Architecture and History in Germany

UNESCO World Heritage - A Tour through Germany

Inclusion in the UNESCO list of world cultural and natural heritage sites always has something ceremonial about it. After all, it means being placed on an equal footing with sites such as Yellowstone National Park in the USA or the Taj Mahal in India. In Germany, 37 landmarks have made it onto UNESCO’s World Heritage list. The German Museum of Architecture is now presenting these sites of universal significance in a delightful “Tour through Germany,” criss-crossing through the great diversity of regions in the Federal Republic.

Dome in Speyer, Photo: Stephanie Schramm, PROPROJEKT

Many of these sites with the UNESCO “seal of approval” such as Cologne Cathedral, the Wieskirche in Bavaria or Berlin’s Museum Island have long been familiar; others await discovery by a wider public. For this reason, the exhibition tour Unesco Welterbe – Eine Deutschlandreise primarily aims to spark curiosity and illustrates Germany’s 37 UNESCO landmarks with photos, attractively readable texts and characteristic exhibit pieces. These landmarks include not only churches and monasteries, palaces and castles, gardens and natural landscapes, but also urban historic centres and outstanding architectural exemplars of the industrial era. The exhibition does not follow any particular chronological or geographic system, but instead shows in a diversified way the different facets of the theme of World Heritage. Information on the sites and the development and renovation measures carried out on location round off the presentation.

Lively presentation of World Cultural Heritage

Marble Palace in Potsdam, Photo: Stiftung Preußische Schlösser und Gärten Berlin-Brandenburg (SPSG)

This successful mix arose through a simple yet artful stratagem along the lines of travel journalism: the exhibition curator Karen Jung commissioned various authors to travel to individual sites and capture their personal encounter with the place in texts and images. Souvenirs brought back point up with a twinkle of the eye the commercial the tourism status of World Heritage.

Historic Center of Bamberg, Photo: Agnes Harnisch

This should not be underestimated, since World Heritage tourism is now a market segment in its own right. This cultural added-value benefitted the Franconian city of Bamberg, whose Old City has been on the UNESCO list since 1993, through an enormous increase in visitor numbers. Tourism brings economic growth, but increasing numbers of visitors also spell endangerment of World Heritage sites. Just how difficult this balancing act between preservation and use is, is reflected by the example of the fragile ecosystem of the World Natural Heritage site Wadden Sea.

Further expansion of World Heritage

Wartburg at Eisenach, Photo: Wartburg Stiftung Eisenach

With its “Investment Programme for National UNESCO World Heritage Sites,” the German government subsidises the continued development and preservation of German World Heritage sites with 220 million Euros between 2009 and 2014. This primarily involves restoration and conservation, but this is insufficient, as a World Heritage site is not a mummified object. It is part of a city or a region and enmeshed in dynamic changes through the technological and economic possibilities of the present.

Stralsund and Wismar, Gorch Fock, Photo: Christian Rödel, Stadterneuerungsgesellschaft Stralsund mbH

World Heritage remains vital only when it is developed as an integral element of sustainable urban and regional planning. In the case of monuments such as Speyer Cathedral or the Bauhaus with its sites in Dessau and Weimar, the process of development by means of spatial integration was easily realised through the locations of the objects alone. It is also ideal, where feasible, to connect historic preservation with sustainable use.

Monastery Maulbronn, Photo: Marcus Gwechenberger, PROPROJEKTA good example here is the medieval monastery complex of Maulbronn in Baden-Württemberg that to this day serves as a day- and boarding school. In the cases of Lorsch Abbey, which is still laboriously rebuilding its identity as a “historic site,” or an unwieldy industrial monument such as the Völklinger Hütte, development strategies are much more difficult. This is particularly true of the World Heritage Cities Stralsund and Wismar, which to this day serve as textbook examples of the ideal Hansa city of the 14th century: but here, in the structurally disadvantaged eastern part of Germany, both people and financial resources are lacking to breathe life into an urban World Heritage that gives the impression of museum-like preservation for its own sake.

A beguiling tour guide

Upper Mittelrheintal, view to Loreley, Photo: Zweckverband Oberes Mittelrheintal

The exhibition does not conceal these aspects, but it seeks above all to inspire enthusiasm and beguile us into cultural tourism. And it succeeds effortlessly: as visitors we are swiftly fired up with enthusiasm for an extended tour of discovery to all UNESCO World Heritage sites in Germany. The excellent exhibition catalogue is an ideal tour guide. In atmospheric contributions and beautifully subjective images, it relates the history and the stories of places to be preserved. Great beauty is spoken of here, the magic of pristine landscapes and our longing for a distant past in which “politics felt responsible for beauty.” To see such beauty is worth any journey.

Exhibition in the German Museum of Architecture, until 26 May 2013. Catalogue: UNESCO Welterbe. Eine Deutschlandreise, ed. Paul Andreas, Karen Jung, Peter Cachola Schmal. Kehrer Verlag , Heidelberg 2013. 264 pp., 216 illus., € 34,80 in book stores, € 29,90 in the museum.
Karin Leydecker
is an architecture critic and free-lance art historian.

Translation: Edith C. Watts
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Internet-Redaktion
March 2013

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