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A special award for cultural projects with refugees was offered by the Federal Commissioner for Cultural and Media Affairs in December 2015.


In January 2015, the German Lost Art Foundation was established and focuses on Nazi "looted art" as well as the loss of cultural assets under Soviet occupation and in the GDR.

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Germany/ 4. Current issues in cultural policy development and debate  

4.1 Main cultural policy issues and priorities

The collapse of the system in Eastern Europe and the unification of Germany in 1989/90 produced new cultural tasks, both within the Federal Republic of Germany and in its relations with European neighbours.

The difficult financial situation of all public funds has been a determining factor in cultural policy discussions on the municipal and federal state (Länder) level since the mid-1990s, and increasingly so since the turn of the century.

The economic and financial crisis of 2008/2009 also impacted on private and public culture financing. During the crisis years the promotion of culture from private sources declined, whereas the effects of the crisis on public institutions only became visible to a greater extent in the culture budgets for the years 2010 and 2011. Altogether, public debts have increased during these years and have reached the highest level since the end of World War II, even though the economic developments have been more favourable in 2010. In particular, local authorities / communities suffer from increasing debts. Over the last years, more functions have been transferred to local authorities / communities without additional financial resources and declining revenues. Currently, pressure on public culture institutions is high for local authorities / communities but also on the state level. At the same time and in line with its growing responsibilities, the Federal Government increased its cultural expenses for 2011 for the fifth time in a row. Yet, the government majority in the Bundestag rejected motions for financial support for culture promotion in financially suffering communities (see chapter 6.2).

In the past ten years, discussions and action (on the part of both public and private actors) have focused on:

  • support for culture institutions in the new capital city Berlin;
  • giving greater competence for cultural affairs to the Federal Government;
  • streamlining and optimising cultural funding among the different levels of government;
  • passing of new laws in the fields of copyright and taxation for foundations as well as re-enforcing social insurance provisions for self-employed artists;
  • cultural education;
  • cultural industries;
  • repatriation of unlawfully seized cultural assets;
  • UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions;
  • constitutional protection for culture;
  • greater civic commitment to culture;
  • responding to a cultural public with increasingly diversifying needs;
  • migrants, cultural diversity, intercultural co-operation;
  • design of the cultural infrastructure;
  • concept-basedcultural policy in the federal states (Länder);
  • Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP);
  • sale of art objects owned by the federal states;
  • Humboldt Forum; and
  • provenance research.

The main topics of the current legislative periods, presented by the Federal Cultural Commissioner of Cultural and Media Affairs in November 2013, were amendments concerned provenance research, the strengthening of the cooperation of the federal level (Bund), the federal states (Länder) and the municipalities (Kommunen), elaborating the strategy for the development of cultural infrastructure in the face of demographic change, the stabilisation of social insurance for self-employed artists (Künstlersozialversicherung), adaption of copyright to digital environment, the digitalisation of cultural heritage, amendments to the Act to Protect German Cultural Property against Removal (Kulturgutschutzgesetz), the "Digital Agenda" and the Humboldt Forum.

Capital Culture

During the 1990s, the Bundestag (German Parliament), the Bundesrat (Council made up of representatives from the 16 federal states (Länder)) and the Bundesregierung (Federal Government) all moved to Germany's new capital city Berlin. The transfer of power from Bonn (former capital) to Berlin underscored the national cultural significance of the new capital and led to a growing commitment on the part of the Federal government to support cultural life in the city. In this context, a "Capital Culture Contract" was signed between the Federal Government and the Land Berlin which specifies areas of support, namely:

  • the restoration of cultural institutions making up the Museumsinsel Berlin;
  • cultural institutions formerly administered by the Land Berlin, e. g. the foundation establishing the Jewish Museum Berlin, the Academy of Arts, the Memorial to German Resistance during World War II;
  • cultural events which have been grouped into a limited liability company "Berlin GmbH", encompassing the Berlin Festival, the Martin Gropius Building, the House of World Cultures and the Berlin International Film Festival;
  • in 2006, the Federal Government established a further financial allowance to support the co-operation of the three opera houses in Berlin;
  • in autumn 2007, a special cultural fund of 400 million EUR was established by the Bundestag, from which 200 million EUR is intended for the renovation of the Berlin Staatsoper;
  • at the beginning of 2008, the new Capital City Finance Contract (Hauptstadtfinanzierungsvertrag) between the Federal Republic and the region of Berlin (Land Berlin) came into force: It confirms the continuation of current federal support for culture in Berlin and applies until 31.12.2017; and
  • The Capital Culture Fund, set up to support projects in Berlin, is also financed by the Federal Government. Since 2008, annual appropriations up to 9.866 million EUR are made available for the Capital Culture Fund by the Federal Commissioner for Cultural and Media Affairs (BKM).

More federal competence for cultural affairs

In 1998, the Federal Government set out to consolidate its (still limited) competencies in the field of culture through the creation of a Federal Commissioner for Cultural and Media Affairs and a corresponding Parliamentary Committee. This was followed in 2002 by the establishment of a Kulturstiftung des Bundes (Federal Cultural Foundation). While the creation of these bodies was initially highly controversial, there is now greater acceptance of these offices. Nevertheless, debates arose from time to time regarding the reach of the Federal Government's involvement in the cultural field. In 2006 and May 2009, Federalism Reforms I and II (Föderalismusreform I und II) came into effect, which changed the basic law (Grundgesetz) and regulates the relationship between the federal government and the federal states. The first step of the Federalism Reform in September 2006 aimed at a clearer assignment of responsibility between the federal and the state level, while the second step focused on the restructuring of the financial relations between the federal government and the federal states. As an integral part, a debt limit for the federal level (Bund) and the federal states (Länder) is legally stipulated in the Constitution.

Streamlining and optimising cultural funding

At the time of the establishment of the Kulturstiftung des Bundes (Federal Cultural Foundation) there was an intense debate between the Federal Government and the federal states (Länder) regarding measures to streamline and optimise the system for funding cultural activities and a merger between the Kulturstiftung der Länder (Cultural Foundation of the federal states) and the Kulturstiftung des Bundes. Negotiations to merge both foundations failed in December 2003, and the Federal Government terminated its commitment to the Cultural Foundation of the federal states (Länder) at the end of 2005. In December 2006, negotiations failed again and both foundations arranged for closer cooperation instead of unification.

Since 2006, an extensive process of evaluation of cultural funding began in the field of cultural policy on all levels.

The 2007 final report of the Commission of Enquiry "Culture in Germany", set up by the German Bundestag, resulted in many debates about cultural policy at the federal level in subsequent years. Eleven members of the Bundestag and eleven experts in cultural policy had produced a comprehensive report, which runs to more than 500 pages, based on numerous expert reports, opinions and hearings (Deutscher Bundestag Press 16/7000, available under: Along with a status description of the arts, of support for culture and of the position of artists in Germany, the report contains over 400 recommendations for improving cultural support and the legal framework for the various cultural fields and the various stakeholders in cultural policy.

Legal regulations

Since 1998, the Federal Government has launched legal reforms in the area of Foundation Law (especially with regard to taxation), Copyright Law and the Law Governing Social Insurance for Artists. In summer and autumn 2006, a Draft Bill for New Regulations on Copyright Law, submitted by the Federal Government, caused a great deal of debate with respect to payments to artists.It has enacted legislation to safeguard the system of fixed book prices and has extended support to the film sector under the Federal Film Promotion Act. In 2006, the Federal Government agreed on a new measure of support for the film industry, this came into effect at the beginning of 2007. In November 2008, the German Bundestag ratified the amendment to the Film Support Act. The sixth amendment to the Film Support Act was adopted in the summer of 2010, the seventh amendment to the Film Support Act was introduced in summer 2014 (see chapter 5.3.6).

The Federal Government has broadened the scope of support for: research on German culture and history in Eastern and Central Europe under section 96 of the Federal Expellees Act (see chapter 5.3.8) and; memorials commemorating the victims of dictatorship.

In 2009 and 2010 the public debate on Copyright Law enlarged and intensified due to the new possibilities of digital production and reproduction not only in music. A flat rate on culture was debated, but rejected by the parties of the governing coalition. The ancillary copyright for publishers, an act to amend the copyright law, entered into force in March 2013.

Recently, in some federal states (Länder) specific acts on libraries came into force, in September 2008 in Thuringia and two years later in Saxony-Anhalt and Hessen. In Rhineland-Palatinate, a library law was adopted in 2014, in Schleswig-Holstein the state cabinet agreed on adopting a draft law concerning libraries in November 2015

For the first time, in December 2014, North Rhine-Westphalia implemented a culture law on a federal state lever (Landeskulturgesetz) –a law which does not only concern on a certain cultural field but on the entire cultural sector. The discussion about those and acts on supporting culture also reached the parliaments of some other federal states (Länder) (see also  chapter 5.3.2 and chapter 5.3.8).

In January 2015, the protection law regarding the social insurance provisions for self-employed artists (Künstlersozialabgabensicherungsgesetz) came into force (see also chapter 5.1.4).

In Autumn 2015 the draft law concerning the amendments of the Act to Protect Cultural Property against Removal was adopted by the federal cabinet (see also chapter 5.3.3). Furthermore, the Federal Ministry of Justice and Consumer Protection presented a draft bill regarding an Act to Enhance the Enforcement of the Authors and Artists' claim to adequate Remuneration (see also chapter 5.1.7) and the Federal Cabinet adopted the draft of a Collecting Societies Act (see also chapter 5.1.7).

UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions

The process to develop a UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions as an international legal instrument has been supported by the German Commission for UNESCO with active support from civil society actors, the German Bundestag and the Federal Commissioner for Cultural and Media Affairs ( The initiative was paramount in raising awareness of the inherent dangers to public support for culture which could arise from WTO international trade agreements (e. g. GATS) or the EU Services Directive. The Federal Government of Germany signed the convention in September 2006. The German Parliament passed the convention on 1 February 2007. Germany provided its first report on the implementation of the convention in April 2012. It was created under the auspices of the relevant ministries, the Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs of the Länder (KMK), the German Association of Cities and the German Commission for UNESCO.

The German Commission formed a Coalition for Cultural Diversity involving civil society in 2004 to verbalise the German position on the Convention. This coalition, made up of experts from culture, associations, political parties, the economy, municipalities, public institutions, research and journalism, accompanied the UNESCO-Convention. Since the Convention entered into force in March 2007 the coalition furthers public resonance, advises and evaluates public measures and provides incentives for the creation of framework conditions. For this purpose, the coalition provided, among other things, a White Paper in December 2009 with recommendations for cultural policy in Germany and Europe regarding the implementation of the Convention. Furthermore, in 2010 the publication "Mapping Cultural Diversity" was presented which included good-practice examples from around the world regarding the implementation of the Convention as one of the projects of the U40-Programme "Cultural Diversity 2030". Since 2004 twelve meetings of the Coalition for Cultural Diversity have taken place; during the tenth session in April 2012 the Coalition for Cultural Diversity discussed the first German Report on the implementation of the Convention.

Constitutional protection for culture

Growing problems of funding public cultural institutions have led to initiatives and discussions calling for more legal protection on the maintenance of cultural infrastructure and on "basic cultural needs". The introduction of a specific clause into the German Grundgesetz (constitution) which obliges the state to support culture has also frequently been demanded by different advocacy bodies, which was seconded by the Commission of Enquiry of the Deutscher Bundestag (Parliament) in its 2007 final report ( During and after the parliamentary elections of autumn 2009, this demand was repeatedly discussed but has still not been honoured.

In October 2008, the majority of the regions in the Bundesrat (federal state (Länder) chamber of the Parliament) had already rejected the application of Berlin for a new Article 20b in the German Grundgesetz, which called for the inclusion of the following statement: "The state protects and supports culture".

In 2009, the FDP parliamentary group introduced a draft law to anchor culture in the basic law, which was rejected in the parliamentary committees. In 2012, the SPD parliamentary group proposed a draft law to extend the basic law to include culture and sport. This was supported by the parliamentary group "Die Linke" (The Left) who introduced their own proposals. After a debate by culture, sport and legal experts the inclusion of culture in the basic law remains controversial.

Civic commitment

In the past centuries, public involvement in cultural life was fuelled by civic initiatives in specific disciplines, institutions and projects; such initiatives were particularly strong in those municipalities that were not residencies of the ruling nobility which had founded their own cultural institutions. Stifled during the National Socialist era and submerged in the decades thereafter, this civic commitment has meanwhile resurfaced, manifesting itself in an increase in, for example, membership to friends'-of-societies, volunteer work, endowments and sponsorship / co-financing. There are also a growing number of cultural activities and institutions that are supported by different kinds of civic initiatives. Cultural policy makers, who have long thought solely in terms of state financing, as well as specialists in the field and the general public, are now adapting to this development. Following on from the work of the Parliamentary Commission of Enquiry on Civic Commitment, in the legislative period ending 2005, a Committee on Civic Commitment was established in the newly elected German Bundestag (Parliament). In July 2007, the Bundestag passed a Law on the Stabilisation of Civic Commitment, which raised tax free allowances for training supervisors to 2 100 EUR and donations were raised uniformly to 20% of the income. In spring 2009 a nationwide Forum for Commitment and Participation was set up by the National Network of Civil Society (Bundesnetzwerk Bürgerschaftliches Engagement) with the support of the Federal Ministry for Families, Seniors, Women and Youth. It aims to work out a political agenda on civic commitment and to assist the federal government in establishing a national strategy on civic commitment. In October 2010 this national strategy on civic commitment and action programme on corporate social responsibility was adopted by the Cabinet of the federal government. Its intention is mainly to improve coordination of the activities of the different levels and stakeholders to support civic commitment as well as the integration of the commitment of commercial enterprise in the sense of corporate social responsibility.

Responding to a cultural public with increasingly diversifying needs

The members of the culturally interested public are less and less inclined to embrace a narrow approach to culture expressed through specific institutions, their programmes and events. Their receptiveness to and desire for participation in cultural activities vary widely and are highly individualised. As a result, urban cultural institutions, projects and events have multiplied and diversified to a hitherto unheard-of degree in the past two decades. Due to its relatively narrow focus of support – especially in times marked by financial constraints – federal state (Länder) and municipal cultural policy has been unable to react in a sufficiently flexible manner. Therefore, more demand-driven approaches to state and municipal support to culture have been proposed.

Migrants, cultural diversity, intercultural co-operation

The high number of ethnic groups – whose members in some cases constitute up to 30 % of the population in mainly western German municipalities – has long been acknowledged. Numerous associations for members of different ethnic groups have emerged in urban areas; over 200 during the past ten years in Hamburg alone. Acting on their own initiative, these associations work to further intercultural understanding and co-operation. In many municipalities there are funding programmes to support and encourage their efforts. Meanwhile, the debate on multiculturalism and the related challenges to cultural policy continued, involving many cultural policy participants at each level.In the interest of national cultural cohesion, efforts to further intercultural understanding will be one of the most important aspects of cultural policy at all levels of government in the years to come (see chapter 3.3, chapter 2.3, chapter 4.2.4 and chapter 4.2.5). In the context of the current refugee situation, several stakeholders have reacted by issuing special programmes or awards, such as the special award for cultural projects with refugees offered by the Federal Commissioner for Cultural and Media Affairs (BKM) in December 2015.

Design of the cultural infrastructure – the Kulturinfarkt (infarct of culture)?

In March 2012 four renowned authors from cultural administration and cultural management – Armin Klein, Pius Knüsel, Stephan Opitz und Dieter Haselbach – published a book titled "Kulturinfarkt. Too much of everything and the same everywhere" ("Kulturinfarkt. Von allem zu viel und überall das Gleiche"). They plead for a radical restructuring of cultural policy and propose to halve the existing cultural infrastructure and to redistribute savings. This publication has gained a lot of publicity, created many – often very emotional – debates and initiated several events and further publications.

Concept based cultural policy in the federal states

Several federal states have gained attention for their new cultural policy structures and programmes over the last years. Most of the 16 states have concrete initiatives for a more concept-based and systematic cultural policy. For this, they use different elements: Saxony-Anhalt carried out a cultural convention that presented its findings in February 2013, and Brandenburg presented its "Cultural Policy Strategy 2012" in September 2012. Lower Saxony started working on a concept for culture development in 2011. Thuringia published a culture concept at the end of 2012. Following Bavaria, North Rhine-Westphalia, Saxony and Lower Saxony and Schleswig-Holstein, Berlin presented a culture (funding) report in 2012. Given the topicality of the issue, the Kulturpolitische Gesellschaft organised a nationwide congress on concept-based cultural policy in June 2013 with approximately 500 participants.

Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP)

At the G8 summit in Ireland in June 2013, the countries involved decided on the implementation of a free trade agreement (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership TTIP) between Europe and the USA, aiming on strengthening the economy of the transatlantic alliance. At an early stage, the Deutscher Kulturrat already pointed out the impact of TTIP on the cultural sector and requested an exception for the domains of culture and media. Central points of criticism uttered by many stakeholders from the cultural field, and from nature conservation and environmental protection – besides the lack of transparency during the negotiations – concerned the equal treatment of cultural and regular economic goods, since it does not take into account satisfactorily the dual nature of the concept of culture, as outlined in the UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions. Therefore, critics fear restrictions to cultural diversity.

Other concerns are the planned investment protection, the implementation of arbitration courts and certainly the fear of German cultural funding being misinterpreted as a restriction to free trade.

In July 2014, the European citizens' initiative "Stopp TTIP" was founded. Its 150 stakeholders from 18 European countries also included German associations such as the Deutscher Kulturrat and other associations for environmental and consumer protection. This citizens' initiative was rejected by the European Commission. After that, the initiative appealed to the European Court of Justice against the rejection. The association, now comprising 250 organizations, launched a petition/signature campaign in autumn 2014 which was handed over to the Commission President in December and contained over 1 million signatures. The World Day for Cultural Diversity (21st May) was transformed into the Day against TTIP in 2015. On 10 October 2015, a large-scale "Stopp TTIP" - demonstration took place in Berlin and assembled more than 250 000 protesters. Since 2013 there have been various opinions within the cabinet concerning TTIP. Therefore, in October 2015, the Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel clarified in a position paper that the government committed to advocate a treaty "that will not contain regulations which could entail restrictions to the diversity of culture and media in Germany".

Sale of art objects owned by the federal states

The auction of two paintings by Andy Warhol from the holding of WestSpiel (a casino operator) in 2014 has initiated a debate on the sale of art objects owned by the federal states. Owner of the casino is the federal state North Rhine-Westphalia. Due to changes within the gaming market, the state-owned casino operator found itself in a difficult financial situation and aimed on rehabilitating those casinos which were making a loss by selling the Warhol paintings. The Federal Commissioner for Culture and Media (BKM) criticised the sale of art objects "to plug holes in the budget". The discussion rose up again when it came to be known that Portigon as the legal successor of the WestLB (federal state bank) was planning to sell its art collection (its focus lies on artists from North Rhine-Westphalia since 1960, inter alia Joseph Beuys). After a subsequently held round-table discussion, the intended sale was not realised.


In June 2013, Federal President Gauck set the foundation stone for the reconstruction of the Schloss Berlin, the former residence of the Prussian Kings. Upon completion in 2019 the collections of non-European art and culture of Berlin's museums (such as the Ethnological Museum and the Museum of Asian Arts) shall be presented there under the name "Humboldt Forum". The topping out ceremony was celebrated in June 2015.

In 2002, an international commission of experts had already submitted an utilisation concept for the Stadtschloss (City Palace) and recommended to install a Humboldt Forum – as a place for dialogue between the world cultures in the center of the capital city – also in conjunction with the collections of European Art on the Museum Island.

In April 2015, the Federal Commissioner for Culture and Media (BKM) appointed Neil Mac Gregor, British art historian, as head of the Humboldt Forum's foundation instance. Starting in winter 2015/2016 the foundation instance as advisory board will define core themes and develop a concept for an initial period of two years. An international network of scientists and museum experts will assist the foundation instance.

The Humboldt Forum is not without controversy. There is an ongoing debate on questions of provenance, self-presentation, the size of the available room for the collection and the spatial separation of the European ethnological collections.

Provenance research /repatriation of unlawfully seized cultural assets

Since the fall of the Iron Curtain, the international discussions concerning the repatriation of cultural assets that has been taken unlawfully from their owners during World War II led to concrete restitution of artworks. The Federal Government (Foreign Office, Federal Commissioner for Cultural and Media Affairs) – in coordination with the Federal States (Länder) – negotiates with many European neighbors. The Consultative Committee in conjunction with the restitution of Nazi-confiscated cultural assets, especially from Jewish collections, is working since 2003 and serves as mediator if problems occur in the course of restitution claims. Members of the committee are scientists and prominent personalities. In autumn 2006, a far-reaching debate started about the restitution of artworks caused by the returning of a famous painting by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner that was handed out to the heirs of the former owner by the Berlin Government. It was claimed that the former owner was forced to sell it in the 1930s. Subsequently a number of similar cases became known. Museums intensified the research as to the origin of their artworks (provenance research), supported by special funds. On federal level an office for provenance research was established at the Institute for Museum Research of the Foundation of Prussian Cultural Heritage in the beginning of 2003 to support museums in their research concerning Nazi-confiscated cultural assets.

In November 2013 the debate about restitution an returning unlawfully removed cultural assets once again arouse by the announcement of the discovery or artworks in Schwabing comprising more than 1 400 works, that the police found in the apartment of Cornelius Gurlitt, son of the art dealer Hildebrand Gurlitt. In the same month a Task Force for creating transparency and intensifying the provenance research was established by the Bavarian Ministry of Justice (Bayerisches Justizministerium), the Bavarian State Ministry for Education and Cultural Affairs (Bayerisches Kultusministerium), the Federal Ministry of Finance (Bundesfinanzministerium) and the Federal Commissioner for Culturale and Media Affairs (BKM). Furthermore, artworks under the suspect of having been unlawfully seized were published on the platform of the central coordination office Magdeburg (Koordinierungsstelle Magdeburg):

In January 2015, the German Lost Art Foundation (Deutsches Zentrum Kulturgutverluste) was established as an institution of the Federal Government (Bund), the Federal States (Länder) and the municipalities (Kommunen). The central coordination office for lost cultural property, the office for provenance research, the temporary Task Force Schwabinger Kulturfund and the office of the Limbach-Commission are united under its roof in Magdeburg. The new institution focuses thematically on Nazi "looted art" as well as the loss of cultural assets under Soviet occupation and in the GDR. Chairman of the board of foundation is the Federal Commissioner for Cultural and Media Affairs.

Chapter published: 30-08-2016

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