50 Years after Korea: German Nationwide Inventory of Intangible Cultural Heritage

I was pretty surprised when I recently read that carnival has been registered as an Intangible Cultural Heritage in Germany (sorry, couldn’t find any English press coverage, here the Wikipedia-page on the Cologne Carnival, where I had some fun as a kid, see below). I had never heard of such a list, well, at least not in Germany.

Cologne Carnival, Rosenmontag procession, 2004, photo by Dickbauch, via WikimediaCommons

Cologne Carnival, Rosenmontag procession, 2004, photo by Dickbauch, via WikimediaCommons

In Korea, Important Intangible Cultural Properties (중요무형문화재) and Human Cultural Treasures (인간문화재) are omnipresent, especially if you’re interested in pansori or other traditional arts. In total, over a hundred arts and crafts have been designated (see Wikipedia for an almost up-to-date list, the Cultural Heritage Administration (문화재청) for a complete one). Sixteen of these have also been recognized as UNESCO Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity (유네스코 인류구전 및 무형유산 걸작), including pansori, the Gangneung Dano Festival (강릉단오제), the folk song(s) Arirang (아리랑), the dance choreography Ganggang Sullae (강강술래), and the art of kimchi-making (김장). At every designation session of UNESCO, there has been at least one successful application by South Korea so far.

For more details on the Korean system, see Keith Howard’s great book on Preserving Korean Music, also PhD-dissertations by Jongsung Yang (on the development and underlying ideologies of the preservation policy) and by CedarBough Saeji (on its practical implication—a highly readable account on mask dance play, drumming-dancing and much more, see a review).

Ganggang Sullae, Korea.net, Korean Culture and Information Service, photo by Jeon Han, via Flickr

Ganggang Sullae, Korea.net, Korean Culture and Information Service, photo by Jeon Han, via Flickr

I did some googling on Intangible Cultural Properties in Germany and found out that my home country is a bit behind in that respect. The UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, passed in 2003, states in the section on “Safeguarding of the intangible cultural heritage at the national level”:

To ensure identification with a view to safeguarding, each State Party shall draw up, in a manner geared to its own situation, one or more inventories of the intangible cultural heritage present in its territory. These inventories shall be regularly updated. (Article 11.1)

Ten years later, Germany has taken action now. After becoming a State Party through ratification of the convention in 2012 (see this explanation of the procedure), the first 27 national properties were announced around last Christmas (see a full list with explanations). That’s almost exactly 50 years after a similar national policy in Korea lead to the declaration of the first seven properties, around Christmas 1964.

Similar policy? Well, not exactly, at least not in terms money. The Korean system pays a stipend to registered “holders” of the respective art or craft (예능보유자). In Germany, the system is strictly non-commercial. (That’s why beer brewing was rejected, according to Prof. Christoph Wulf of Free University, head of the selection committee (see the German interview).

German Cardinal Meisner maintains tradition, Düsseldorf 2005 (photo and sculpture by Jacques Tilly, via WikimediaCommons)

German Cardinal Meisner maintains tradition, Düsseldorf 2005 (photo and sculpture by Jacques Tilly, via WikimediaCommons)

One plausible reason for the late start in Germany mentioned in an interesting working paper (English pdf) by the German Commission for UNESCO from 2012 is the fact that “due to the instrumentalization, inter alia by the National Socialists, reservations remain when speaking about “folk culture” (Volkskultur) or single forms of it.”

Next time I’ll take a closer look at the inaugural properties of the “German Nationwide Inventory of Intangible Cultural Heritage” (thus the official English title, although Prof. Wulf insists that it should be rather “Cultural Heritage in Germany”).

– 23 Feb. 2015 (日)

About Jan Creutzenberg

Jan Creutzenberg, friend of theatre, music, and cinema, comments on his performative experiences in Seoul and elsewhere.
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