Sunday, March 8, 2009

More on the Historical Archive of the City of Cologne

The news from Cologne is, in many respects, profoundly disheartening. Earlier today, recovery personnel found the body of one of the young men who had been missing after the Historical Archive of the City of Cologne collapsed on March 3, and the authorities believe that the other missing man is also dead.

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.

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.
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.

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.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thank you. The group is open to all. I invite you to participate.

Felipe Díez

Frank Sobiech said...

Michael Lohaus (City of Cologne), who is among the representatives responsible for the coordination of the many offers of help told me to convey his best greetings from Cologne to L´Archivista. At the time all forces are combined with respect to the task of clearing the debris and of saving the papers and documents. This task will still last weeks and months. The City of Cologne will come back to all offers of help later. Here is his address:

Stadt Köln - Der Oberbürgermeister
Dezernat für Kunst und Kultur
Richartzstraße 2 - 4
D - 50667 Köln
tel.: 0221-221-23419
fax: 0221-221-24141
e-mail:
Michael.Lohaus@stadt-koeln.de
Website: www.stadt-koeln.de