UNESCO World Heritage

The Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz (Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation) possesses great treasures of the intellectual and artistic production of humankind. Several of them have been declared UNESCO World Heritage.

The Museumsinsel Berlin

In December 1999, UNESCO added the ensemble of five historical buildings on Berlin’s Museumsinsel (Museum Island) to its list of World Heritage Sites. It explicitly includes the collections and their presentation. UNESCO grants the World Heritage label to sites that have an extraordinary and universal value as cultural or natural monuments. They are under special protection in order to preserve them for humanity.

At the ceremony awarding the certificate of inclusion in the list of World Heritage Sites, the UNESCO representative mentioned two essential reasons for the decision: The Museuminsel represents a unique group of museum buildings, which reflect the evolution of modern museum architecture and design over a period of more than a century. Moreover, it is an outstanding example of the art museum as social and democratic institution.

The renovation and invigoration of the buildings on Berlin’s Museumsinsel, which was initiated by the Museumsinsel Master Plan in 1999, takes into account the special protection of the ensemble that is associated with World Heritage. All these measures consider the preservation of the historical heritage. They are agreed on with the relevant authorities for landmark preservation.

World Heritage in the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin

The Music Department of the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin (Berlin State Library) has a large number of autograph manuscripts by important composers, such as Bach, Mozart, Haydn, and Beethoven. The original scores of Ludwig van Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony and Johann Sebastian Bach’s Mass in B minor stand out among them. In September 2001 and October 2015, they were added to UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register. By doing so, UNESCO recognized these scores as exceptional documents of the intellectual history of humankind.

On the occasion of the Ninth Symphony’s inclusion in the register, the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin digitized the complete score and presented this valuable document on its Beethoven Digital website , together with additional background information. A digital scan of Bach’s Mass in B minor is available separately on the Internet.

Also added to the Memory of the World Register in October 2015 were documents that bear witness to Martin Luther’s role as a pioneer of the Reformation. Two of these items – a rare printed poster of his 95 Theses on Indulgences and his personal copy of a Bible edition in Hebrew – are preserved in the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin.

The Wax Cylinder Collection with the Oldest Sound Documents in the World

An internationally unique collection of sound documents can be found in the Ethnologisches Museum (Ethnological Museum) of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin (National Museums in Berlin). The Department of Musikethnologie, Medientechnik und Berliner Phonogramm-Archiv (Ethnomusicology, Media Technology and Berlin Phonogram Archive) has sound recordings from all over the world. It includes the so-called Berliner Phonogramm-Archiv with its important collection of Edison wax cylinders. These wax cylinder recordings range in date from 1893 to 1954. They are among the oldest sound recordings in the world.

The circa 30,000 wax cylinders of the Berliner Phonogramm-Archiv were added to the UNESCO Memory of the World Register in 1999. These sound documents are examples of early recording technology that crucially influenced the establishment of ethnomusicology. At the same time, they are documents of several musical cultures that no longer exist. The collections of the Phonogramm-Archiv are continuously being transferred to digital media. Since 2003, the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin has been releasing the CD series Berliner Phonogramm-Archiv: Historische Klangdokumente / Historical Sound Documents.