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Intangible Cultural Heritage

Intangible cultural heritage are vital cultural expressions which are born directly by human knowledge and skills. These include

  • oral traditions and expressions,

  • performing arts,

  • social practices, rituals and festive events,

  • knowledge and practices concerning nature and universe,

  • traditional craftsmanship,

  • and forms of social self-organisation.

People are key in intangible cultural heritage. This vital kind of cultural heritage is passed on in terms of skills, abilities and knowledge. It is constantly changing and perpetually re-created when practices and traditions are adapted to varying circumstances and times. The particular practices that are part of our shared intangible cultural heritage are of great significance for respective communities, groups and individuals.

In 2003, the General Conference of UNESCO adopted the Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage. This continues UNESCO’s long-running efforts to inventory, collect and revitalise cultural traditions, skills and languages that are threatened with extinction. The Convention is a framework which is binding under international law. After ratification by 30 countries, the Convention came into force on 20 April 2006.

Germany ratified the UNESCO Convention in 2013 and committed itself to create a nationwide inventory of intangible cultural heritage. By establishing this inventory, the importance of intangible cultural heritage in general and individual forms of cultural expressions in particular come to great public attention. It is an inventory in terms of knowledge organization in order to show intangible cultural resources in Germany. The particular forms and the diversity of cultural traditions and expressions are largely undocumented so far. However, the inventory is not about “German heritage” but “heritage in Germany”. Cultural exchanges, the variety of forms of expression and the creative recreations are especially interesting. Intangible cultural heritage is living and constantly evolving. Cultural expressions inscribed in the nationwide inventory as well as respective bearers stand for creativity and inventiveness of a society.

Working paper "Get to know and appreciate the living cultural heritage!" (31/08/2012)

UNESCO nominations for 2016 & 2017

In March 2015, Germany has filed its first nomination for the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity: "The idea and practice of organizing shared interests in cooperatives". The selection of this item was based on a recommendation of the above mentioned expert committee and confirmed by the State Party institutions. In November 2016, the Intergovernmental Commitee of the UNESCO Convention decided to inscribe this element on the list.

In March 2016, Germany has filed another nomination for the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity: "Organ Craftsmanship and Music". A decision of the Intergovernmental Commitee of the UNESCO Convention is expected for November 2017.

Selection process for the nationwide inventory

The first round of calls for the nationwide inventory of intangible cultural heritage took place from 3 May to 30 November 2013. Communities, groups and, in some cases, individuals who practice a form of cultural expression within the definition of the UNESCO Convention, were invited to participate in the bottom-up process by submitting proposals. 128 submissions were received by the 16 federal states until the end of November 2013. A pre-selection was made by mid-April 2014. 83 files were forwarded to an independent expert committee (appointed by the executive board of the German Commission for UNESCO). The expert committee has conducted a detailed technical evaluation and made selection recommendations. In December 2014, the 27 recommended items were confirmed by consensus by the Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs of the states in the Federal Republic of Germany and the Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and Media. As of December 2016, there are 68 elements in the inventory and four projects have been recognized as best safeguarding practices.

Being part of the nationwide inventory of intangible cultural heritage is a publicly visible recognition of cultural expressions and their bearers (Publication "Knowing. Doing. Passing It On." on the German Nationwide Inventory of Intangible Cultural Heritage). This attention gained can be used to safeguard the vitality of cultural forms. The bearers of the cultural expressions recorded in the nationwide inventory can use a logo for non-commercial purposes. There is no financial support connected with the inclusion in the inventory.

In the coming years, the inventory will grow continually. The first round of applications illustrates an exemplary selection and is the basis for the further development of the inventory in future rounds. Civil society groups, communities and initiatives are further encouraged to participate with proposals in the creation of the nationwide inventory of intangible cultural heritage. Until now, urban and intercultural expressions have been under-represented for example. The inventory should be a collection of diverse, colourful, innovative forms of intangible cultural heritage in Germany – especially those that can contribute to master societal challenges.

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