Print this Page
Print this Page

The real costs of restoring cultural buildings has been considerably higher than planned, e.g Staatsoper Berlin +130 mil EUR and Elbphilharmonie Hamburg +600 mil EUR.


The Federal Commissioner for Culture and Media Affairs set up the V. Special Programme for Monument Protection in autumn 2015.


In March 2015, for the first time, Germany submitted heritage proposals for inclusion on the register of the UNESCO Convention on the conservation of intangible cultural heritage.

Show all Profile-News...

Germany/ 4.2 Specific policy issues and recent debates  

4.2.2 Heritage issues and policies

Heritage is a cultural policy priority at all levels of government and includes museums as well as the conservation of historic monuments and sites which bear witness to the country's cultural traditions.

The federal states (Länder) and municipalities (Kommunen) are primarily responsible cultural heritage issues and politics; however, the conservation of important national historic monuments is as well a main focus of cultural policy of the federal government. The federal government supports the rescue and restoration of funded historical monuments through programmes such as "Cultural Monuments of National Significance" ("National wertvolle Kulturdenkmäler"). From 1950 to 2014, this programme provided 353 million EUR for conservation and restoration of about 640 cultural historic monuments. In 2007, the federal government launched a special investment programme worth 400 million EUR. Since 2007, the Federal Commissioner for Culture and Media Affairs launched five special programmes concerning cultural monument protection amounting to around 170 million EUR besides other programmes concerning the conservation of historic monuments and sites.

Despite a still strained financial situation of many cultural budgets, several museums were built and opened over recent years, partly with public funding, partly with the support from private sponsors.

A lot of money is still being spent on the renovation of existing cultural institutions, particularly of opera houses and theatres.  Particularly in recent years the real costs of restoration proved to be considerably higher than originally planned, concerning e.g. Staatsoper Berlin (+130 million EUR), Elbphilharmonie Hamburg (+600 million EUR) – meanwhile parliamentary committees of inquiry are occupied with these two construction processes having submitted their reports in 2014 or 2015 – or the opera in Cologne (+240 million EUR). The importance of the conservation of historic monuments and sites lies not only in its preservation of cultural heritage but also in its economic significance for the construction industry, in particular specialised small and medium-size businesses. The protection of historic monuments is promoted through government sponsored public relations campaigns, e. g. the "Day of the Monuments" (for example in 2013 with the motto: "beyond the good and beautiful – inconvenient historic monuments?" and 2016 "Let's conserve together historic monuments").

Germany's immaterial cultural heritage is continuously addressed and examined from a modern perspective in theatrical, musical and literary productions. Municipal and state sponsors of cultural institutions provide facilities for this purpose.

New challenges for cultural heritage policies are posed by the archiving of works and productions of media arts (e.g. video art and digital art), requiring new technologies for documentation and conservation. The Act on the German National-Library, of July 2007, enhanced the displaying of their collection-order although on the internet.

A public debate on the importance of immaterial and material cultural heritage in cultural policy has been going on for several years. It is usually fuelled by large scale projects and events of outstanding political significance in the Federal capital, e. g. the reconstruction of the Stadtschloss (former castle of the Emperor) or the reconstruction of the Museumsinsel in Berlin; both projects meanwhile received parliamentary approval and have partly been accomplished.

The same debate took place in other municipalities; in 2007/2008, for example, in Braunschweig and Potsdam, relating to the reconstruction of the former castles and, in Frankfurt, relating to the proposal to rebuild a great part of the old town centre dating from the 17th and 18th centuries.

The cancellation of support programmes of the Federal (Bund) and federal states' (Länder) governments did not go unnoticed by the public, e.g. the programme for "Protection and Maintenance of Cultural Monuments in the New federal states (Länder)" was intensely discussed. The main issues to be continuously addressed are questions on how many and which monuments from the past the state should protect, reconstruct and maintain and by which measures. The rich, albeit rather dilapidated, heritage of cultural monuments in the East has absorbed huge public funds throughout the 1990s including the reconstruction of historic city centres, parks and gardens (e.g. the Programmes "Urban Construction and Monument Protection" or "Culture in the new federal states (Länder)"). However, experts estimate that the amount of funding available to date only covers about 50 % of the monuments requiring restoration in the eastern part of Germany.

Cultural monument protection and policies which support the built cultural heritage are under growing pressure in the face of dwindling financial resources and difficulties to find appropriate and economically sound concepts for the use of reconstructed buildings. This also applies to some monuments of industrial culture included on the UNESCO World Heritage List, e.g. the Völklinger Hütte in the Saarland or Zeche Zollverein in Essen (North Rhine-Westphalia). Financial reasons are only one aspect of the problem; another lies in the widened concept of culture that was developed in the 1970s and 1980s which included objects of everyday life as well as industrial culture – a concept which is no longer generally accepted. The reunification of Germany increased the number of objects worth protecting and reconstructing to an extent that makes the development of new evaluation criteria a necessity.

During 2007, in the city of Dresden, there was controversy over the building of a bridge over the Elbe after the UNESCO World Heritage Committee denied Dresden the title of UNESCO World Heritage Site if the bridge was built, as it would destroy the view of the Elbe valley, decisive in the original awarding of the title. After several dilatory court decisions in November 2007 and against numerous protests, preparatory construction began. At the meeting of the Unesco World Heritage Committee on 25 June 2009 in Sevilla, with Dresden and the Elbe valley, a cultural monument was removed from the list of UNESCO world heritage sites for the first time. The reason for this was the controversial building of a new bridge over the Elbe, which, in the view of the committee, considerably damaged the unique historical character of the cultural landscape in Dresden.

From 2013 to 2015, 3 further German cultural and natural sites were added to the UNESCO world heritage list, the Bergpark Wilhelmshöhe (2013), Karolingisches Westwerk and Civitas Corvey (2014) and the Hamburger Speicherstadt and Kontorhausviertel with Chilehaus (2015). Now Germany is represented with 40 world heritage sites on the list recording more than 1.000 cultural and natural sites.There are frequent discussions on whether objects of industrial spaces can be used in a meaningful and sustainable way by cultural projects because public funds are more and more insufficient to pay for their high maintenance costs. More fundamental cultural policy considerations regarding financial support to works of art and culture from the past leaves little room for support to contemporary living art, thus upsetting the balance between protection of heritage and support to contemporary creativity. Therefore, there is a demand to reconsider the criteria used to determine public support for culture and that expensive cultural institutions such as the theatre and music be modernised and economically streamlined.

The debates in 2006 concerning cultural heritage were focussed on two issues. First, the discussion on the implementation of the UNESCO Convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage (Kulturgüterschutzabkommen) in Germany has been the centre of attention. This Convention came into force in February 2007 – 35 years after its adoption by the General Conference of UNESCO in 1972. The submitted draft Bill has been criticised by some actors: in particular representatives of the art trade assume that it is too far-reaching, while other actors complain that the draft Bill is unfair to poorer countries.

Secondly, since October 2006, there have been discussions regarding museums and libraries selling works of art in order to acquire funds for the upkeep of cultural institutions. Some municipalities and one Land announced their intention to sell works of art, despite the ongoing debates. However, such moves led to highly controversial public debates and the concerned public authorities were forced to retreat.

In July 2007, the Minister of State for Culture presented a Memorial Place Concept with the title "Notice Responsibility, Strengthen Refurbishment, Deepen Memories". It relates to the memorial places such as the former concentration camps and, on the other hand, memorial places to the memory of the GDR oppression. After a broad public debate about this, the Bundestag passed a revised plan in November 2008. According to this (and among other things),memorials of national significance for coming to terms with the terror of the National Socialist regime and for commemorating its victims are being supported more strongly and the four concentration camp memorials in Bergen-Belsen, Dachau, Flossenbürg and Neuengamme are being taken over by the federal programme for institutional support. Coming to terms with the SED dictatorship and its consequences is the second key point of the memorial plan and the funds for this are likewise being increased significantly. To implement the memorial plan, in 2008 and 2009 the funds were raised by 50 percent to a total of 35 million EUR. In addition, in Berlin in May 2008 the Memorial to Homosexuals, which is near to the Memorial for the Jews Murdered under National Socialism, was handed over to the public. With this monument, the Federal Republic of Germany wants to honour persecuted and murdered homosexual victims, keep alive the memory of the injustice done to them, and maintain a permanent symbol against intolerance, hostility and discrimination towards gays and lesbians.

On 9 October 2009, Germany celebrated the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall and a year later the 20th anniversary of Germany's reunion. These two anniversaries as well as other historic data, among them e.g. the 70th anniversary of the Second World War, took influence on activities and programmes concerning the topic heritage and memory.

Within this framework, a great number of monuments and memorial places were set up. In 2010, after 20 years of planning and constructing, the documentation centre "Topography of Terror" ("Topographie des Terrors") situated on a site of a former central institution of National Socialist persecution was opened. The first German monument for deserters was inaugurated in Cologne (September 2009). The Memoriam Nürnberger Prozesse opened an exhibition with detailed data on the courtroom 600 at the venue of the Nürnberg Court of Justice in November 2010, one month before the study "The office and its past" ("Das Amt und seine Vergangenheit") was presented by an independent Historical Commission established by the Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs. This study examined the role the Foreign Service played during the period of National Socialism and its deep involvement during the times of holocaust.

In May 2010, the Berlin Wall Memorial (Gedenkstätte Berliner Mauer), storing the last piece of the Berlin Wall, was opened as central memorial site of German partition. Furthermore, a competition of memorials for unity and freedom presenting the peaceful revolution of autumn 1989 was introduced

In April 2011 the Federal Commissioner for Culture and Media Affairs announced the decision for the draft design of the national monument to unity and freedom by Johannes Milla and Sasha Waltz. (The Bundestag passed the plan in 2007.) The monument at the castle square in Berlin will have two very important slogans of the peaceful revolution of 1989 in the former GDR: "we are the people" and "we are one people". In recent years, the site was restored and the cornerstone ceremony was scheduled for 2016. But in April 2016 the budget committee of the German Parliament stopped the realisation of the monument, followed by a discussion of different stakeholders.

In 2011, a new documentation centre about the division of Germany was inaugurated at one of the most frequented border crossing points between East and West-Berlin (called the Palace of Tears).

The memorial for the Sinti and Roma that were murdered under National Socialism was designed by Dani Karavan and inaugurated by the Chancellor and the President in October 2012.

In April 2015, on the 70th anniversary of the Liberation of Munich, the National Socialism Documentation Center Munich – learning and memorial venue for history of National Socialism (NS-Dokumentationszentrum München – Lern- und Erinnerungsort zur Geschichte des Nationalsozialismus) was opened.

In 2013, 30 million EUR of the federal budget assigned to culture were used for a new programme of protection and renovation of historical buildings and monuments. In 2014 as well, a special programme for protection of historic monuments was set up, amounting to 20 million EUR, to finance conservation and restoration of 156 historic monuments. The Federal Commissioner for Culture and Media Affairs set up the V. Special Programme for monumental Protection (V. Denkmalschutzsonderprogramm) in autumn 2015.

In 2013, Germany has joined the UNESCO Convention on the conservation of intangible cultural heritage. As a first step for implementation, a nationwide register of intangible cultural heritage was set up in 2013/2014. First entries were made in December 2014. On this basis, for the first time in March 2015 Germany was able to submit proposals for the UNESCO lists withdrawn from this register.

For more information, see
European Heritage Network: Country profile Germany

Chapter published: 30-08-2016

Your Comments on this Chapter?