March 8, 2009

Disasterous collapse of Archive in Cologne


The Cologne Municiple Archive after it's collapse on Tuesday.

The Cologne Municiple Archive after it's collapse on Tuesday.

Deutsche Welle reported yesterday that the first body had been found in the rubble after the collapse of Cologne’s Municiple Archive. One other person is still feared missing.

The Archive collapsed last Tuesday, March 3rd, destroying “one of Europe’s largest and most important historical collections” containing “scores of original manuscripts, some dating back to the 10th century. It also held works by great authors and musicians like Heinrich Boll and Jacques Offenbach.”

According to a Guardian report, the heirs of Heinrich Boll — Nobel laureate and Germany’s most popular post-WWII writer — and the city of Cologne had been hammering out an agreement for his papers over the course of a decade and had just recently reached an agreement. “Three weeks ago, city officials held a special ceremony to mark the historic handover: for €800,000 (£712,000), the Cologne archives took possession of hundreds of boxes containing items ranging from Böll’s school reports to scripts of his radio plays, novels and essays.” All of which are now believed to be destroyed. “Lost, too, were photographs and 80,000 letters — including 2,400 written to his wife Annemarie.”

The loss is immeasurable, and has many Boll scholars in shock. Helge Malchow, the head of Kiepenheuer und Witsch, the publisher of Boll’s works told CBC News, “If these materials, manuscripts and other original documents really are lost, it will create a hole that will probably never be able to be filled. We and the Boll researchers are feeling numb.”

The cause for the Archive’s collapse is believed to have been tunneling work that was going on nearby for a new underground train line. Astonishingly, not more people were hurt. Deutsche Welle reported that, “Staff members and archive visitors were able to flee within minutes after the walls of the building began to groan and buckle just before 2:00 pm CET on Tuesday. A total of three buildings then fell into the hole that opened up in the ground.”

CBC News spoke with Johannes Fried, a medieval scholar from Frankfurt who said that “the building’s destruction was a “catastrophe for all European historians.”

Valerie Merians is the co-founder and co-publisher of Melville House.