UNESCO World Heritage in Eastern Germany

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The Sanssouci Palace in Potsdam is one of many UNESCO-listed buildings in eastern Germany. Photo © hidden europe
The Sanssouci Palace in Potsdam is one of many UNESCO-listed buildings in eastern Germany. Photo © hidden europe

Dresden is no rising star in UNESCO’s headquarters on the place de Fontenoy in Paris. Dresden certainly created quite a stir when it defied UNESCO and world opinion by building a new bridge over the River Elbe. The bridge cut through the heart of a designated World Heritage site, casting a shadow over the reputation of Dresden and interrupting a classic view of the Dresden skyline from upriver.

Dresden struck from UNESCO list

UNESCO was not amused at the impudence of the Dresden authorities at pushing ahead with the bridge plan and in 2009 the city’s inscription on UNESCO’s list was deleted — the first time that any World Heritage site in Europe had ever been subject to such a punitive sanction.

The opening last week of that infamous bridge in Dresden highlighted that the locals are certainly not in penitential mood. Some elements of the Dresden population seem positively delighted at having snubbed UNESCO. So it’s no surprise that other states in eastern Germany are eager to showcase their World Heritage sites just now. It’s a chance to prove to the wider world that a sensitivity towards culture and heritage is deeply ingrained in the region — even if Dresden has stepped out of line.

Castles, gardens and more

The eastern half of Germany has a galaxy of inscriptions on the World Heritage list. They range from the ancient Hanseatic ports of Stralsund and Wismar on the Baltic coast through the extraordinary Wartburg castle complex near Eisenach to modernist housing estates in Berlin.

For fans of religious history, it is possible to follow the Luther trail in Sachsen-Anhalt that takes in Eisleben (where Luther was born in 1483) to Wittenberg, where the protesting pastor famously pinned his defiant theses to the door of All Saints’ Church. Both towns feature on UNESCO’s list.

From classical Weimar to museums in Berlin

Other World Heritage listings in eastern Germany include the medieval core of Quedlinburg on the edge of the Harz Mountains, the palaces and parks of Potsdam, and a feast of Bauhaus architecture in Dessau. Weimar is a bit-part player in the latter listing, for while Dessau boasts many more celebrated Bauhaus buildings, Weimar does have in one building — the Haus am Horn — a very influential early Bauhaus design.

Weimar gets a place on the UNESCO list in its own right too, not merely as Dessau’s sidekick. The Weimar inscription recognizes eleven buildings that recall the Weimar classical period — an extraordinary cultural flowering in the late 18th century. Throw in Berlin’s Museum Island (in the heart of the German capital), the garden landscapes of Wörlitz (on the Elbe) and Bad Muskau (on the Neisse) and it’s easy to see why culture vultures head to this region of Germany.

Playing the heritage game

There are many good tales to tell about cultural heritage in eastern Germany. And the communities that enjoy an inscription on UNESCO’s precious list are moving into top gear to remind the world that, while Dresden may have left the team, other cultural havens across the region are still very much playing the heritage game.

About the author


About the authors: Nicky and Susanne manage a Berlin-based editorial bureau that supplies text and images to media across Europe. Together they edit hidden europe magazine.

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One thought on “UNESCO World Heritage in Eastern Germany”

  1. These places in eastern Germany are becoming very popular with visitors from Russia and other countries in eastern Europe. Prices are reasonable, many older local people still speak Russian and there is often a warm welcome for the “old comrades” from the east. I studied architecture in Moscow and we had a one-week journey to visit Dessau (for Bauhaus) and then the modernist housing areas in Berlin.


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