WITH recession gripping Germany, many of the offices of the country's global cultural organisation, Goethe-Institut, face the threat of closure or having their operations cut back. By contrast, the institut's 31-year-old Hong Kong office is set to expand. ''We will expand our library services, [and] expand our staff. We are, maybe, the only institut still growing,'' said director Uwe Nitschke. He said this expansion was because of the growing world interest in China and what would happen when Hong Kong was returned to mainland control in 1997. Dr Nitschke said the Institut would play an important role in promoting cultural contacts, and providing services and information about Germany. Only one Goethe-Institut has been established in China. ''[In Hong Kong] we are quite an old institution: one of the first branches in Asia, and hence underlining the importance we give to Hong Kong and the region,'' Dr Nitschke said. Every institut has three main functions: to promote cultural contacts, provide library services and information about Germany, and to introduce the German language to people. Dr Nitschke, who has headed the Hong Kong institut for three years, has seen a steady increase in people taking German classes in the last 10 years. ''There was a boom when the Berlin Wall came down, which led to a long waiting list,'' he said. The institut has about 4,000 students enrolled in its language classes in any one year. Dr Nitschke said there had been an increase in the number of enquiries from people from cultural organisations eager to obtain information about Germany. ''The response to [our] cultural activities has increased, but we cannot organise big events because it is too expensive for us. ''We have to concentrate on other [things] that no one is doing. We realise that an increasing number of people from the arts field want to travel to Germany to get first-hand information,'' he said. Dr Nitschke said the arts field was experiencing an interesting period. ''There is a lot of discussion among artists; [a] movement of culture. ''Countries outside of Hong Kong can do a lot to maintain this as an international city. Our role is to contribute to [maintaining] the characteristics of the city.'' He said the institut in the territory was financed 80 per cent through Germany's Foreign Office, based on a contract the government had with the headquarters. The institut organised cultural activities on behalf of the embassy, he said. ''This works quite well and we also keep our independence from the Foreign Office,'' he said. ''We have the autonomy to decide what we want to do. It's a good system and model.''