One of the central tasks of cultural policy is the protection and preservation of the built heritage, i.e. cultural monuments and man-made landscapes including architectural, archaeological and paleontological monuments as well as parks. At the Land level, monument protection legislation has been passed. In addition to their sovereign right to define their own tasks, the federal states (Länder) also consider it their duty to preserve such monuments and provide funds for this purpose. Municipalities are also involved in monument conservation; as a general rule, they have been assigned specific roles in this domain.
Despite the primary role of the federal states (Länder) in monument conservation, a programme at the federal level has been operating since 1950 to promote monument conservation measures in order to preserve and restore immovable cultural monuments of national significance. This involves federal co-financing of those cultural monuments that are significant for Germany as a whole. Following re-unification, the Federal Government launched several monument conservation programmes to help meet the special needs for long overdue monument conservation work in Germany’s eastern federal states (Länder).
These programmes are co-financed by the Land involved. The federal (Bund) and federal state (Länder) authorities work together in the German National Committee for Monument Protection.
Private sector activities in the area of monument conservation are of great importance. There are a substantial number of volunteer monument conservators in Germany who work hand in hand with the respective public authorities. Furthermore, private funding has become indispensable in this field.
The German Foundation for the Protection of Monumentsfunctions as a useful and effective link between public and private sector activities in this area. The Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs of the Länder in the Federal Republic of Germany (KMK)serves as the national clearinghouse for recommendations of monuments to the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Whereas monument conservation measures are designed to preserve and safeguard immovable cultural assets and thus protect this part of the nation’s cultural heritage, other cultural heritage protection measures serve to protect its movable cultural treasures. These, too, are at risk of deterioration and destruction. The greatest threat to the nation’s movable cultural heritage is, however, the loss of specific treasures, especially through their sale abroad.
The statutory basis for state protection against the export of cultural objects is the Act on the Protection of German Cultural Heritage against Removal Abroad. This legislation is in line with EU law, which – contrary to the generally prescribed free movement of goods within the EU internal market – expressly provides for such a restriction on trade and movement in the case of “cultural objects classified … as national cultural treasures possessing artistic, historic or archaeological value”. Protected from export are objects that have been entered by the federal states (Länder) in their registers of cultural treasures and archives that possess national value. The vast majority of these objects are privately owned such as paintings, medieval books, musical instruments, archaeological objects or archives.
The Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and the Media (BKM) maintains a consolidated register of cultural treasures and archives possessing national value that is compiled from the Land registers and published in the Federal Gazette. The Commissioner is also responsible for deciding whether to permit the export of such objects.
In order to safeguard national treasures, the Federal Government also assists the federal states (Länder) and the municipalities in purchasing important objects when it is feared that they may be sold abroad (see chapter 4.2.2). In contrast, in September 2008, the federal cabinet agreed to the establishment of a register of cultural assets, which is to help prevent the illegal import of cultural assets from other countries.
In November 2015, the federal cabinet passed the draft law on protection of cultural assets. So far, in Germany three laws regulated the protection of cultural assets: the Act on the Protection of German Cultural Heritage against Removal Abroad, the Act on the Return of Cultural Assets and the Act to Implement according to the Haagener Convention. The adopted amendment of the law on protection of cultural assets harmonises the different German regulation standards and transposes the EU-directive on protection of cultural assets of May 2014 into national law as well. Thus, the harmonised regulations comply with the European and international law and the requirements of data protection. The directive covers public collections, whereas private cultural assets only in case of classification as national cultural assets. The export control will be tightened by a permit requirement for cultural assets of certain categories; in addition, an import control for cultural assets transported to Germany will be exercised. The Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and the Mediadescribes this adopted amendment of the law on protection of cultural assets as “one of the most important initiatives of cultural policy during this legislature”.
The new Cultural Property Protection Act
came into force in August 2016. It
includes an evaluation of, among other things, the expenditure for the federal
states and the corresponding report was presented in January 2019. It comes to
the conclusion that the additional burdens for the federal states and the
compensatory funds of the Federal Government have been compensated, that losses
in turnover at German auction houses have not yet been detected and that export
applications are in the three-digit range.
 In April 2017 a handbook on the protection of cultural property was presented for practical use.