The acronym UNESCO gets thrown out there on many webpages, but means nothing if you don’t know or understand what exactly the designation stands for. UNESCO is the “United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization.
Means nothing on its own, but their sole purpose is extoll the virtues of the “common heritage of humanity.” And while Italy has the most of any country (47 World Heritage Sites), Germany’s not too far behind with 36. There would be 37, but the Dresden Elbe Valley lost their UNESCO title in 2009, because a bridge was built that broke up the natural landscape.
In order to lose a UNESCO title, you’d have had to earn one in the first place. How? Well, there are 10 “criteria,” and you have to meet at least one of them. The first one is “be a masterpiece of creative genius.” Another criteria is an “outstanding example of a building or architecture at a significant stage of human history.”
It’s no wonder why many of the UNESCO sites in Germany like Aachen Cathedral (Charlemagne is buried here), Speyer Cathedral (a fantastic example of Romanesque architecture), and the Cathedral of Trier are listed. They are outstanding, aren’t they?
And you’ll find that many sites here in Germany fall under more than one category.
The Augustusburg Castle and the Falkenlust Castle in the town of Brühl are definitely both creative genius and outstanding architecture. You’ll be hard pressed to find a better Rococo architecture than right here. Except maybe at the Pilgrimage Church of Wies, built in a Bavarian Rococo style.
Wartburg Castle is one of my favorite places, whether it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site or not — which it is. Not only is the castle the former residence of a medieval saint, but where Martin Luther translated the Bible into German. Luther’s name doesn’t end there on the UNESCO list. Two monuments of him (one in Wittenberg, the other in Eisleben) have made the cut.
Whole monasteries are also listed on Germany’s UNESCO sites. Who hasn’t heard of the Maulbronn Monastery? But, did you know the monks were leaders in engineering, as well as devout men of God? You know the Abbey & Altenmünster of Lorsch (one of the oldest & wealthiest of the medieval monasteries) is on the list, and so too is the Monastic Island of Reichenau.
We’re not limited to just castles and churches, though. Germany’s Völklingen Iron Works received the UNESCO badge because it’s a testament to the Industrial Age. It was also the first of its kind to be given the title. Another first for Germany, yay!
Mining was also a contribution to industry, so added to the list of Germany’s UNESCO sites is the Zollverein Coal Mine Industrial Complex in Essen and the Rammelsberg Mines.
Industry isn’t limited to mining, the Fagus Factory in Alfeld is remarkable enough to have been added.
Sometimes whole towns (or at least the old parts of town) are given the UNESCO title. For example, the Altstadt (Old Town) of Regensburg, and the entire town of Bamberg (it’s medieval flair has something to do with it). Not only is Quedlinburg added because of its Altstadt (with 1300 half-timbered houses), but also for its Stiftskirche (Collegiate Church).
The whole town of Bremen didn’t make it, “just” its Rathaus (Town Hall) and Roland Statue. Its Town Hall has pretty much remained the same for the last six centuries, which is about the time Roland came to town. His statue says that as long as his plaque stays, Bremen will forever be free.
So far, these are all man-made sites, and the natural world isn’t left out. UNESCO has also honored places like the Wadden Sea (great for mudflat hiking, but also acts as a breeding ground for birds), the Prehistoric Pile Dwellings (found along the Alps), and the Messel Pit Fossil Site (a volcanic crater filled with fossils; in Messel, just northeast of Darmstadt).
Not too many people might have heard of the Primeval Beech Forests of Carpathians & Ancient Beech Forests of Germany (that’s a long name), but this nature area is another natural UNESCO site. (I’m inclined to simply call them Ancient Beech Forests going forward.)
Every year more and more sites are submitted to UNESCO for consideration — and places like Schwetzingen Castle (yeah, pleeaase!), Heidelberg Castle, the Naumburg Cathedral, and the Margravial Opera House in Bayreuth might one day be added to the (already) long list of Germany’s UNESCO sites. With any luck, we might overshoot Italy. ;-)