Written by Laura Roman
During the Young Experts Forum, the participants had a wonderful opportunity to experience the scope and complexity of preservation of a World Heritage Site by engaging in a hands-on workshop of their choice. Four different workshops took place from June 20th to June 22nd and were organized by the NGO European Heritage Volunteers in cooperation with the site management of “Upper Middle Rhine Valley”, a cultural landscape inscribed on the World Heritage List in 2002.
Workshop A focused on the preservation of precious ecological areas and it took place in two locations close to the town of Oberwesel. The group divided into two smaller units; the first one worked in a former wine yard that had been abandoned for a long time and needed to be cleared of bushes and small trees. The second group traveled a bit further, to a slope two kilometers away from the town, situated directly above the Rhine valley. This area needed to be maintained by mowing grass to allow rare plants of this precious ecological area to grow.
I joined the sub-group going to the slope, and each day we would take a scenic 15 minute drive around the area to get to our workplace from the center of Oberwesel. Surrounded by good company, heavy tools, magical views and local experts who taught and mentored us, the working atmosphere was amazing. The passion with which the locals who had been engaged in preserving the site by tending to these precious ecological fields was astounding. They welcomed us wholeheartedly and even if some of them occasionally had troubles conversing in English, they managed to pass on their knowledge and enthusiasm to all of us. If there was a rare plant they had found or a story of the area they wanted to share, they would call us over and explain so we could understand the significance of the work we were doing.
Even though the workshop took place in late June, the weather did not follow the calendar and it was quite cold. Later on we realized this was better than working in the fields for hours in the summer heat. However, the last day of our workshop we came to the slope as heavy rain started pouring down on us. As we all hurdled under one tarp, we were told stories about the nature that surrounded us and were shown plants and learned about their properties and uses. But one of my favorite moments of this whole experience included coffee and cake. The second day of our work, the group from the wine yard had come to help us in the big field. We were called up to take a break and help ourselves to coffee and cake which we were rewarded with during the whole three day workshop period. We sat there, on the slope overlooking the magical Rhine Valley, covered in grass and sugar, proud of our work and contribution.
During this workshop experience, we’ve learned the technicalities – how to use the big mowing machines, which plants we need to take special care of in that area, the importance of this work for the ecosystem. But, more importantly, we’ve learned valuable lessons about the importance of volunteering, teamwork, and working towards a common goal. We’ve been shown the scope of activities that have to be undertaken in order to preserve a complex and big Heritage Site such as the Upper Middle Rhine Valley, and we’ve learned that any contribution, even as small as our own, is essential for the mission of saving our common heritage for future generations.