My warmest best wishes to all friends and partners of the British Council in Germany…but what a time to move to Berlin as the new Director!
My wife Viveka and I arrived here from our four year posting to Indonesia just three weeks ago. I had just an hour to get a glimpse of our office in Alexanderplatz before we locked it down and since then we have been in our lovely but empty apartment in Mitte getting to know our terrific team online in a host of virtual meetings.
Usually when I take up a new post as Director (and Germany is my 12th country in 37 years) my priority is to meet all our partners and main contacts to learn about our work together and to start new friendly relations. My super-efficient office even had 500 new business cards waiting for me for this purpose. But lockdown took over and, so far, I’ve only been able to give out one business card and that is to my wife.
Social distancing certainly focuses the mind. The work of the British Council in Germany, and in the other 110 countries where we do our work, is the development of Cultural Relations. It’s people to people work, building understanding, trust and then collaboration, partnership and coproduction between the UK and the cultures and societies of the world. And all our work aims to help people, and peoples, everywhere to navigate the biggest issues and opportunities of our times particularly by promoting cultural engagements and educational opportunities. Social distancing seems to be the opposite of cultural relations and people-to-people engagement. But here in Germany we are already conceiving ever more creative means to keep the friendship growing particularly by developing new ways of learning and sharing online and by having the luxury of a little more time to plan our future programme and services well.
So, it’s wonderful to be here and it’s great to 'meet' you. Above all I look forward to that time when I can actually meet as many of you as possible and start handing out those business cards.