Art of Coding

April 21st 2020

Demoscene nominated as intangible UNESCO cultural heritage in Germany

Art of Coding

The Cologne-based association Digitale Kultur e.V. has made it. For the first time, the demoscene in NRW is a digital cultural form that has been nominated for the UNESCO lists of intangible world cultural heritage in Germany. Further hurdles still have to be overcome, the final confirmation at the federal level is due at the beginning of 2021.

As the Ministry of Culture and Science in North Rhine-Westphalia announced at the end of last week , the demoscene was nominated for inclusion in the national German UNESCO cultural heritage register. Together with three other cultures, the jury selected the demoscene as worthy of recognition from a total of 18 applications.

After the landmark decision in Finland last week, in which the demoscene was recognized as a Finnish national UNESCO cultural heritage, the decision in Germany is another success for the Art of Coding campaign, under whose umbrella similar applications are currently being prepared in other countries.

What is the demoscene?

Since the beginning of the home computer era in the early 1980s, the demoscene has been a playground for border crossers and creative explorers of the digital revolution. It is especially dedicated to the production of software-generated music videos, which are completely generated in real time by self-created programs. Beginning in the 80s, with so-called intro-videos before cracked games, the art and culture of the scene has constantly evolved, and since the 90s it has been living out its skills in independent audiovisual real-time animations to bend the rules of hardware and software. On one hand, the demoscene is a global phenomenon and has influenced many other digital contexts, on the other hand, there has always a been a strong element of a regular physical culture at the scene’s meetings. For decades the demoparties function as regular gatherings and have formed a place for exchange, living out and further development of one’s own culture.

Historical decision as a belated Easter present

Especially after Revision – world’s largest gathering of demosceners, traditionally taking place over Easter – had to be moved to the internet as no physical demoscene-party was allowed, the nomination of the demoscene for the nationwide list is a great belated Easter present.

The fact that the German jury experts were aware of the historical significance of their decision is suggested by the notification of nomination: “As the ‘demoscene’ in North Rhine-Westphalia is the first cultural form from the field of digital culture to be proposed for inclusion in the nationwide directory, the state jury for the Intangible Cultural Heritage in North Rhine-Westphalia discussed the application intensively.”

Digital cultural heritage

Tobias Kopka, from the Cologne-based applicant Digitale Kultur e.V., responsible for the application in Germany and the community work of the overarching Art of Coding initiative, is enthusiastic: “The demoscene is the first time a digital culture has been nominated for the nationwide list of intangible UNESCO cultural heritage. For decades, the demoscene has been a technical-creative cultural community that transcends all borders – and sees itself as transnational in the best sense of the word. And the application not only drives the discussion about the demoscene, but also in a broader sense about contemporary inclusion of all digital cultural forms into the canon of cultural preservation and promotion.

Andreas Lange from EFGAMP e.V., who is responsible for the coordination of the international applications at Art of Coding, is particularly pleased with the jury’s understanding in their notification that ‘in addition to technical excellence, a strongly internationally oriented sense of community is one of the scene’s identification factors’. “Because the demoscene has been international as a digital culture from the very beginning, any national recognition is an important milestone, as it increases the chances of having the demoscene recognized internationally. Since the demoscene has developed substantially in Europe, this is also an opportunity to name a decidedly European cultural practice which, as digital, is inseparably linked to current and future cultural and social conditions.”

Community spirit and collective effort

Tobias Kopka: “The point is to make it clear that digital culture can function in a decentralized, self-organized, anonymous and competitive way – and still create a strong sense of belonging and a community with special knowledge, stories and traditions. After 30 years that could be called digital customs, but at the same time it is still constantly evolving. Many of the classical definitions of culture reach their limits here. And this community experience is not only expressed in the support of many demogroups, demoparties and individuals of the scene – the positive feedback we receive fortunately goes far beyond that of the demoscene. This is great and we are happy about every support, because the initiative is just starting!”

It will remain tense at least until the beginning of 2021, as two further hurdles still have to be overcome – confirmation by the Conference of Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs and examination by an independent commission of experts at federal level. And if all this has worked out, then the start of a transnational application is on the agenda, which all countries that have included the demoscene in their national cultural heritage can then join.

The initiators Kopka and Lange are optimistic: “The time is ripe for the demoscene, to become inculded in the living UNESCO cultural heritage register in Germany as first digital cultural practice”.


Press release (German) by Ministry for Culture and Science in North Rhine-Westphalia
Art of Coding: Digital culture as part of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity