The archival losses are also staggering:
The archive's collection of original documents included thousands from Cologne's golden age. The founding charter of the University of Cologne, signed in 1388, was inside, along with the documents that established Cologne as a free imperial city under Emperor Friedrich III in 1475. Two of the four manuscripts in the hand of Albertus Magnus, considered the greatest German theologian of the Middle Ages, were kept in the archive's rare books collection.The German archival community is working feverishly to salvage as much of this priceless material as possible, and my thoughts and prayers are with them. Archivists working at the site have already recovered some documents. The weather is not cooperating and the site itself is dangerous, but they press on nonetheless. Other archivists and conservators are in the beginning stages of organizing a mammoth recovery effort and collecting researchers' scanned images or digital photographs of materials held by the Historical Archive.
For historians trying to reconstruct the past, the greatest loss may be the more quotidian papers: Tens of thousands of receipts issued by the city government between 1350 and 1450, for example, or the 358 volumes of decisions and minutes of the Cologne City Council dating back 700 years.
The archives also contained the personal papers of almost 800 prominent German authors, politicians and composers, including Konrad Adenauer, the first post-war chancellor of Germany. The manuscripts and letters of Nobel Prize winner Heinrich Böll and Jacques Offenbach, a 19th century cellist and opera composer, were stored at the archive. Weimar Republic politician Wilhelm Marx and German-Jewish composer Ferdinand Hiller were among the other notables whose collections have been buried under tons of concrete.
American archivists concerned about the fate of the Historical Archives owe a special debt of gratitude to Klaus Graf, who has tirelessly compiled and shared news about the disaster and the recovery effort. Many of us in the United States first learned about the catastrophe in Cologne from his March 3 messages to the Archives & Archivists listserv, and his Archivalia posts have been a crucial source of information for archivists around the world. Dr. Graf is also the administrator of a new Facebook group, Solidarity Köln Historisches Archiv, to publicize developments in Cologne, direct prospective volunteers to the organizations coordinating various aspects of the response, and highlight organizations that are accepting financial contributions for the victims' families and for the recovery effort; thanks also to Felipe Diez for starting this group.