Intangible cultural heritage – what is that?

Intangible cultural heritage? At first glance, very few people can relate to this term. The term "intangible" means “something that we cannot easily touch or grasp”. It describes rather traditional knowledge and skills, that is, the “culture beyond things”.

Basically, intangible cultural heritage is defined very comprehensively and includes numerous cultural forms. They can be living traditions, such as social customs, rituals, and festivals, or performing arts, such as music, dance, and theater. The skills and expertise of traditional crafts are also considered to be intangible cultural heritages.

Traditional forms of expression, including language itself, can also be assigned to the term. If, for example, you speak dialect, you yourself are passing on intangible cultural assets.

The bearers and preservers of these intangible cultural forms are ultimately people who have acquired skills and knowledge and pass them on to future generations. Through the interaction of people with the environment, intangible cultural heritage is constantly being created and changed.

In 2003, UNESCO adopted a Convention on the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage. Germany joined the convention in 2013. Since then, 126 intangible cultural assets have been entered into the official nationwide register (as of July 2021).

These are not just cultural forms that can be found everywhere in Germany, but often also intangible cultural heritages that are characteristic of a particular region and can be found in this form only there.

Intangible cultural heritage – here by us!

Intangible cultural forms that are found throughout Germany are also cultivated in the TERRA.vita Nature and Geopark, such as carol singing, orchard cultivation, Kneipp culture, marksmanship, numerous old crafts, or simply playing the card game skat. These are just a few examples of a colorful mix of intangible cultural assets.
In addition, there are cultural forms found in the TERRA.vita region that occur only here. For example, have you heard of the custom of "Tunscheren" (the bringing of a wooden New Year’s decoration made of garden materials), traditional hobby horse riding, or the legend of the "Crouching Woman"?

They are all important traditions that are characteristic of our region and are therefore worthy of preservation.

If you would like to have the term "intangible cultural heritage" explained clearly again, you can watch this video by the German UNESCO Commission (video in German):



Why should intangible cultural heritages be protected?

Intangible cultural heritages strengthen social cohesion in that people come together, organize themselves, and share intangible cultural forms. These are an expression of human creativity and represent cultural diversity. They convey a sense of identity and continuity and are often representative at a regional level.

Basically, it is important to create awareness and appreciation for the values mentioned above. This attention should lead to lived traditions that are practiced by groups and communities in Germany today being preserved, continued, and dynamically developed.

Where can you find intangible cultural heritages in our region?

The TERRA.vita Nature and Geopark comprises a particularly high level of cultural diversity – this also applies to intangible cultural heritages. You don’t believe us? Then look at the numerous intangible cultural forms that characterize our region. The individual traditions are divided into four categories based on the official UNESCO guidelines:

• Old handcrafts
• Human and nature
• Music, (body-) language, and performing arts
• Traditional customs and festivals

Intangible cultural heritage encompasses so many things that it is practically impossible to guarantee a complete listing. In addition, many cultural forms are not official intangible cultural assets, but rather simply traditions that might be so classified according to UNESCO’s definition.

"Of course, intangible cultural heritage is always the knowledge in people's heads. For example, there is hardly anything written down about how machines work. You wouldn't have access to it if you didn't pass it on from generation to generation."

Kerstin Schumann (Tuchmacher (cloth maker) museum Bramsche)


How does something become an intangible cultural heritage?

In your opinion, do you embody an intangible cultural heritage; do you maintain a custom, an old handcraft, or another form of culture? Would you like your traditional knowledge and skill to be recognized so that it is not lost in the future?

Then apply to UNESCO for inclusion in the nationwide register of intangible cultural heritages.

All necessary information and forms can be found HERE.


Impressions of intangible cultural heritage in the Nature and Geopark TERRA.vita. Let yourself be inspired!












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