We have just returned from a c4000 kms drive around Germany in which we added 14 new WHS to our "seen list" (Volklingen, Lorsch, Messel, Pile Dwellings, Margravial, Berlin Housing, Wismar, Wadden See, Bremen, Fagus, Wartburg, Bergpark, Beech Forests, Zollverien), 8 new T List (Schwetzingen, Weissenhof, Erzgebirge, Naumberg, Francke, Danevirk, Chilehaus, Corvey), made 2 re-visits (Speyer, Maulbronn) and took in at least 2 T List "possibles" (Altes Land, Osten transporter bridge). This "completed" for us at least a "partial visit" to all of Germany's 34 WHS and its 9 non "extension" T List (as at Sep 2013). A number of comments and observations have occurred to us both during the trip and thereafter. Although we have a subject on this Forum for "Top 3 German WHS" we don't have a generic "subject" for German WHS matters so I have created one here.
a. One aspect which hit us was the scale of renovation investment taking place at German WHS (and I know this extends beyond the ones we visited) – Lorsch, Margravial, Wartburg, Bergpark, Maulbronn and Volklingen all had large areas covered in scaffolding. Fagus was having a new Visitor Centre built whilst several major buildings in Wismar were being renovated too. Maybe the German governmental coffers are overflowing but one wonders how all this is being justified. The Bergpark seemed to have developed into a never ending maintenance job but the "flyer" indicated that its development and inscription were seen as a major plank in developing tourism in the area. It is interesting that some of this renovation is happening at the time of or very soon after inscription (e.g Margravial, Bergpark) - ICOMOS must have been happy with the plans/intentions rather than the finished result and didn't see the need to withhold inscription until completion. I guess it could reasonably assume the works would be carried out, unlike such plans in a number of sites inscribed in developing countries where promised renovations never occurred (E.g Algiers)
b. Our route included a fair number of "pay to enter" sights (8 of the 14 WHS and 5 of the 8 T List). Most of our travelling over the past 10 years has been in developing countries and we have undoubtedly become "out of date" regarding entrance costs in Europe (and in UK!) Indeed some of the sites seemed to be "money extracting machines" with entrances rarely less then 8 Euro pp plus all sorts of extras for guides/audios/parking and entrances to different parts of the site – one could quickly rack up 20 Euros pp. Wartburg even charges extra to climb a tower inside the castle! And I think of Clyde's comments regarding the Margravial Opera house fee to see a very limited exhibit on the renovation – a rip off which we also had to endure! Germany (unlike UK) rarely gives concessions to us "oldies" either - it must regard its OAPs as being pretty well off!
c. Some of the sites don't seem quite sure what to do with the space they have – both Volklingen and Zollverein are given over to "artistic" endeavours of doubtful value and certainly bearing no relevance to the OUV of the site. And the latter is hawking its real estate around with the promise that "Companies here benefit from the inspiring proximity of the WHS"! Financial realities have to be faced but we felt that Zollverein in particular had veered too far away from the core aspect of its inscription - for instance descriptions around the site were almost non existent (Volklingen had done a far better job in that respect).
d. Germany seems to like presenting its WHS in, what seems to us, a rather regimented and didactic way (not a stereotype I hope!). Many of its sites (my impression is more so than those in UK and elsewhere in Europe) require a group tour to gain an entrée to the core - Lorsch, Messel, Bremen, Fagus, Wartburg, Zollverein. These tours take place infrequently and/or at inconvenient times for those wanting flexibility in travelling! They are also often an additional cost to the basic entry. Unsurprisingly they largely take place in German but, among our sites above, only Wartburg provided an accompanying text in other languages so otherwise the (significant) extra cost is somewhat wasted to a non German speaker! The Messel tour spent 10/15 minutes of a 1hr tour just 10 yards outside the museum explaining how it didn't have enough time to go right into the pit and describing what had already been shown in the museum!
e. Whilst each of the sites undoubtedly had "value", it was difficult, looking back, to identify any real "world class" highlights - particularly among the more recent inscriptions. Perhaps we have just become too blasé. The 8 T List sites were largely "more of the same" too – palaces, churches, mediaeval buildings, industry and modern architecture. All of them perfectly worthy, justifying preservation and "worth a visit" if one were passing – but not really "WHS" material. Some seem no better , or worse, than similar uninscribed "2** Michelin sites" elsewhere in Germany. I don't think there was a single site I would want to go back to but there were also very few I wish I hadn't bothered with (The Pile Dwellings was one – but that's another story!).
f. It occurs to me that one of the reasons Germany has so many WHS is that it has more "transfrontier" sites than any other country – 5 with 3 more on its T List. This isn't totally unreasonable given its geographic position and history but Germany does seem to have played this aspect of the "nomination game" quite cannily! There is little doubt that UNESCO rather "likes" trans-national sites. It may be true that, as in the case of The Silk Road and Qapac Nan they can take a lot of developing but they do also receive a fair wind too at the evaluation stage – can anyone think of a trans-national nomination which has been rejected? But Germany also has a good record of riding along on the coat-tails whilst another country takes the lead or even joining after the main location(s) have been inscribed. I think of the Pile Dwellings, the Limes and the Beech Forests.
On re-reading this it all sounds a bit down-beat! We did have some "wow" moments – the cascade and water organ at Bergpark, the Festival Hall and other rooms at the Wartburg (albeit somewhat degraded by the ongoing renovation in the Singers' Gallery), seeing an Osprey catch a fish at Edersee-Kellerwald (though, strictly, it was outside the WHS boundary even if we were inside!), looking down the "sharp end" of the Chilehaus and along Aroser Allee at Weiße Stadt. Others would no doubt have alternative highlights - our interests and priorities will all be different. Our prime reason for being in Germany was to attend the Festspiele at Bayreuth, but, beyond that our route was determined almost 100% by WHS factors – as such we no doubt gained a skewed view of that country's attitude towards its tangible heritage which maybe isn't as "Welterbe" oriented as it might seem from our route. Indeed we came across plenty of other examples of initiatives to promote cultural preservation and tourism. But I can't avoid the conclusion that Germany has gone, and is going, somewhat overboard in pursuing the goal of UNESCO inscription. "Länder" competition might well at least partly explain this and, of course, the UNESCO system allows, even encourages, it, despite the guidelines to restrict yet more nominations from the serial nominators! But enough is enough – though, as I already have the next 9 "ticked off", perhaps I should be pleased at the possibility of yet more inscriptions!