The Goethe-Institut in Nigeria is turning 50. The event has been celebrated through a cultural festival for several days, leaving a lot of footprints on the cultural scene in Lagos.
Richard Siegal is a US citizen who lives in Germany. The choreographer uses English and French to train young women and men in an old run down hall located in the center of Lagos. Following the beats of pop music, the dancers jump and perform acrobatics on the rubber floor. They come from Nigeria, Cameroon and Senegal. They are rehearsing to perform at the jubilee opening ceremony. Established in 1962, just two years after Nigeria had gained its independence, the Goethe Institut became known as a mediator between the worlds.
It all started with theater Sunday Umweni helped develop Goethe-Institut's cultural programs for four decades Umweni Sunday is one of the "brains" of the Goethe-Institut in Nigeria. Although he hesitated to accept the offer of becoming the institute's director general back in 1968, he has helped to shape the cultural programs for four decades. He retired in 2011. "Back then, Nigeria's government was negotiating with East Germany (GDR) for the opening of an embassy. I knew that the West Germans would close their representative office.
That didn't look like a secure job," he said, grinning. Nevertheless, a few months later he took the risk. It was a time when the GDR opened a representative office in Lagos while the "thawing" Eastern political atmosphere continued. To mark the anniversary, Umweni has been holding an exhibition on the history of the institute in Nigeria. In it, he documented the work from the late 60s and early 70s. At that time, theater was the core of the institute. It was especially a time when playwrights from the Yoruba people like Hubert Ogunde and Duro Ladipo were known.
"That went on for about five years," said Umweni. As soon as Ogunde and Ladipo were established, the institute began to promote other, younger theater groups.