Sharing is caring: German-Dutch cooperation in the heritage sector

Aivin Gast: I am a second year undergraduate at the University of Oxford studying Classical Archaeology and Ancient History. I’m a big fan of travelling, discovering new cultures, learning both ancient and modern languages, and having a good time with my friends. Originally I am from Twente, a Dutch region near the German border. I have a special interest in the economy and management of the Roman Empire, but during my degree and archaeological excavations, I also became interested in international heritage management as well as cultural diplomacy. I am planning to pursue an international career that includes these sectors.

Netherlands | June 27, 2020 | Student Essay

Once again the current George Floyd protests have sparked the debate about the appropriate management of dark heritage. Consensus will probably never be reached, but it clearly shows the influence heritage has on our society and the importance of correct heritage management. As Germany and the Netherlands are neighbouring countries, much of their heritage, from prehistoric sites to modern art galleries, is closely interlinked. Nevertheless, the border forms an obstacle. Although open and physically absent, it restricts laws, policies and projects. This is why cooperation between the two countries is essential. Fortunately, both Germany and the Netherlands recognise the importance of their heritage and are working together on different levels. They are not only improving the promotion, preservation and presentation of their past, but also taking care of valuable lessons for, and exceptional legacies of, all humankind.

         Germany and the Netherlands also share some dark heritage. After World War II, the Netherlands was full of reminders of a horrible period in history. Monuments glorifying the Nazi government were removed or torn down, others, remembering the atrocities committed by the oppressors, were set up. Earlier this year, it was announced that a Holocaust museum was to be built in Amsterdam after Germany offered a four million euros donation in memory of the 104,000 Dutch Jews murdered by the Nazis. Germany has long been engaged in the conscientious processing of the past. With this contribution they take their responsibility and want to warn people. German Minister of Foreign Affairs, Heiko Maas, said that the museum would mark the post-war reconciliation between the two countries: “In the Netherlands, the Nazi destruction machine worked in the most horrible way. The shared memory of this darkest chapter in our German history makes clear the importance of the achievements of European unification and the reconciliation between Germany and the Netherlands.’’ The relationship between Germany and the Netherlands is currently stronger than ever before, which would not have been possible without Germany’s role in the management of Dutch World War II memory.

         Most shared heritage fortunately has a less troubled background, but is by no means less interesting. One of the most astonishing archaeological areas in Europe is the Roman limes at the Rhine frontier. It is dotted with the remains of millennia-old forts, settlements and infrastructure. To fully understand this section of the border of the Roman Empire, one has to look at sites both in Germany and the Netherlands. Last year, it was announced by the Dutch Minister of Culture that the Netherlands would nominate the Limes Germanicus as a UNESCO World Heritage site. This would, however, not be possible without German cooperation. After all, 25 of the 44 archaeological sites that are part of the designated area, are located in Germany. Although the nomination was sent in by the Netherlands since only one country can do so, as Dr. M. Polak from Radboud University let me know, North Rhine-Westphalia and Rhineland-Palatinate helped drawing up the nomination dossier (a process already started in 2015) and Germany is currently helping the Netherlands with writing reports as well as discussing the management of the sites in case the nomination will be successful next year.

         Travelling forward in time, we see another string of related sites crossing the border. The medieval Hanseatic League was a commercial and defensive confederation dominating the Baltic maritime trade for over three centuries. Its lingua franca, Low German, is still the language traditionally spoken in my home town, not far from the German border. In 2019, fourteen Hanseatic cities, both German and Dutch, started a three-year long project to promote their shared history. It forms part of the Interreg-programme ‘Deutschland-Nederland’ and is partly funded by the European Union. There will be a cross-border route for campervans and bikes, using augmented reality and mobile apps to revive Hanseatic history. One of the participating Dutch provinces, Gelderland, and the Lower Rhine region in Germany set up another project last year, Grenzeloos Gelre (‘Borderless Gelre’), highlighting their shared medieval past. In this case, the focus is on a very important aspect of public history: children. With the help of a game, primary school students in both Germany and the Netherlands learnt more about their shared history while playing around at historical locations, such as Kloster Graefenthal in Germany and Kasteel Rosendael in the Netherlands. Moreover, a free bilingual comic book about the shared medieval history was delivered to all primary schools in the two regions.       
         Of course, Germany’s role in the Dutch heritage sector goes beyond bringing history and culture to the public. Heritage also needs restoration and conservation specialists. This is why the restoration centre of Gelderland organised a convention with the German Chamber of Commerce and Industry with the goal to bring the Dutch and German restoration sector together. Metal, stone and carpenter industries discussed the optimal methods for restoring and conserving cultural heritage. Germany’s help is especially important nowadays, when there is a growing lack of relevant craftsmen in the Netherlands. Cooperation is possible, and needed, on all levels and in all areas of heritage management.

Whether it is nominating a site as UNESCO World Heritage, establishing a bike route along medieval market towns or the restoration of monumental buildings, Germany’s role in the Dutch heritage sector is absolutely essential. Heritage does not stop for borders, nor should our management. Only by close collaboration between Germany and the Netherlands can Dutch heritage be presented to the public and preserved for the future appropriately. Past projects haven proven to be fruitful and both countries continue working together on their shared past. The Fonds Soziokultur, for example, offers a grant of €50,000 each year to German-Dutch culture and heritage projects. Germany and the Netherlands are setting an example of cultural diplomacy and bilateral heritage management, boosting not only their own tourism and heritage sector, but also strengthening their age-old and extraordinary close relationship.

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One thought on “Sharing is caring: German-Dutch cooperation in the heritage sector

  1. Finn Harrison says:

    Great read, very interesting. The Dutch-German co-operation definitely seems like a model of heritage management!


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