5 great European cultural institutions to see in Beijing

Our favourite places to soak up European culture in the capital

One nice thing about living in a world capital is the cosmopolitan cultural buzz available to the internationally inclined. In particular, Beijing has long been home to a strong array of national cultural institutions, soft-power generators that work outside official embassy channels to promote mutual understanding, cultural appreciation, and linguistic comprehension between China and their home countries. These institutions are officially known as 'international cultural promotion organisations', and Europe has a strong showing in Beijing. Ahead of Europe Day this Thursday (May 9), check out some of our favourites here in the capital.


Goethe-Institut

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The Goethe-Institut is a cultural juggernaut, with 159 institutes around the world tasked with promoting German language proficiency and facilitating cultural exchange and understanding. Aptly named after Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, both a world-class writer and statesman, Goethe-Institut has the longest history with China of any of the institutions on this list: with its first activities here occurring in 1988, Goethe-Institut was up in China before the Berlin Wall came down. In 2013, they celebrated the 25th anniversary of this cultural linkage with a 'Year of Language' exchange between Germany and China, and a three-day seminar and party in 798. In October 2015, they opened their current flagship location in one of 798's Bauhaus-inspired gallery spaces – itself a sort of relic of exchange, inspired by 1950s East German architecture – and have since put on a strong, rotating programme of art, music, film, and literature events with a focus on creating a dialogue between creatives from Germany and China. Walk into their 798 space on any given day and expect to see an interesting film on loop, and a small crowd casually browsing their curated library of art books.

Goethe-Institut (北京德国文化中心) Originality Square, 798 Art District, 2 Jiuxianqiao Lu, Chaoyang district (5762 6166). Open noon-6pm Tue-Sun (closed Mon).



Institut Français

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Another heavy hitter on the Beijing culture scene is Institut Français, who between its Francophonie and Croisements Festivals and various other, one-off Franco-Chinese initiatives, seem to be constantly clocking events year-round. Originally called Culturesfrance, the institution opened its doors here in October 2004, making it the longest-standing international cultural centre with a fixed Beijing address. It adopted its current name in 2011. Language teaching duties are split off into a separate but related institution, Alliance Française, which has its classrooms on the upper floors of the Gongti space. The first floor is a large médiathèque of reading materials, an auditorium for public talks, a charming café, and a gallery hosting revolving exhibitions of art from the Francophone world. Outside of its in-house programme, Institut Français is arguably the most active organisation on this list, with, as previously mentioned, a near-constant stream of Franco-friendly art, music, film and literature at different venues around the city. Check out their website for an extensive list of events.

Institut Français (北京法国文化中心) 18 Gongti Xi Lu, Chaoyang district (6553 2627). Open 8.30am-10pm daily.



Instituto Cervantes

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Instituto Cervantes, Spain's cultural institute, is located on Gongti Nan Lu, just a few minutes' walk from Institut Francais. It also offers Spanish language courses, a library of Spanish literary and cultural reading material, plus a wide range of lectures, screenings, events, and exhibitions promoting the language and culture of Spain and, to a lesser extent, other corners of the Spanish-speaking world. Unlike Goethe-Institut and Institut Français, which got their start in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, respectively, Instituto Cervantes launched in 1991. It's headquartered in Madrid, the birthplace of its namesake Miguel de Cervantes, author of the timeless Don Quixote. Instituto Cervantes Beijing is one of 87 such institutes around the world, and its main focus is on language instruction, offering certification courses for the international standard Diplomas of Spanish as a Foreign Language (DELE). That said, another part of its mission is to stimulate cultural activities in collaboration with academics, curators, artists and writers from Spain and Latin America in the form of exhibitions and talks.

Instituto Cervantes (北京塞万提斯学院) 1A Gongti Nan Lu, Chaoyang district (5879 9666). Open 10am-6pm Mon-Fri; 11am-4pm Sat (closed Sun).



Danish Cultural Center

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Returning back to 798, one of the newer kids on the block is the Danish Cultural Center, opened in 2015. This standalone gallery is a part of the Danish Cultural Institute, which, on a global level, hosts over 900 cultural events a year and sponsors an art residency in St Petersburg. The Danish Cultural Center is the only one of its kind, representing a long-term investment on the part of the Danish Cultural Institute in creating exchange and dialogue with China on certain world-relevant topics. The Dutch are known for their design acumen, and the Danish Cultural Center's exhibition programme likewise focuses on topics such as 'physical and social aspects of urban transformation, design as a daily commodity, revitalisation of cultural heritage (whether tangible or intangible), sustainable development, and issues of public health.' Case in point: last year's Beijing Design Week, which saw the Danish Cultural Center lead the charge in honour of guest city Copenhagen.

Danish Cultural Center (丹麦文化中心) 798 Art District, 706 Beiyi Jie, 2 Jiuxianqiao Lu, Chaoyang district (5762 6100). Open 10am-6pm daily.



Romanian Cultural Institute

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Last but not least: the Romanian Cultural Institute, which opened on the first floor of Galaxy Soho in Chaoyangmen in July 2015. It's the first such institute in Asia and the 18th in the world, and opened with an exhibition of graphic art and tapestry titled Tradition and Modernity. The Romanian Cultural Institute's main focus is promoting Romanian artists, writers, and musicians in China by encouraging and facilitating their representation in such venues as Beijing's International Book Fair and China's Central Conservatory of Music. They also have rotating exhibitions at their Galaxy SOHO space, one of which was previously by Beijing-based architect and electronic musician Alex Damboianu (pictured). At the time, Damboianu told Time Out he hoped 'to see more contemporary works from important Romanian artists. At the moment, with a retrograde government and a senate that doesn't understand much about national and international culture and the art environment, there is no chance to see interesting things happening.' Of all the institutes on this list, the Romanian Cultural Institute is perhaps the least known, but their exhibitions signal a willingness to promote a more progressive cultural programme.

Romanian Cultural Institute (北京罗马尼亚文化中心) First Floor, Building A, Galaxy SOHO, 2 Nanzhugan Hutong, Dongcheng district.


By Josh Feola

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