Ice Age Art, Bauhaus Buildings Highlight German UNESCO Hopes

Two sites with cultural treasures separated by more than 40,000 years — caves with art dating to the Ice Age and buildings designed by a Bauhaus master less than 100 years ago — highlight Germany’s submissions for the prestigious World Heritage Site designation by the U.N.’s cultural agency, UNESCO.

The six caves are in the western state of Baden-Wuerttemberg, where archeologists have discovered flutes made from mammoth ivory along with other ancient instruments and carvings. The Bauhaus buildings in northeastern Germany were designed by the school’s second director, Hannes Meyer.

A World Heritage designation brings sites some protection from development, pollution, and other threats. It can also raise a region’s profile and draw more visitors.

UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee is meeting in Poland in early July. This year’s nominations for World Heritage sites include seven natural sites, one both natural and cultural and 27 cultural sites. Other cultural sites being considered include the Valongo Wharf in Rio, the Sambor Prei Kuk archaeological sites in Cambodia, the Kujataa subarctic farming landscape in Greenland, and the landscapes of Dauria in Mongolia.

The caves in Baden-Wuerttemberg in the valleys of the Ach and Lone rivers have been excavated since the 19th century and have yielded hundreds of personal ornaments, at least eight musical instruments and more than 40 small figurines carved from mammoth ivory.


Archaeology professor Nicholas Conard, whose team discovered a 40,000-year-old mammoth ivory figure known as the Venus of Hohle Fels after the cave in which it was found, said the site fulfills the outstanding universal cultural value that UNESCO is looking for.

“They have produced the most abundant, richest and oldest record of early art works and also musical instruments, along with a whole range of other innovations, that are part of the cultural development at the time when modern humans spread across Europe and the Neanderthals went extinct,” said the University of Tuebingen professor.

Stefanie Koelbl, the executive director of the area’s Museum of Prehistory in Blaubeuren, said the Venus of Hohle Fels is the oldest known image of a human.

“This figure has a very special charisma also carved from ivory — she has this typical pattern for artworks from the younger Paleolithic Age here in southern Germany, these notch lines and cross lines,” Koelbl said. “She has no head but a loop to carry her and probably was carried as an amulet. It belonged to one special person.”

Other finds in the caves include a 20-centimeter  (8-inch) phallus carved from siltstone, believed to be 32,000 years old, a water bird figure, unique in early Ice Age art, that is about 40,000 years old and a broken figure of a half man-half lion carved from mammoth ivory.


“This was an exceptional area,” Conard said.” Each year we find new examples of Paleolithic artworks that can be up to 40,000 years old or even a little bit older. And they are typically beautifully formed objects cut with stone tools and made from mammoth ivory.”

Fast forward from the Baden-Wuerttemberg caves to the 20th century, when the Bauhaus school of architecture revolutionized design and aesthetic concepts between 1919 and 1933. Some Bauhaus buildings were already inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1996.


Under consideration this year are buildings designed by Meyer known as Laubenganghaeuser — literally “housing with balcony access” — in the housing estate in Dessau, southwest of Berlin, as well as a trade union school he designed in Bernau, north of Berlin.


The yellow-brick school, built for the ADGB union in 1930, was designed by Meyer and colleague Hans Wittwer and is “today still a paragon of functional architectural design, which is freely and thoughtfully integrated into its natural surroundings,” according to the foundation that looks after it.


The five Laubenganghaeuser buildings, first occupied in 1930, have 90 apartments arranged in rows on three levels, each only 48 square meters (517 square feet), reflecting Meyer’s focus on making Bauhaus designs affordable yet still comfortable and with the same aesthetic, said Monika Markgraf of the Bauhaus Dessau Foundation.

“They are very small, precisely laid-out apartments,” she said. “They are oriented so the living rooms facing south will get a lot of sunlight, and the side rooms like the kitchen, hallway and bathroom are to the north, so it’s very functional.”

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