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Literature, Music and World Heritage

Goethe, Beethoven and Gutenberg are names people often associate with Germany. Thanks to the UNESCO Memory of the World Register, their most famous works will be preserved for future generations to enjoy.


Goethe recognized the importance of saving written documents

This year the UNESCO added 21 entries to its Memory of the World Register, a list of documentary heritage with international significance. Among the new entries were the Gutenberg Bible, a hand-written manuscript of Beethovens Ninth Symphony, an extensive collection of Goethe’s writings and Fritz Lang’s silent film classic "Metropolis". The "Edison-Cylinders" of early musical recordings were already part of the register.


Fritz Lang's famous motion picture "Metropolis" (1927) is without doubt testimony of German silent film art and cinema history in general. Fritz Lang’s unusual combination of moving pictures, stage architecture and symbolic fantasy was revolutionary for its time. Today, the genre he initiated with "Metropolis" would be called science fiction.

In 1926 "Metropolis" was the most expensive film produced in the world-renowned Babelsberg Film Studios. It caused the Universum Film AG (UFA), the largest German film production group, to run into financial difficulties. But when the film finally premiered in January 1927 it was an unparalleled success all over the world. Today it is a landmark of early film production.

Unfortunately the original version of the three-hour film no longer exists. Shortly after the premiere in Berlin, the film was shortened and changed. Only one of the three original negatives from these early altered versions exists in the German Federal Archives as well as fragments in museums abroad.

In February 2001, a new reconstructed "Metropolis" was produced on the basis of intensive investigations. Old, fragile film fragments were pieced together to form the closest copy of the original version and then digitized for better copying quality in the future. It is this reconstructed version of the Metropolis that has been included in the UNESCO World Memory Register.

Gutenberg Bible

The 42-line Gutenberg-Bible marks the beginning of media in the modern era. It was the first book printed in Europe with movable type face. The two-volume work had 1,282 pages and was the creation of 28 printing assistants who pressed 290 different characters, colored initials and figures for the first of a kind book.

From Mainz, the location of Gutenberg's printing workshop, the new technology spread all over Europe and the world.

Of the original 30 Bibles printed on vellum, only four have survived in their complete form. The Göttingen edition, one of these four, stands out for its unique contemporary documentary context: It is the source of the Bible’s illumination, the Notarial Instrument of Ulrich Helmasperger, the only surviving proof of Gutenberg's invention. On November 6, 1455, Ulrich Helmasperger, clerk of the Bishopric of Bamberg and royal notary certified that Gutenberg was responsible for the invention, the "Work of the Books."

No other copy of the Gutenberg Bible can make such a claim, and it is this connection which makes the Göttingen vellum edition worthy of being included in the World Documentary Heritage archive.

Beethoven’s Ninth

Ludwig van Beethoven, Porträt in Öl

The Ninth Symphony (1770-1827) from Beethoven marks an important development in 19th century music. In the last movement, the human voice was integrated for the first time in a symphonic work. The "Ode to Joy" (Ode an die Freude), which sets a poem by Friedrich von Schiller to music, has become a symbol of peace between all nations and people of the world.

During the Olympic Games from 1956-1964, the first stanza of the Ode was used as a hymn for both the teams from the Federal Republic of Germany and the German Democratic Republic. After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the symphony was played at unification ceremonies and became the musical symbol of freedom and democracy in Eastern Europe.

The handwritten manuscript of the symphony is nearly completely intact and is located in the Berlin State Library. The first three movements were acquired in 1846, and the final movement in 1901. Two pages are also located in the Beethoven House in Bonn, and three pages from the final movement are in the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris.

Goethe’s Literary Collection

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) is Germany’s best known writer. His poems, novels and dramas have been translated into numerous languages and read throughout the world.

The literary estate of Goethe is the most important holding of the Foundation Weimarer Klassik / Goethe and Schiller Archives (GSA) in Weimar, Germany. It encompasses 90 percent of all Goethe’s poetic manuscripts, a near complete collection of Goethe’s diaries, and more than a third of all his letters.

The Weimar collection is a continuation of Goethe’s own activities to create an archive of all his written works. The archive includes manuscripts from all periods of Goethe’s life, and reflects the artistic creations of Goethe as well as his philosophical and intellectual works.

The Weimarer Klassik Foundation added (and still adds) to the original collection by including writings that were found in other people's estates. The completeness and range of the archive today represents a unique record not only of the creative work of Germany’s literary genius but also reflects the whole Classical Period in Germany.

Documentary Heritage

According to the UNESCO, "Documentary heritage reflects the diversity of languages, peoples and cultures. It is the mirror of the world and its memory. But this memory is fragile. Every day, irreplaceable parts of this memory disappear for ever." Therefore it is important to identify the most important cultural and historical documents and preserve them for future generations.

The documents included in the UNESCO Memory of the World Register have been identified by the International Advisory Committee in its meetings in Tashkent (September 1997), in Vienna (June 1999) and in Cheongju City (June 2001) and endorsed by the Director-General of UNESCO as corresponding to the selection criteria for world significance.

In a virtual exhibition, UNESCO warns of the need to safeguard documents: "Documents are indispensable for the progress of culture and civilisation. They are the most significant artefacts of our cultural heritage, the lasting testimonies of thoughts, events and artistic composition, they enable us to build new creations upon the old."

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