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 for cultural heritage issues and politics; however, the conservation of important national historic monuments is a main focus of cultural policy of the federal government too. 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 2018, this programme provided 375 million EUR for conservation and restoration of about 680 cultural historic monuments. In 2007, the federal government launched a special investment programme worth 400 million EUR. Since 2007, the Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and the Media launched nine special programmes concerning cultural monument protection amounting to around 280 million EUR, besides other programmes concerning the conservation of historic monuments and sites.
Despite the 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 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 as 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 in 2019 “Modern(e): upheavals in art and architecture”). 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.
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 Museumsinselin Berlin; both projects meanwhile received parliamentary approval and have partly been accomplished. The main issues continuously addressed in public debates are questions on how many and which monuments from the past the state should protect, reconstruct and maintain and by which measures. 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 UNESCOWorld Heritage List, e.g. the Völklinger Hüttein the Saarland or ZecheZollverein 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.
From 2015 to 2019, 7 more German cultural and natural sites were added to the UNESCO world heritage list, the Hamburger Speicherstadtand Kontorhausviertel with Chilehaus(2015), the architectonic oeuvre of Le Corbusier (2016), Caves and ice age art of the Swabian Alb 2017), Archaeological border complex Haithabu and Danewerk (2018), coal and steel region Erzgebirge / /Krusnohori (2019) and Augsburg Water Management System (2019). Now Germany is represented with 46 world heritage sites (43 cultural heritage sites and 3 natural heritage sites) on the list that records 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 historic works of art and culture leaves little room for the support of contemporary living art, thus upsetting the balance between protection of heritage and support of contemporary creativity.
In July 2007, the Federal Commissioner for Culture and the Media(BKM) presented a Memorial Place Concept with the title Notice Responsibility, Strengthen Refurbishment, Deepen Memories. It relates to memorial places such as the former concentration camps on the one hand and, on the other, memorial places in memory of the GDR oppression. After a broad public debate about this, the Bundestag passed a revised plan in November 2008. According to this (among other things), memorials of national significance, that come to terms with the terror of the National Socialist regime and commemorate its victims, are being supported more strongly. In September 2015 a symposium for critical balancing of previous memorial work took place: 70 years later – Historical understanding and political-ethical orientation in memorial work in the 21st century organised by the Federal Commissioner for Culture and the Media and the Federal Agency of civic education. Also in 2015 the expert-committee, which is advising the federal government regarding the allocation of funds of memorial places, argued for a pedagogical orientation of the German memorial work and furtherance of it. In May 2008 the Berlin Memorial to Homosexuals, which is near the Memorial fof 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.
Within this framework, a great number of monuments and memorial places were set up. In 2010 for instance, 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 Committee 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 in the holocaust.
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 – educational and memorial venue regarding the history of National Socialism (NS-Dokumentationszentrum München – Lern- und Erinnerungsort zur Geschichte des Nationalsozialismus) was opened.
In 2013, Germany joined the UNESCO Convention on the conservation of intangible cultural heritage. As a first step of implementation, a nationwide register of intangible cultural heritage was set up in 2013/2014. First entries were made in December 2014. As a result, in March 2015 Germany was able to submit proposals for the UNESCO lists that were previously withdrawn from this register.
In December 2019 Germany registered four entries on the UNESCO-list of intangible cultural heritage of mankind: idea & practice of cooperatives, organ building and music, falconry (in conjunction with 17 other states) and blue-printing (in conjunction with four other states). In March 2019 the multinational nominating of the German theatrical and orchestral landscape was submitted to the UNESCO. A decision referring to this is expected at the end of 2020.
In 2016 the BKM advertised a research programme about debates on the NS-past of ministries and central government agencies. Subsides with the amount of four million EUR are allocated for the period of 2017 – 2020.
The cultural minster of state opened the European year of cultural heritage in Germany in 2018. From the BKM´s budget 38 projects and initiatives all around the European year of cultural heritage were financed with a total amount of 7.2 million EUR. The programme for this thematic year war coordinated by the German National Committee for the Protection of Historical Monuments (Deutsches Nationalkomitee für Denkmalschutz) and accompanied by further activities of federal states, communes and other stakeholders.
Germany celebrated the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 2019. Due to this anniversary and other historical dates like the 70th anniversary of the Second World War, activities and programmes concerning heritage and memory were especially affected.
According to the 2018 evaluation of the Institute for museology (Institut für Museumskunde), 6,771 museums existed in 2017, arranged in different organising institutions: 51% are in public sponsorship (state-owned operators: 441; local administrative bodies: 2,596; other forms of public institutions: 442), 44.8% in private sponsorship (associations: 1,978; societies / collectives 323; trusts of private law: 246; individuals: 486) and 3.8% in hybrid forms of private and public (259).
Divided by field the museums for local and regional history, ethnographic and local museums build the largest of nine groups (43.3%). The part of cultural-historical museums represented 15.4%, the science / technical museums 12.5% and the art museums 10.6%.
Of those 6,771 museums 4,831 reported their attendances, which made a
total amount of 114.4 million visits. In relation to fields of historical and
archaeological museums (18.6%), art museums (18.0%) and science / technical
museums (15.6%) exhibited the highest amount of visits.
 Institut für Museumsforschung (2018): Statistische Gesamterhebung an den Museen der Bundesrepublik Deutschland für das Jahr 2017, Berlin: Self-published.