I attended “Europe’s Leading Trade Fair for Conservation Restoration and Old Building Renovation” i.e. the Denkmal fair in Leipzig, Germany in November 2016 for the first time. This fair, which has taken place every two years in Leipzig since its creation in 1994, is the most important meeting point for experts of heritage preservation in Europe. Naturally, I liked it.
Entering the Denkmal fair of Leipzig is a unique experience. A mixture of sounds, voices and movements guide you through the enormous hall. The gestures of a mason building a brick wall catches your eye here and a company demonstrating how to operate their new water repellent product there. In the one corner a solo organ concert fills the air as an advertisement for an organ-restoration company. Further away, the music stops, and another rhythm plays: the clapping of a hammer against stone. In front of you, artisans are reconstructing a slate roof. Like every carpenter in Germany, they are easily recognisable with their specific outfits: a hat, white shirt, black short jacket and velour black pants. The different stands at the fair are like time machines, allowing you to travel between the traditions and techniques of old times and the cutting-edge technologies of today.
The preservation of old buildings and heritage concern, de facto, a wide range of crafts and skills: textile is mixed with stone and brick, bronze and wood with concrete and plastic. Just as the materials, people of all types mix. Financial experts stand alongside masons who stand alongside political experts who stand alongside craftsmen. As mentioned, Denkmal is the major crossing point for all European specialists such as artisans, restorers, architects, curators, historians and archaeologists coming from associations, committees, universities and schools, as well as everyone else with an interest in historic monuments. On every level, the ultimate goal is to preserve heritage and with this in mind, professional programmes cover a large variety of subjects and issues. The conferences, congresses, seminars, workshops and information centres held at the Denkmal fair cover the technical and scientific aspects of restoration as well as the current political issues of endangered heritage sites.
In Europe, Denkmal is the only fair where these subjects are discussed thoroughly and in so much depth. Hence participants, visitors, and exhibitors come from all corners of the world to attend it. Walking along the numerous stands, different voices, accents, and languages can be heard. “Sprechen Sie Deutsch? English? Español?” A large number of nationalities are represented: Russian, Slovakian, Chinese, Japanese, Iraqi, Syrian… both in terms of visitors and exhibitors. It is the perfect venue to see and to be seen, a strategic tool to meet and network, as well as a laboratory for new projects and partnerships. National committees, international networks or local associations – all promote good practices and innovation and ask the same questions: how to restore works of art, how to be more efficient in preservation, how to narrate stories about it?
The Denkmal fair is the kind of place where people can discuss issues like how to vitrify a stone for hours, which admittedly might not be everyone’s idea of an exciting time, but I had no other choice than to like the most important European fair for the maintenance, restoration, and renovation of old buildings. Its participants perpetuate techniques and create new ones, and through their passion and astonishing skills, they bring heritage to life.