One look at Ahrweiler is enough to see that the cultural heritage is threatened by the consequences of climate change. During the devastating flood disaster, cultural assets such as paintings, graphics, finds from Roman times, clay and wood objects were under water for days in the depot of the city museum. The Museum Association of Rhineland-Palatinate estimates that 30 percent of the holdings will not be able to be saved. The state’s minister of culture expects damage in the millions for the cultural property as a whole. If there is one thing that the museum association can be happy about, it is the willingness to help rescue the cultural assets damaged by water and mud. There is support from all over Germany for the recovery and restoration.
However, the cultural heritage cannot be saved in the future with solidarity alone. The extent of the risk is far too great for that. The recently published world climate report makes this clear in an unmistakable way. How to deal with heat, drought, heavy rain and hurricane-like storms? That is also what concerns Johanna Leissner from the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft. She coordinates the first German research project on the effects of future extreme climate events on cultural heritage, called KERES. Here, regional climate models and building simulations are used in order to be able to better assess potential hazards, priorities for the event of a disaster are created and emergency plans are developed. A knowledge platform is to be created on which early warnings can also be issued, and adaptation measures are developed together with a committee of experts. “We need a central point of contact where all information comes together. Pension plans have to be developed, ”says Leissner. It is the task of politics to ensure this. The subject is not new. When the Elbe floods in Dresden in 2002, the historic Zwinger, the depots in the Semperbau and the Albertinum were also under water for days. The State Art Collections Dresden (SKD) later put the amount of damage at 28 million euros. The Free State of Saxony and the state capital then took numerous measures for preventive protection and acute flood management. Flood-proof workshops and depots in the Albertinum were set up, emergency plans were drawn up and cultural and scientific institutions were merged to form the Dresden Emergency Association. The protection concept then worked as planned during the floods in 2013. The cultural institutions were able to give the all-clear just one day after the highest level, as can be read in the SKD’s annual report at the time.
During the current flood in Ahrweiler, the Karlsruhe emergency network was deployed. An amalgamation of archives, libraries and museums for the prevention and limitation of the damage caused by disasters to valuable cultural assets, as there are now several times in Germany. The importance of such aid communities is growing due to the effects of climate change. “We are well networked,” says Stefan Simon, head of the Rathgen research laboratory under the roof of the National Museums in Berlin – Prussian cultural heritage, which endeavors to research and preserve the national cultural heritage. “The problem is the lack of political will to actually implement the knowledge and recommendations of science.”
Heritage is not a luxury
The G20 culture ministers included concerns about the threat to cultural property from the effects of climate change in their declaration at their first meeting recently in Rome. Germany’s Minister of State for International Cultural Policy, Michelle Müntefering, presented a program that aims to better protect cultural assets in the event of a disaster using technical means and experts. Johanna Leissner hopes that “the future federal government will be serious about climate protection and cultural heritage protection and will launch appropriate programs – we need politicians who see cultural heritage not as a luxury, but as the memory of our country.” anchored and finally money made available for research. Leissner is also chair of an expert group on climate change and cultural heritage set up by the EU Commission. This is where a level of expertise and knowledge and recommendations for the member states are drawn up on a European level.
Cost surveys are also important, also with regard to protection standards and sustainability. “Museums, archives and libraries are among the largest energy consumers in urban areas,” says Stefan Simon. “The main reason for this is excessive air conditioning, which is traditionally based on what is technically possible, but not on what is necessary in terms of conservation.” It is high time to change course and to acknowledge that cultural heritage institutions are climate-neutral.
“What is our cultural heritage worth to us? What needs to be protected and what not? ”, Says Leissner. “We have to ask ourselves this question – the sooner the better.” And it should not only be discussed by politics and cultural institutions, but also by society as a whole.