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Preserving culture

July 2, 2012

Nothing quite makes historians and locals as happy as achieving UNESCO World Heritage status. Now Bayreuth's Margrave Opera House has received the coveted listing.

Opera house in Bayreuth
Image: dapd

Wilhelmine had a difficult start in life. Her father, King of Prussia, Friedrich Wilhelm I, was a brutal tyrant who abused his children. Wilhelmine, as a child of the court, experienced little love or warmth. Then at the age of 22, she was forced to marry an unsuccessful man and live in the desolate, provincial town of Bayreuth.

But Wilhelmine of Prussia did not let this bother her. An avid composer, painter and author, she wanted to compete with the palaces of Sanssouci in Potsdam and Versailles near Paris. In 1748, she decided to build Bayreuth's Margrave Opera House, which became one of the most breathtaking theaters of its time. This magnificent building, constructed in the Italian Baroque style, served as Wilhelmine's "golden armor against life," according to expert Barbara Bogen.

Germany's 37 sites

More than two-and-a-half centuries later, Wilhelmine, Margrave of Brandenburg-Bayreuth, would be pleased to know that her theater is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site - one of 37 such sites in Germany.

"The decision to recognize this significant Bayreuth landmark ensures a bright future for Bayreuth," said Bayreuth's Mayor Brigitte Merk-Erbe, who had traveled to St. Petersburg to attend the UNESCO meeting where the decision was made.

A bust of Wilhelmine von Bayreuth stands in front of the opera house
A bust of Wilhelmine von Bayreuth stands in front of the opera houseImage: picture-alliance/dpa

"Bayreuth will now be known the world over, not just for Richard Wagner and his Festival, but also for its opera house," she said.

A draw for tourists

The UNESCO award is expected to attract more tourists to Bayreuth, a city with a population of around 70,000. Other cities with recent UNESCO World Heritage listings, such as Bad Muskau in Saxony, have experienced a significant rise in tourism. Prior to the award, only around 15,000 people visited the area, but in 2011, after Muskauer Park was listed, this number increased to close to 37,000.

"Most tourists didn't know the park as a destination," park director Cord Panning told German radio broadcaster Deutschlandfunk. "Of course, this has changed since the park achieved World Heritage site listing. Now no tourist guide leaves it out and this sets us apart from the major tourist attractions in Weimar, Potsdam and Dresden."

Indeed, these lesser-known places certainly benefit both from the financial support and the influx of tourists after being listed. Included among the German locations are the cathedrals of Aachen, Speyer, Cologne and Hildesheim and the palaces in Potsdam. The renowned Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria does not have UNESCO World Heritage status, but with 1.4 million tourists visiting it in 2011, it is already one of Germany's most popular tourist attractions.

Beyond Europe

With more than half of the over 900 UNESCO World Heritage Sites located in Europe and North America, concern has been expressed that the list is imbalanced. Not even one tenth of the sites are located in Africa or Asia.

"The entire UNESCO World Heritage list contains far too many European sites" said Cord Panning. "We have to ensure that this becomes more balanced, and includes more Asian and African sites."

Author: Hendrick Heinze / bos
Editor: Kate Bowen