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Travel

Naumburg vies to become World Heritage Site

With castles, palaces, the Gothic cathedral and viniculture going back 1,000 years, the region around the central German town of Naumburg has much to offer - but will it be enough to gain UNESCO recognition?

The application fills over 2,000 pages. Stephan Dorgerloh, the minister for culture in Saxony-Anhalt, spent weeks driving around with this over-flowing file in his car. He used every spare moment to work his way through the application. "It was fun, you learn so much about the region," he says. The file is full of historical facts and dates about this "important dominion of the High Middle Ages," as this picturesque region between the rivers Saale and Unstrut is referred to.

Stiff competition

Copyright: Peter Endig

The Saale-Unstrut region is home to the nation's most northern vineyards

The application for World Heritage recognition for Naumburg Cathedral and the landscape near the rivers was submitted to UNESCO in Paris in 2014. And the chances aren't bad. The idea of applying goes back to 1998, says Felix Prescher, Naumburg's public relations manager. "At first we only wanted to have Naumburg Cathedral entered on to the World Heritage list, but we were informed that a church building on its own would lower our chances of succeeding."

That's why, Prescher says, the application was extended. "We decided to focus on the entire medieval surroundings, which include other monuments and the cultural landscape." It appears to have been a smart move, because the president of the World Heritage Committee, minister of state Maria Böhmer was visibly impressed when she toured the area at the beginning of March.

A tradition of viniculture

Neuenburg castle in Freyburg, Copyright: Hendrik Schmidt/lah

Neuenburg castle in Freyburg

Thirteen buildings and monuments from the Middle Ages are listed in the application: one of the most impressive of which is the Neuenburg - a castle which rose up out of ruins following German unification. It stands high above the river Unstrut like a picture-book fortress, and the view from the castle walls reaches far and wide into the surrounding countryside. Numerous castle ruins and medieval settlements can be found on the hill tops along the rivers: Freyburg, Castle Saaleck, Rudelsburg Castle, and Gosek Castle - all popular tourist destinations on the so-called "Romantic Road."

But what really defines this region, and were included in the application, are the vineyard hill terraces along the Saale and Unstrut. For over 1,000 years, wine has been grown and made here, in Germany's northernmost vineyard cultivation area. Cistercian monks imported the art of wine-making from France and were soon delivering their goods to the nearby castles and palaces. More than 20 of their grape varieties are still cultivated today, mainly for white wines.

Everyone wants to see Uta

The life-size statue of Uta von Ballenstedt Foto: Peter Endig/dpa

The life-size statue of Uta von Ballenstedt attracts many visitors each year

Naumburg Cathedral remains at the center of the UNESCO application: a work of architectural art with its medieval stained glass windows as well as the famous 13th century statues of the founders of the cathedral, Margrave Ekkehard and his wife Uta, along with other local nobles. "Uta and her husband Margrave Ekkehard are really the stars here," Prescher emphasizes. The life-size statue of Uta von Ballenstedt, her official name, was created in 1230. Film maker Walt Disney was inspired by her and in 1937 used her features to create the wicked queen in his animated version of "Snow White and the Seven Dwarves."

After the red and white church windows, designed in 2007 by Leipzig artist Neo Rauch, were added as an additional attraction to a side chapel of the cathedral, the number of foreign visitors to Naumburg also increased significantly.

Now that the application has been made to UNESCO, however, the creative possibilities for urban development are limited - because as protected cultural heritage, the monuments must now be preserved in their present form. At a recent public hearing, an inhabitant jokingly pointed out that the town would no longer be able to build a television tower. His comment made clear that despite initial euphoria a successful nomination would also bring some criticism.

Before the decision

Overview with Naumburg Dom St Peter and Paul, Copyright Imago fotokombinat

Overview with Naumburg Dom St Peter and Paul

"At the moment independent consultants are carefully vetting all 40 nominations, including the one from Naumburg," explains Kerstin Manz of the German UNESCO commission, who is currently responsible for preparing the World Heritage Committee meeting in June, being held this year in Bonn. Based on the dossiers submitted by the applicants, these consultants will issue their recommendations by the middle of May, which will then also be published on the UNESCO website.

Naumburg is prepared for either outcome, though the stickers with the World Heritage symbol have already been printed. "Many tourists assume that we have already been awarded World Heritage status, and are very surprised to hear that the decision is yet to be made," says Prescher. He adds that since the formal nomination, there has been a marked increase in requests for information from journalists. But he is also level-headed about the chances of the town and region winning a World Heritage title. "As far as cultural landscapes are concerned we are competing directly with the Champagne region in France - so it would be wise to be realistic," he says matter-of-factly.