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Ladies and gentlemen,
This exhibition is devoted to the Convention for the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage on the occasion of its 40th anniversary. It is the UNESCO programme that receives the most attention here in Germany and worldwide and its World Heritage List makes UNESCO’s work visible in a very pleasing fashion. In addition to the 36 sites in Germany, UNESCO’s World Heritage List includes 900 more sites in a total of 153 countries. The convention has been signed by 188 countries so far: no other convention has such a high rate of ratification or is so well known.
The World Heritage List, which links the protection of culture and nature, is founded on the principle that all cultures are equal. Without regard to borders, it declares the world’s exceptional sites to be the heritage of all mankind and all future generations.
The World Heritage Convention of 1972 has become the international community’s forum for our common cultural and natural heritage. It has a proven record as a platform for protecting that heritage. With the World Heritage List an instrument was created that certainly played an important role in the World Heritage Convention’s public impact and international success. The World Heritage Convention does not restrictively demand protection, preservation, and maintenance, but rather improves their standing and international visibility. The World Heritage title has thus become a brand that is very attractive to tourists.
With 36 World Heritage Sites, Germany is among the top ten on the World Heritage List in terms of quantity. Interest in World Heritage Sites themselves continues unabated, as does the interest in nominating sites for the List. With Quedlinburg’s Old Town, the Luther Memorials in Eisleben and Wittenberg, the Dessau Wörlitz Garden Kingdom, and Bauhaus Sites in Dessau, my home region, the Land Saxony Anhalt, has not only more World Heritage Sites than any of the other Länder, but is also home to the headquarters of “UNESCO-Welterbestätten Deutschland e.V.” – an association designed to promote the German World Heritage Sites – in the Palais Salfeldt in Quedlinburg. So, ladies and gentlemen, I know from my own experience that World Heritage Sites are not just architectural monuments: people really do identify with them.
World Heritage sites are not first and foremost tourist attractions, even if the world-famous label does promote tourism. From the perspective of education as an integral part of sustainable development, much greater use should be made of World Heritage Sites as places of learning. Paderborn University has developed a teaching programme that uses suitcases to present Germany’s World Heritage Sites. As three dimensional exhibits they illustrate what potential the sites have for museum teaching work.
At the same time, it also becomes clear that UNESCO’s work in general and the World Heritage Convention in particular have been taken up by Germany’s universities. The UNESCO chairs at various German universities are impressive proof of this, as are their course plans: in addition to the Paderborn University project presented here, the World Heritage Studies at Cottbus University also deserves mention for being an internationally popular and recognized place of training for working in World Heritage Sites. The World Heritage thus offers perspectives for research, teaching, and practice.
Finally, the satellite images provided by the German Aerospace Center (DLR) offer a special view of the various World Heritage Sites. They are as fascinating as works of art, but at the same time they are important tools for monitoring World Heritage Sites. With their help, changes and developments can be recognized early and observed over the long term. Satellite surveillance is a good instrument with which to monitor World Heritage Sites and Germany is doing its part to ensure their future.
Ladies and gentlemen, 2012 is a special year for Germany as a State Party to the World Heritage Convention. After being absent for 14 years, we were again elected to the World Heritage Committee last year at UNESCO’s General Conference in Paris with an absolute majority in the first round of voting. This show of confidence in us is proof that our commitment and efforts were worthwhile. And as I said in Paris when we were elected: Federal Foreign Minister Westerwelle and I will personally see to it that our work in the World Heritage Committee is successful.
Membership in the Committee is both an honour and a responsibility. We will therefore pay particular attention to the sustainable management of World Heritage Sites and the preservation of endangered monuments over the next four years. German assistance in restoring the temples in Ayutthaya in Thailand that were damaged by flooding is one first project. During my trip to Southeast Asia a week ago, I announced a 100,000 euro commitment from the Cultural Preservation Programme of the Federal Foreign Office to the restoration work.
I look forward to the World Heritage committee work ahead of us. I know that we have much support from the numerous initiatives, institutes, and individuals who are committed to the World Heritage idea. My thanks tonight goes out especially to our partners in mounting this exhibition, namely the German Commission for UNESCO, the German Aerospace Center (DLR), Hessen-Forst, Paderborn University, and not least to those here at the Federal Foreign Office responsible for organizing the exhibit.