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Techno DJs in Berlin launch UNESCO World Heritage bid

Techno DJs in Berlin launch UNESCO World Heritage bid

Berlin’s techno music scene could soon obtain protected UNESCO heritage status, as the defining music of the German reunification era. 

UNESCO status could protect techno "spirit", say Berlin’s creatives

While techno was created in Detroit in the 1980s, the genre gained a status in Berlin as a countercultural reunification symbol. When the Berlin Wall fell, the genre was adopted to match the energy of the newly united city, and party-goers overtook abandoned bunkers, factories and even power plants to celebrate the reunification. 

The creators of the Love Parade festival, alongside other prominent Berlin DJs, have said that UNESCO heritage status could help preserve the spirit of techno as the soundtrack to reunification in Berlin. Creatives in the city are concerned that, without protection, gentrification in the Berlin nightlife sector could put an end to “real” techno. 

Alan Oldham, the Detroit DJ who was part of the Underground Resistance collective, said that the COVID-19 pandemic in Germany has threatened the future for Berlin’s creativity. “UNESCO protection would go a long way towards maintaining that old spirit,” he told the British newspaper The Observer.

DJs are lobbying the German government

Berlin’s DJs are attempting to gain UNESCO status by lobbying the German government to support a bid to the organisation. Since the DJs cannot apply directly, they are asking the government to apply for UNESCO’s intangible cultural heritage (ICH) status to protect Berlin’s techno. 

It is uncertain whether UNESCO would afford techno in Berlin such a status, however. ICH status is normally reserved for unique and obscure cultural activities, something which Berlin’s DJs would have to make a strong case for. Examples of activities that have been granted ICH status include Swiss and Austrian avalanche management, India’s Kumbh Mela festival, and Chinese calligraphy. 

Despite this, Peter Kirn, a DJ and music producer based in Berlin, makes a good case for the protective status to be awarded to Berlin. Stressing the uniqueness of Berlin’s situation, he said, “You literally can hear this music thumping from all corners. It’s really just everywhere… In other cities, people wouldn’t accept music that’s really hard or weird and full of synthesisers and really brutal, distorted drum machines. You can’t play that at peak hour in a club, let alone over lunch. And here it’s totally acceptable to play that over lunch.”

Emily Proctor

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Emily Proctor

Emily studied International Relations and Chinese, and is now undertaking Master's degree in International Security. She enjoys writing, cooking, and playing piano.

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