The beech forest - or buchenwalder - has served as a backdrop for German folktales and lore since the first Gothic tribes found shelter under the boughs of beech trees in ancient times. In particular, the tales of the Brothers Grimm have long enraptured young imaginations with their woodland settings, especially Snow White and Hansel and Gretel. The nation's beech forests have also been immortalised in paintings, notably by 19th-century painter Caspar David Friedrich, and in other art forms. For Germans, the beech forest is a place of childhood memories, of shadows, light and darkness and symbolism, and is home to deer, foxes, beavers, weasels and eagles. It is also the place to go mushroom picking, picnicking, hiking, to marvel at the miracle of autumn's arrival, and to contemplate the wonder of nature in general. It is no surprise that in recent years calls have grown for these woodlands to be designated as a Unesco World Natural Heritage site. The first official step was undertaken just over a year ago. And now awareness is being raised, at both federal and lander (state) levels, to give impetus to this process. The application procedure is complex and requires fastidious preparation to meet Unesco's high standards. To make its case and in accordance with Unesco procedure, the government is compiling a dossier that must be submitted to the world body by next February. This document, compiled in co-operation with the four lander involved, will set out all the measures designed to protect and safeguard these famous woodlands. In March, the government initiated a public awareness campaign aimed at informing the German public on how the Unesco designation - if secured - will affect individuals and families. The campaign also conveyed the anticipated benefits of the designation, and resulted in a high level of public participation in this process. Selected beech forests belonging to the five already protected areas are being proposed collectively for classification as a World Heritage site. These are located in Jasmund National Park and Muritz National Park (both in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania state), Grumsiner Forst (Brandenburg state), Hainich National Park (Thuringia state), and Kellerwald-Edersee National Park (Hesse state). Because of its maritime location, the Jasmund National Park on the northeast of Rugen Island, is in some respects, the most remarkable. The beech forests extend right up to white chalk cliffs that shear down 161 metres to the Baltic. These are the highest cliffs in the country and are known as the Konigsstuhl, literally meaning the 'king's chair'. And they also form the subject of one of Romantic-era painter Caspar David Friedrich's most celebrated landscapes, Kreidefelsen auf Rugen. Of more recent historical note, the reason that the relatively young Hainich National Park is so well preserved is that for the duration of the cold war it was actually a chunk of no-man's land stuck between West and East Germany. Only after the Berlin Wall came down did the local population realise what an area of outstanding natural beauty existed in the vicinity of what had been a segment of the Iron Curtain. Germany's woodlands application for Unesco status has an encouraging precedent. Last year, the primeval beech forests of the Carpathian mountain range, an area of undisturbed, temperate forests that straddles Slovakia and Ukraine, was awarded Unesco status, a decision that was well-received across Europe. The German cluster of Unesco-designated beech forests would complement the Carpathian Unesco woodlands, as they are two different kinds of forest within the same temperate deciduous forest zone. If this Unesco bid is successful, Germany's hauntingly beautiful beech forests will join 33 other Unesco sites in the country, but it will only be the second 'natural heritage site' (as distinct from 'cultural heritage site'). By means of comparison, China has seven natural sites and four 'mixed' sites. In time, Germany has hopes to add a third natural site to Unesco's slowly growing list, the Wadden Sea coast. Here another timeless landscape close to the German nature-lover's heart can be found. But all eyes are on the beech forests bid at present.