Speech by Minister of State Maria Böhmer opening the 39th session of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee in Bonn on 28 June

28.06.2015 - Speech

-- translation of advance text --

Madam Director-General,
Mr President,
Mr Chairperson,
Mr Mayor,
Madam President,
Ladies and gentlemen,

Culture, nature, world heritage. People, ideas and places.

Let me bid you all a very warm welcome to Bonn, the home of the United Nations in Germany.

This wonderful conference room used to be the plenary chamber of the German Bundestag. A place where democracy happened. I fought for ideas here myself as a young MP.

Today, this place is a conference centre for the ideas of the United Nations. Federal Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier – who sends you his best wishes – inaugurated it a few weeks ago together with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.


Looking at history, no-one could have assumed that Germany would one day be chosen to give a home to UNESCO’s ideas.

When the UN Charter and the UNESCO Constitution were adopted 70 years ago, Germany wasn’t there. The foundation of these organisations was in part a response from the international community to the unspeakable suffering that Germany had unleashed.

I am convinced that Germany was only granted the right to return to the bosom of the international community because we faced up to our past and to our historical responsibility. I am grateful for that.


We just saw Federal Chancellor Merkel’s video message. She has asked me to pass on her best wishes too. The Chancellor has been taking a keen interest in the preparations for this UNESCO conference and is eagerly looking forward to seeing the outcome.

We consider it a great pleasure and privilege to have UNESCO holding the 39th session of the World Heritage Committee in Germany.

Ms Bokova, let me thank you very much for that decision. I am also grateful for the excellent cooperation we have enjoyed and for your own dedication to protecting and preserving world heritage.


World heritage provided a basis for people’s ways of life and sense of community. World heritage gives people stability and direction. It gives our societies a sense of identity.

It connects people to their homes and to their histories, gives them links to their own countries and to the world. World heritage is an irreplaceable source of inspiration.

We will be able to forge a positive future for mankind only if we protect and preserve our cultural heritage and use it sustainably – in order to pass it on to future generations.

Like you, I am passionate about the heritage of mankind. I want to stand up with you particularly for the protection and preservation of world heritage sites.

I have met many of you personally, and have witnessed very high levels of dedication. You have my profound thanks for that!


Ladies and gentlemen,

That joy is overshadowed by a lot of worry.

I’m talking of course about Bamyan and Timbuktu, about Mosul, Nimrud, Ninawa, Hatra, Palmyra and Sana’a.

Once proud cultural sites, they are now the scenes of horrific events.

Time and again, we find our hearts in our mouths – because people are being killed in these places; because cultural property thousands of years old is being destroyed forever; because we are confronted with cruel barbarity, with religious extremism.

The rampaging of terrorist organisations, like ISIS in Iraq, defies the imagination.

This trail of destruction is leaving deep scars in the heritage of mankind, in a region’s history, in a nation’s identity, in the cultural memory of the world. The heritage of mankind is being plundered and destroyed.

Cultural property and world heritage sites are also threatened by natural disasters, such as recently struck in Nepal, environmental degradation, economic interests and simple neglect.

The world seems about to unravel. Now more than ever, we need to recognise and use the power of culture.

We need to stand up for our values! This is about human dignity, about tolerance, about protection of diversity and about respect for other people and their culture.

Germany wants to play its part in protecting people, ideas and places, in protecting culture and nature. We strive for political understanding, peace, security, crisis prevention and crisis management.

Honoured guests, friends,

This 39th session of the World Heritage Committee is intended to send out a strong message for those regions most badly affected by crises, conflicts and natural disasters.

To quote Nelson Mandela, “There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered.”

People need those places where they can tap into their identities. We need to work to ensure they are not lost.

Recognising that need and translating it into reality may be the most important task facing mankind’s heritage.


Honoured guests, friends,

“Ode to Joy” is one of Friedrich Schiller’s most famous poems. Ludwig van Beethoven set it to music in his Ninth Symphony.

With no small amount of pathos, the ode describes the classical ideal of a society of equal individuals bound together by shared joy and friendship.

Why am I telling you this?

Not far from here, on the bank of the Rhine, lies Eberbach Abbey. Some of you will know that Umberto Eco’s novel “The Name of the Rose” was made into a film there.

I invited the ambassadors of the current committee members to meet there in May, and the beauty of the location had us spellbound. So did the history with which it resonates.

To test out the basilica’s superb acoustics, one of the ambassadors spontaneously struck up Beethoven’s melody – and we ended up singing “Freude, schöner Götterfunken” together.

When we reached the line “Wem der große Wurf gelungen, eines Freundes Freund zu sein” – about the great achievement of true friendship – the UNESCO idea was suddenly very clear and present.

We sang “Freude treibt die Räder in der großen Weltenuhr” – about joy as the driving force in the world. We felt ourselves enveloped by a cultural bond that holds this world together.

Let us never lose sight of that ideal of a community of equal states connected by the bond of friendship.

For what is at stake is no more and no less than the heritage of mankind.

I can think of no more fulfilling job than working with you today and in the days ahead to make that UNESCO idea and the concept of world heritage sparkle and spread.

Thank you very much!

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