The curtain rises for: The old city as an experience


A review of the symposium of the “AG Historische Stadt- und Ortskerne” (working group focusing on historic city centers) in Detmold on 11th October 2018:

Almost 100 participants had travelled from all corners of North Rhine-Westphalia to Detmold to spend a day exploring the tourist potential of their historic cities. The program was varied and offered plenty of opportunities for lively discussions alongside the event.

The day started with three main speakers (of whom Martina Leicher from COMPASS was one): Andreas Reiter from “Zukunftsbüro” in Wienhob aimed primarily at the younger, online tourists and their “new” demands for “old” cities: Today more than ever, travelling means collecting experiences that can be shared throughout the world via social media. Cities must therefore above all be “experienceable”, the information about the offers must be available in real time on the move and it must also be possible to book them on the move. Smaller historic cities offer compact experience spaces that can serve the longing for the original and the real, but still have a lot to catch up in terms of staging and “instagramability”.

Building culture in Detmold © COMPASS GmbH

Martina Leicher’s lecture followed, which dealt more with the synergies of building culture and tourism and our two federal studies. From our investigations it can be deduced again and again that tourists are looking for the unique, atmospheric and typical. Building culture can therefore be the unique selling point that makes (historical) cities a travel destination – if they strengthen the unmistakable, present building culture as a “framework” or “backdrop” in a positive sense and harmonize tourist uses with the typical local and regional character. The people of Detmold themselves are the best proof that quality and the spirit of the place can also be integrated in contemporary building: in many places in the old town, old and new are combined successfully and increase the guests’ and locals’ quality of stay.

The third speaker of the day was Christian Antz from the FH Westküste, who emphasized the combination of cultural monuments (“hardware”) and events (“software”) as a special advantage for historical cities. He also sees the greatest opportunities for cultural tourism in the “revival” of cultural heritage. For him the locals are at least as important as the tourists.

Building culture in Detmold © COMPASS GmbH

In the afternoon experience reports were given. Benjamin Gottstein from “Tourismus-zukunft” brought an example from Bavaria, where citizens and families were recruited as influencers in order to communicate their region in an authentic and realistic way via social media channels. Janine Kauk from the administrative district called Elbe-Elster reported that analogue products can also be successful, as she wanted to activate the region from within with the “Luther Pass” (“…it’s banal: people collect stamps!”) and the memory game “Cultural treasure hunters”.

Tim Strakeljahn from “pro-t-in” and Christof Rose are committed to movement. As travel destination and reason for travel, movement is the focal point of the cycle route Historische Stadtkerne NRW (historic city centers in North Rhine-Westphalia) and of the new project SightRunning NRW, initiated by the State Chamber of Architects. Starting in spring 2019, those interested in running can complement their fitness paths with audio information on architecture and building culture in the participating cities via app and audio guide. Considering the summer theatre initiative of the “AG Städte mit historischen Stadtkernen Brandenburg”, Hans-Joachim Frank of dertheater 89 gGmbH told of unmistakable stage experiences, rediscoveries of old poets and choral songs with an audience: “Open-air theatres are a challenge for ensembles, but the audience in rural regions demands such offers”. At the end of the event, Harald Münzner presented the 2017 project ‘Kalkar leuchtet’ (‘Kalkar shines’) and motivated the audience not to let special experiences fail because of doubters and financial worries.

Building culture in Detmold © COMPASS GmbH

Author: Martina Leicher

I am Managing Director of COMPASS and studied Geography and Ethnology at the Universlty of Cologne and Urban Development at the University of Bonn. My consultancy focus lies in destination management and tourism marketing, as well as in research with concentration on tourism & peace and sustainibility. Contact:, tel. +49 (0)221 29062838

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