ECHY 2018: How Culture Can Save Europe

News from 12/19/2016

European Cultural Heritage Year 2018 (ECHY) aims to increase the awareness and visibility of culture as a unifying element in Europe. On December 19, 2016, the project's five ambassadors presented it to the public. One of them was Hermann Parzinger, President of the Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz.

What Are Your Expectations of European Cultural Heritage Year?

Europe is currently facing great challenges and dangers: a financial crisis, an influx of refugees, Brexit, right-wing populism, and simply lethargy – which may be the greatest threat of all. The crises of our time can only be overcome if Europeans view themselves as a historical and cultural community of shared values and a shared destiny, if they develop a European identity that aims not to replace local, regional and national identities, but to complement and enrich them. This European dimension is also an inseparable part of each of us. It is therefore fitting, in 2018, to turn the attention of Europeans to their cultural heritage, to that very special unity amidst diversity that makes Europe so unique – especially with regard to culture. Political and economic interests may differ and may change, but our cultural roots are a constant that all Europeans share and cannot simply shed. The cultural heritage of Europeans may be their greatest asset when it comes to promoting a sense of solidarity and community. Museumsinsel (Museum Island) in Berlin, with its museums and collections, expresses this heritage particularly well. Together with the Humboldt-Forum now being built, it allows people to find reassurance in a rapidly changing globalized world in which no one can survive by relying on national willfulness. Cultural Europe was never more important than today.

With regard to elements of its program, ECHY 2018 is pursuing the theme of "society in flux." What's behind that?

At the center of the Cultural Heritage Year will be all the people in Europe – and this focus will be very much informed by "shared heritage." The underlying idea is that museums merely store and safeguard cultural heritage, which in essence is jointly owned by all humanity – an idea that we're also pursuing for the Humboldt-Forum. Here, as there, cultural heritage helps people enter into a dialogue and become aware of their own history. This is tremendously important, particularly given the many refugees who are seeking protection in Europe, but are perceived by many as a threat – in part because they are perceived as being very different. With the objects in our collections, for example, we can show that these people are not all that foreign at all, and that there has been much more exchange and interconnectedness in the course of history than people think. So a reflective approach to cultural heritage helps us to overcome the current challenges of a constantly changing society.

Is it necessary, in your view, to make people aware of the protection of cultural heritage? 

Yes, absolutely. Consider, for example, archeological and built heritage. That is likewise the expression of a long, shared European cultural history and should deserve the maximum protection for that reason alone. But it seems to me that in this country, not everyone is really aware of the importance of this heritage – when, for instance, people are seriously negotiating about tearing down the walls designed by Schinkel at Museumsinsel (a UNESCO World Heritage site) for the sake of a public pool. So one thing that I also expect from this European Cultural Heritage Year is a heightened sensibility for the non-material value of our cultural heritage.

To overview

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