World War II, 1948 © Stadtarchiv Stuttgart

Self-discovery with detours

A history not only politically shaped by uncertainties. Von Peter Ulrich Weiß [+]