The building housing the Historic Archive of the City of Cologne (Historisches Archiv der Stadt Köln) is now a pile of rubble. Fortunately, staffers, researchers, and onsite construction workers inside the building were alarmed by strange noises and left immediately before the structure collapsed earlier today. However, at the time of this writing, three people who were in buildings adjacent to the archives are still missing.
At present, the cause of the building's collapse is unknown. A new subway line is being built under the street in front of the facility, but the section of the tunnel adjacent to the building is apparently complete. The building may also have had structural problems.
Until today, the repository in Cologne was the largest municipal archives in Germany. It held 500,000 photographs and 65,000 documents dating back to 922, including manuscripts by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels and materials relating to 20th-century writer Heinrich Böll. Government officials have promised to help salvage the archives' records, but street-level and aerial photographs of the building's remains suggest that many of the records are beyond recovery.
My heart goes out to the families and friends of the missing people, and I hope that all of them were able to escape before the building collapsed or are rescued as quickly as possible. My heart also goes out to the staff of the archives; the loss of records under one's care is incredibly painful. Finally, my heart goes out to the people of Cologne, who have lost a substantial portion of their recorded history.
I suspect that I'm not alone in wanting to send a message of support to my colleagues in Cologne, but at present I'm not sure how to do so. The Historical Archives of the City of Cologne has a "friends" organization, but its very small site lacks an e-mail contact; it does have a PDF copy of a flier about the organization, but the mailing address on the flier is that of the archives itself. I also checked the the Web site of the Federation of German Archivists (Verband deutscher Archivarinnen und Archivare e.V.), but at present it doesn't have any information relating to the collapse. I'll keep looking, and if I find an appropriate point of contact I'll be sure to post an update. And if anyone out there in cyberspace finds a suitable contact, please let me know.