In 1919, for the first time, over 900 objects are registered as works of art of national importance in a register and the following year they arere subject to an export restriction. Almost 100 years later, a new version of the German Act on the Protection of Cultural Property takes its place.

What is considered cultural property in Germany?

According to the German Act on the Protection of Cultural Property of 2016, all movable objects that have an artistic, historical or archaeological value are considered cultural property. In addition, objects of paleontological, ethnographic, numismatic or scientific value count as part of the cultural heritage, and therefore as cultural property. Archaeological cultural property are objects made or worked on by humans, which give an insight into the human life of earlier times. Such archaeological finds must be at least 100 years old to be considered cultural property. This also applies to components of architectural and religious monuments, as well as books. Pictures and paintings, mosaics, photographs, manuscripts and maps are subject to an age limit of at least 50 years, any means of transportation must be at least 75 years old. National cultural property is cultural property that is registered in a register of nationally valuable cultural property, is in public ownership and in an institution that preserves cultural property or is part of an art collection of the federal or state governments.

What are the export regulations?

According to the German Act on the Protection of Cultural Property of 2016, the export of cultural property is prohibited in various cases: if a procedure for registration as nationally valuable cultural property has been initiated for the object and has not yet been decided on; if there is no export license; if the cultural property was unlawfully imported into Germany, or if it was secured on suspicion of unlawful import or export. In addition, exports are prohibited if they violate European Union regulations.

What sanctions are there?

Fines or imprisonment of up to five years are levied for both the illegal export and import of as well as for illegally trading in cultural property.

Chronology of cultural property protection laws

  • 1919
    Imperial Decree on the Export of Works of Art
    Opening of the register of nationally valuable works of art to restrict exports
  • 1920
    Imperial Decree on the Protection of Monuments and Works of Art
    Restrictions on the export of cultural property not included in the register of cultural property
  • 1955
    The Law on the Protection of German Cultural Property against Relocation Abroad
    Requirements for the authorization to export nationally valuable objects
  • 1967
    The Hague Convention of 1954
    Protection of the cultural property of countries in the event of armed conflicts
  • 1998
    Implementation of EU Directive 93/7/EEC
    Regulation on the return of cultural objects unlawfully removed from the territory of a Member State; amendment of the Law on the Protection of German Cultural Property against Relocation Abroad
  • 2003
    EU Regulation (EC) No 1210/2003 – Iraq
    Prohibition of imports, exports and trade in certain Iraqi cultural goods in the European Economic Area
  • 2007
    Ratification of the UNESCO 1970 Convention
    Means of prohibiting and preventing the illicit import, export and transfer of ownership of cultural property
  • 2007
    Law Implementing the UNESCO Convention of November 14, 1970, on Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property.
    This law transposes the UNESCO Convention into German jurisdiction
  • 2009
    Hague Convention, Second Protocol of 1999
    Clarification and extension of the 1954 Hague Convention
  • 2013
    Council Regulation (EU) No 1332/2013 (extract)
    Amendment to Council Regulation (EU) No 36/2012 – EU-uniform rules for a ban on imports, exports and trade in cultural property from Syria
  • 2016
    Amended Version of German Act on the Protection of Cultural Property
    The German Act on the Protection of Cultural Property combines the protection of cultural property in Germany and the protection of foreign cultural property. The four pillars are: Import and export regulations, return regulations, due diligence when placing on the market, and criminal sanctions