German Library Fire Destroys Thousands of Rare Books

American Libraries, October 2004 | Go to article overview
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German Library Fire Destroys Thousands of Rare Books


Flames ripped through a historic library in Weimar, Germany, for two hours the night of September 2, destroying an estimated 30,000 volumes--many of them rare or unique works annotated and donated by such German writers as Goethe and Schiller. Thousands of other volumes suffered smoke and water damage as some 330 firefighters extinguished the blaze, which broke out in the top floor of the 16th-century palace that has housed the 120,000 volumes in the main building of the one-million-volume Duchess Anna Amalia Library since 1766.

Workers managed to save some 6,000 books--including a 1534 Martin Luther Bible and travel papers by naturalist and explorer Alexander von Humboldt--stored in the upper floor by passing them along hand to hand, according to the September 3 Thuringische Landeszeitung. They abandoned the attempt when the entire roof seemed poised to collapse.

A further 40,000 volumes were transported to the Center for Book Preservation in Leipzig for deep-freezing and eventual restoration. CBP Director Manfred Anders noted that the first volumes brought to the center were "only wet with slight fire damage," but by September 8, the center had received some 37.2 tons of severely burned or waterlogged books.

Among the major losses were the library's collection of original musical scores by the Duchess Anna Amalia, who established the library and helped make Weimar one of 18th-century Europe's intellectual centers. At least 33 rococo-era paintings were also destroyed in the blaze, including a portrait of the duchess painted by Johann Friedrich Lorber. A death mask of the German poet Friedrich Schiller was another casualty.

Officials have ruled out arson as the cause and strongly suspect faulty electrical equipment dating back to the communist era, the September 8 Thuringer Allegemeine reported.

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