World Heritage gems you should visit now

We take a look at the 6 World Heritage gems in Germany that are celebrating an anniversary in 2021.
Fagus-Werk. Photo: Lookphotos/Guenther Bayerl
Fagus-Werk. Photo: Lookphotos/Guenther Bayerl

The anniversary dates of World Heritage Sites are something to be celebrated. The vetting process of what can be considered to be of “Outstanding Universal Value” and to be worthy of extra publicity and protection can take many years, and the inclusion of a town, historical site or natural area on the Heritage list, created in 1978, gives a great deal of responsibility to local authorities. Let’s have a look at the 6 German World Heritage sites that have something to celebrate in 2021.

1. Speyer Cathedral 

The year of 2021 marks a full 40 years since the largest Romanesque church in the world, Speyer Cathedral (Dom zu Speyer), was added to the new Heritage list. Back in 1981, the main reason for selecting this cathedral as one of the very first German heritage sites was the considerable influence this structure had on the development of Romanesque art throughout Europe in the 11th and 12th centuries – but also because of the ambitious 18th-century restoration program that set out to restore the damaged cathedral after French troops set it on fire in 1689. Large parts of the nave and the westwork were reconstructed and constitute exact copies of the original, changing attitudes to the preservation and restoration of monuments around the world. In the 20th century, the removal of 18th-century additions completed the original Romanesque look of this gorgeous church.

How to get there

Speyer is around 1.5 hours’ drive or train ride south of Frankfurt.

Speyer Cathedral. Photo: Lookphotos/Guenther Bayerl

2. Würzburg Residence and Court Garden

The extraordinary Würzburg Residence from 1770 was added to the World Heritage List at the same time as Speyer Cathedral – 40 years ago. Although the residence of the Prince-Bishops of Würzburg had been heavily damaged by wartime bombing, it was carefully restored and made it onto the list as a “document of European culture”. The Residence represents an ambitious joint achievement of the most significant European architects, sculptors and painters of the 18th century from France, Italy, Austria and Germany, who collaborated to create the most homogeneous Baroque palace and garden anywhere.

How to get there

Würzburg is on the river Main in Bavaria, roughly halfway between Frankfurt and Nuremberg. The Residence is a 15-minute walk or a short bus ride from Würzburg Hauptbahnhof station. 

Würzburg Residenz Palace and garden. Photo: GNTB/Francesco Carovillano

3. Abbey and Altenmünster of Lorsch

It’s 30 years ago that Lorsch Abbey was selected for the World Heritage List. Although much of the Abbey has long disappeared, the surviving gatehouse with intact original appearance gives a hint of the grandeur of the original 8th-century complex. The unique and excellent condition of the 1200-year-old gatehouse was the main reason for Lorsch’s addition to the Heritage list in 1991, the organization praising it as a rare architectural document of the Carolingian era with impressively preserved sculpture and painting. But in its architectural remains, the Abbey also gives evidence of the very first indications of the early medieval developments under Emperor Charlemagne.

How to get there

Lorsch is an hour south of Frankfurt by car or train. The monastery is a 10-minute walk from the station.

Lorsch Monastery, Carolingian Gate Hall, Benedictine Abbey. Photo: Lookphotos/Guenther Bayerl

4. Zollverein Coal Mining Industrial Complex 

In the 1990s, industrial sites began to be recognized as Heritage sites, in addition to the more obvious palaces and gardens, and the unique Zollverein coal mine in Essen was endorsed in 2001. The main reasons for accepting the site revolved around the application of the architectural and design concepts of the Modern Movement in an industrial context. In addition, Zollverein’s technological and other structures are excellent examples of the development of traditional heavy industries in Europe in the early 20th century.

How to get there

Zollverein is a 20-minute bus ride from Essen Hauptbahnhof station.

Zollverein colliery gate. Photo: Anita Demianowicz

5. Fagus Factory 

The modest functionalist Fagus Factory (Fagus-Werk) from 1910 is another example of an industrial site on the World Heritage List, added ten years after the massive Zollverein mine. An early example of rationalist design influenced by shifting generations of German, European and North American architects, the Fagus Factory influenced many other buildings and is seen as the starting point of the Bauhaus movement. The building by Walter Gropius also demonstrates many innovations such as the curtain wall and the functionality that increased productivity, as well as the comfort of the workers.

How to get there

The Fagus Factory is right beside Alfeld's station, a 40-minute train ride south of Hanover.

Fagus Factory at dusk. Photo: Fagus-GreCon Greten GmbH / Nadine Gebauer

6. Prehistoric Pile Dwellings

The last Heritage Site to be celebrated, added ten years ago in 2011, comprises the well-preserved remains of dozens of dispersed pile dwelling sites along the lakes and rivers around the German Alps. These form some of the most important archaeological sources for the study of early agrarian societies in Europe between 7000 and 2500 years ago. The water has helped preserve foundations, structures, tools, artworks, and even textile from this era, helping scientists understand Neolithic and Bronze Age society and the interactions between the regions around the Alps. The finds also demonstrate how people at the time interacted with their environment, invented new technologies, and reacted to climate change. The Pile Dwelling museum (Pfahlbaumuseum) at Unteruhldingen, with its 23 reconstructed stilt houses on the lake, is the best place to imagine their lives.

How to get there

Unteruhldingen is on the north coast of Lake Constance and can be reached by ferry from Konstanz, with a dozen departures per day.

Lake dwelling at Unteruhldingen. Photo: Lookphotos/Guenther Bayerl

In its 43-year existence, the World Heritage List has seen the addition of cathedrals and abbeys, factories and mines, excavation sites and fossil beds. Germany now has 46 entries on the List, and a dozen new candidates for consideration, including spa towns, Jewish cemeteries, peat bogs and Roman border fortifications. Stay tuned. 

This content was created in partnership with the German National Tourist Board.