Korean culture takes root in GermanyBerlin, Germany - At the Korean Cultural Service Center in Berlin last month, curious German visitors were asking what the strings of the geomungo, or Korean lute, are made of or how it is different from the gayageum, a stringed harp. In front of a display of colorful hanbok, or Korean traditional attire, young female students were looking at wedding costumes and kept shouting, “Bunder schoen,” or very beautiful.
The center, at Luetzowufer 26, Berlin, was busy with crowds who arrived for an “open house” event beginning at 9 a.m. The residents of Berlin stayed for a while even after a traditional dance performance, which was the last item on the event’s program. They were having ddeok, or rice cake, and light refreshments at the gallery on the first floor.
The employees at the center expected about 300 visitors, but over 600 visitors arrived.
“The event was designed to be participatory so that the visitors could have cultural experiences, and it turned out to be effective,” said Roh Tae-gang, the director of the center. “This showed that Korean culture can take root in Germany. We achieved more than we expected.”
The event was a tryout for the cultural center, which is seeking to establish a different role for itself. In the past, the programs were designed for Korean residents in Germany. This time, however, it was designed for German residents from the beginning. The employees at the cultural center say they want it to be more than just a place for the Korean community. They want it to be an outpost for Korean culture.
The programs consist of advanced lectures on Korean culture rather than one-time events. They include entry-level Korean studies, introductions to Korean characters or Korean traditional music, and oriental acupuncture.
However, the center is more than just a place for serious lectures. It also provides screenings of Korean films with German subtitles in its own movie theater.
“We were not certain whether Germans would take an interest and voluntarily visit the center,” Mr. Roh said. “We only put out a small advertisement in a local newspaper. We wanted to end the practice of relying just on Korean resident organizations for mobilizing people.”
“I was very anxious about the change,” said Lee Jeong-il. “But I was surprised to see many Germans lining up in front of the center in early morning.”
“It was a meaningful event, and this is what the cultural center is supposed to be doing,” said Mathias Antres, a Berlin-based music critic who is interested in pansori, or solo opera drama. “Rather than public relations that are only geared toward to the local media, this kind of cultural experiences can be a better way to win the hearts of Germans. They get an opportunity to experience Korean culture in its best form.”
by Ryu Kwon-ha