National Heritage: The German Law for the Protection of National Cultural Goods between individual and collective interests

National Heritage: The German Law for the Protection of National Cultural Goods between Individual and Collective Interests

Project leaders

Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. mult. Dieter Grimm
Prof. Dr. Charlotte Klonk

Research assistant

Nina K. Kummer
Theodor Schöllgen



During the discussion of the draft law protecting national cultural goods (KGSG), which was enacted in 2016, art collectors and gallerists protested vehemently against planned export restrictions for such goods. Their criticism was based on the assumption that the right to property means free disposition over one’s own possessions, whereas the law follows a different conception that attributes an ideal value to works of art legitimizing a collective interest even if the object is privately owned. It is this tension between individual and collective interests that gives the law its specific character. However, criteria for the classification of a piece of art as “nationally valuable” and therefore exempt from export have never been clearly formulated. As a consequence, the lists of works classified as “nationally valuable” during the Weimar Republic, the “Third Reich” and the Federal Republic show very different understandings of what constitutes a national treasure worthy of protection by the law. The centerpiece of the project is an analysis of the lists since 1955 – the year when an older regulation from 1919 was transformed into a statute – and an evaluation of the practical implementation of the statute. The goal is to understand the explicit and implicit criteria of the various expert commissions over time and, based on this knowledge, to produce a principled evaluation of the law as an example of public restrictions of private property. The interdisciplinary orientation of the project promises insights and recommendations for the implementation of the law that neither legal nor cultural studies alone would be able to produce.