The Naumburg Cathedral vs. the Yellow Phone Booth.

The Naumburg Cathedral vs. the Yellow Phone Booth.

This article is written by Isabela Boharu and Jesper de Raad

The central question of this article is ‘What do we define as heritage’. In some cases heritage is quite clear but in many others there is room for doubt. In this article we present you the case of the Naumburg Cathedral and the Yellow Phone booth.

The Naumburg Cathedral and Yellow Phone Booth. What is heritage?

The Naumburg Cathedral (see figure) is according to the Saale-Unstrut ‘one of the most important sacred cultural monuments from the European High Middle Ages’. It is an enormous building and a big tourist attraction. Tourists from all over Europe and further, come to visit this fairytale Cathedral and to reflect and wonder on the history and the changes it brought with it. To be short, it is a masterpiece and a must see everyone should discover for the area, and we could not agree more.

Figure 1. The Naumburg Cathedral. Boharu, I. (2018).

However, when walking by there is a small yellow phone booth, from the second half of the 20th century, owned by the German post office. A relict left in time and a small piece of junk. A few windows torn-out, a wanted poster of a missing cat and of course all the electrical work which has been removed. But it draws attention and the phone booth survived a few pretty rough ages. It is unsure how long the phone booth has been deserted but for the looks of at least a few years, but probably longer. People do not seem to notice it. Locals walk by and tourist gather around the front gate of the Cathedral instead and do not seem to notice anything else surrounding them.

Figure 2. The small square. Boharu, I. (2018).

And so we wonder, when does something becomes part of heritage? Or when do we start considering as something becoming part of heritage?

Defining Heritage

Defining heritage is a difficult task. Because heritage can be anything we put social cultural value on. Nonetheless, your personal connection or personal value does not make something heritage, right? Also, social value is not one thing on its own. In the Heritage Reader, Randall Mason describer five values (Mason 2010, 100-120). In addition, two important subtypes for historical value are educational/academic value and artistic value.

1. Historial value
– Educational
– Artistic
2. Cultural/Simbolic value
3. Social value
4. Spiritual value
5. Aesthetic value

Of course, there are other ways to classify values but for this article we take this general accepted and taught book at universities as our guideline to explore if the Naumburg Cathedral and Yellow Phone Booth classify as heritage

In order to classify the Naumburg Cathedral and Yellow Phone Booth we put each subject to the five categories grading them with 0. Not existing, 1. Low, 2 Middle, and 3. High.

Classifying the Naumburg Cathedral

The Naumburg Cathedral has a very high historical value. There is no need for a debate on the importance and significance of the historical value the Naumburg Cathedral withholds, we give it a high rating (3). The Cultural/Symbolic value can also be rated as high (3). However, the social value nowadays, in balance to its potential we find low. As authors we agreed on the fact that the church was made to serve the people as a way to communicate to the inhabitants of the region and bring them together to form a community. But now it has lost its public function in the favor of becoming a touristic spot. Now, as a visitor you have to pay for the entrance and as an outcome you listen and receive information. Therefore, we think that the cathedral should in every case be open for at least the local citizens. Also, the cathedral should serve as more than a place to look, as it is in the current state as a museum, but also to interact, connect and most important communicate with others. This is not the case; and for this loss of potential we give it a low grade (1). The spiritual value is also not up to our expectations, as a paid museum it serves the cultural capitalistic world and not in its spiritual purpose. Taken into consideration that there might be some incidental services we give it a low grade (1). The aesthetic value is very personal, but we took the as granted that it would get a high rating; ‘I mean just see its beauty’ (3). Overall we assign 11 ‘value’ points to the Naumburg Cathedral.

Classifying the Yellow Phone Booth

The Yellow Phone Booth, has in our eyes a high historical value (3). If you take a step back and think of the technological progress in the last fifty years the phone booth was a milestone for our past. It got used every day by people who needed to call home or didn’t have a cell phone, yes indeed not a smartphone but a cell phone! We think it must be taken into account that the importance of this phone booth will get more visible in the future and we should become aware of that and give it a proper respect to that. Also, for educational purposes it is a critical key which led towards digital communication and which must not be overlooked. The cultural/symbolic value of the phone booth is as explained above getting bigger in the future. Now, it is seen as a relict but with a rightful story it can change to a potential symbol of the processes of communication and possible even be linked to the communication purpose of Cathedral. We would rate the cultural/symbolic value as middle (2), with a potential to high. The social value of the phone booth nowadays is non existing (0), the phone booth is out of order and is completely neglected (see figure). It smells and looks odd and the terrace on the park is inactive. The spiritual value is also none existing (0). The aesthetic value is very personal, we in this case invite you to look at our final figure (see figure) and rate it yourself. In total we assign 5 ‘value’ points to the yellow phone booth, but we ask you to rate its aesthetic value from 0 to max 3 points.

Figure 3. The Yellow Phone Booth. Boharu, I. (2018).

Classified the case study

We hope, we gave you an insight into the struggle in defining heritage. What is heritage is sometimes difficult to point out and if you look into it deeper it does not necessarily make it clearer. In the case of the Naumburg Cathedral we, even with the rates we wouldn’t commit out of strictness, can agree that it is a clear case of heritage. In the case of the Yellow Phone Booth we hope, we have opened your perspective and way of looking through heritage potential not only as something big and beautiful, but also as something small and yellow.

Figure 4. The Naumburg Cathedral vs. The Yellow Phone Booth. Boharu, I. (2018).


We do not think the yellow phone booth is going to survive the punishment of time as the landscape is continuously changing around as for the Cathedral it will always be the spotlight.

Instead, we would like to challenge ourselves for a little bit and create a new version of the story, having two icons in the spotlight instead of one. And by that we mean giving a chance to the yellow phone booth for a repurpose. Should this little yellow box be an icon of the communication progress humankind has achieved over the last century? And is such an intact phone booth a remnant of contemporary past?

We would like to leave this story open and invite each of you to come with an ending, because in the end heritage is what we choose to keep!