Germany has a clear tourism agenda for 2014. And that’s to prove to the wider world that it’s a fully compliant member of UNESCO’s World Heritage Program. The German National Tourist Board (GNTB) has just launched a wonderfully informative dedicated website devoted to the country’s 38 entries on the UNESCO List. And it’s a mark of the importance that GNTB places on this initiative that the site is in twelve languages.
Not all 38 listings are exclusive to Germany—some are shared with other European countries. Many include multiple sites within one region of Germany or more widely across the country.
Protect and preserve
The GNTB Chief Executive Petra Hedorfer is busy telling the world about Germany’s “political obligation to protect and preserve” the World Heritage on its territory. “Looking after these World Heritage sites in a sustainable and responsible manner is therefore of great importance,” says Frau Hedorfer.
So GNTB staff are keen to play the UNESCO card. And rightly so, for Germany does have a fabulous range of sites on UNESCO’s World Heritage List. They include historical town centers such as Lübeck, Quedlinburg and Bamberg; the cradle of German Classicism in Weimar; and many architectural sites such as the Bauhaus legacy (mainly in Dessau, but in a more limited way in Weimar too), the Fagus factory in Alfeld and the Modernist housing estates of Berlin.
Castles and palaces, parks and gardens
There are castles and palaces such as those in Eisenach and Potsdam; cathedrals aplenty, among them those in Cologne, Aachen and Hildesheim; and a feast of wonderful garden landscapes including Muskauer Park (a cross-border landscape park in the Lausitz region that extends over the River Neisse into neighboring Poland).
Among Germany’s World Heritage sites are two very distinctive natural landscapes: the tidal flats of the Wadden Sea and several areas of ancient beech forests, mainly in eastern Germany. The country’s industrial heritage is also very well showcased on the UNESCO List with old mines in the Harz Mountains and the Ruhr region getting a mention. The Völklingen Ironworks in Saarland also feature on the list.
Download the app
Each of Germany’s 38 World Heritage sites is worth a journey in its own right. And you can discover all of them with one free app available on the iTunes site.
GNTB’s current campaign to foreground UNESCO World Heritage is truly impressive. But perhaps we should contextualize this development. Germany is the only country in Europe to have suffered the ignominy of having a site deleted from the UNESCO List. Dresden secured a place on the coveted list in 2004—but has since been deleted.
The Dresden affair
The inscription cited the cultural landscapes of the Elbe Valley which preserve key elements from Saxony’s early industrialization. But the Dresden authorities mightily annoyed UNESCO by building a new bridge over the Elbe through the very heart of the World Heritage site. This was probably not quite the sort of action that Petra Hedorfer has in mind when she talks of the “political obligation to protect and preserve.”
The intrusive bridge opened last year, shaming Dresden and indeed the whole of Germany. Yet tucked away in the debate over the rights and wrongs of the bridge were some intriguing issues about the nature of heritage and the responsibilities of communities that buy into the heritage agenda.
Back on track for 2014
So we certainly applaud the GNTB mission for 2014 in giving a boost to Germany’s World Heritage sites. It may include a touch of atonement for having fluffed the Dresden issue, but it certainly also sends out some very positive messages about the country’s renewed commitment to the heritage agenda.