Herzog: You have to realize that, about 20,000 years ago, there was a cataclysmic event when an entire rock face collapsed and sealed off the cave. It's a completely preserved time capsule. You've got tracks of cave bears that look like they were left yesterday, and you've got the footprint of a boy who was probably eight years old next to the footprint of a wolf. Visitors can't step on anything, so you can only move around on a two foot wide metal walkway.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: It sounds like an almost overwhelming experience.
Herzog: It was always the same awe, an almost shocking experience. It's not only the paintings: You are in a place that has not been seen for tens of thousands of years, because it was so sealed off. There is such silence that when you hold your breath you can hear your own heartbeat. Everything is so fresh that you have the sensation that the painters have merely retreated deeper into the dark and that they are looking at you.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Some people might consider cave paintings to be primitive. How do you see the works?
Herzog: This is the birth of the modern human soul. The artists are like us, not like the Neanderthals, who had no culture -- and who incidentally were still roaming the landscape at the time the paintings were made. It is striking that there is a distant cultural echo that seems to reach all the way down to us, over dozens of millennia. In the Chauvet Cave, there is a painting of a bison embracing the lower part of a naked female body. Why does Pablo Picasso, who had no knowledge of the Chauvet Cave, use exactly the same motif in his series of drawings of the Minotaur and the woman? Very, very strange.