One rarely sees photos like this: showing antiquities guards who are not standing in front of a building because it is under threat of demolition, but standing in front of the state parliament because they want to block a new antiquities protection law. This just happened in Dusseldorf. “Antiquities fall rather than protect monuments” protest signs or “protect monuments” are read as false signs.
The latest attempt was – after months of appeal, a petition with more than 24,000 signatures and the “Düsseldorf Declaration” of the newly formed Antiquities Protection Alliance NRW, to which thirteen initiatives have joined, not to repeal the existing Antiquities Protection Act, but to discuss it for a postponement. in vain. In the last plenary session of the legislative period, the Dusseldorf State Parliament passed the new antiquities protection law introduced by Inna Scharenbach, Minister for Homeland, Municipal Affairs, Construction and Equal Opportunities (CDU) by a majority of one vote.
Changes in terminology are only minor, but the effects can be serious because they signify a fundamental shift in power: In the future, NRW’s independent monument protection experts will not be able to decide whether and how a building of historical value can be renovated, converted or demolished, but Municipal employees. They don’t even have to be scientifically trained. This suggests that buildings should be commercialized faster and more profitably. What it can often mean to be demolished: Post-war buildings can be particularly affected in times of high land prices.
Why did Scharenbach breach the “above the knee” law, as Green Party MP Johannes Rimmel said? not clear. In any case, the aim is to achieve “further action-oriented development of the North Rhine-Westphalian Monument Act” and thus meet “the requirements of the modern and future Monument Protection Act”. It should also take into account more “concerns of housing construction, the climate, the use of renewable energies and accessibility.”
“The best thing that can happen to a monument is use,” says one of the supporters of the new law, Fabianshire, a spokesman for construction policy for the CDU. But if you take a closer look at the law and talk to antiquities protection experts, you can guess who could benefit from the new law. To expect: the effects are not.
In fact, there was no need to change the 42-year-old antiquities protection law in North Rhine-Westphalia. This was the result of a prior evaluation. “In fact, everyone is satisfied with this process,” says Stephen Scudelny, head of the German Foundation for the Protection of Antiquities. So far, this has been the case: if a monument is to be renovated, converted or demolished, the owner contacts the Lower Monuments Protection Authority, which is based in the municipality. Then he gets this advice from one of the two state memorial offices. Because unlike the State Antiquities Office, where a team of experts works, things look different at the municipality level. “Seldom is anyone sitting out of the field,” Scudlini says. In small communities, the registry office administrator sometimes has to deal with the protection of the memorial.
According to the law, which takes effect on June 1, the municipal antiquities protection authority must only “listen” to the arguments of the antiquities authority rather than make the decision “in consultation”. In 2021, Milena Karabic, head of the cultural department of the Rhineland Regional Council, said what that means: “By weakening the experts, you weaken the protection of the monument.” Especially since the mayor can then decide at the municipal level whether a party friend’s listed building may be demolished.
Housing, climate and accessibility have always been taken into account
Whoever is looking for a quick profit will not find it in the monuments. Which does not mean that it will prevent modern use. “The memorial’s biggest enemy is prejudice,” says Scudney, who remains shocked by “a lot of bias and focused ignorance” among supporters of the new law. “I don’t know of a single example where residential use was impossible due to requirements to protect a monument,” he says.
The Naumannsiedlung in Cologne, recipient of the Cologne Prize for Architecture 2021, shows how well it has met the requirements of monument protection and the demands of today’s living standards. Residential properties from the 1920s have not only been extensively renovated but have been intensified – instead of 450 there are now 611 apartments – but the character of the neighborhood has been preserved.
Creating new living space in monuments, including industrial buildings or churches, says Skudelny, is nothing wrong with that, as long as as many traces of history are preserved as possible. This can greatly help in combating the housing shortage. But what doesn’t work is about protecting the monument: “investors who think they can only profit from the monument.” The principle of the luxury restorer wants to leave only the facade of the old buildings and market the property at high prices.
A medieval roof gear does not always carry a modern solar system
The fact that the innovation is intended to help the climate is not compelling. Not just because with 1.5 percent of NRW-listed buildings there are only a handful of buildings. But above all because energy-efficient renovation has long been on the monuments protection agenda. Many historic buildings can be upgraded so that they use less energy, for example with a new layer of mud plaster. Of course, medieval roof truss do not necessarily have a solar system. Sometimes the trend of the roof speaks against it. But this does not mean that old buildings are harmful to the climate. exactly the contrary. Their energy balance is usually better than that of new buildings if you include the energy used to construct and dispose of the building. “If you demolished and built new, it would take 125 years for the new building to pay for itself,” Scudney says.
Oddly enough, churches have a special place in the new Antiquities Protection Law. Perhaps for financial reasons too, because especially in North Rhine-Westphalia – the land of church builders like Gottfried Bohm, Rudolf Schwartz and Emil Stefan – churches suffer from declining membership numbers and incomes. It is not uncommon for there to be a desire to get rid of buildings and market grounds. Here comes the role of the new law.
Skudlini fears chaos in the transitional period because no one knows what will apply and who is responsible. The effect of the signal is also fatal. Because if the largest German federal state were to propose abolishing the well-technically backed antiquities protection, wrecking ball could be used repeatedly throughout Germany.