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[BKARTS] Two months after the Anna Amalia library fire

Two months after the Anna Amalia library fire
Painstaking restoration work is beginning to bear fruit

Franz Josef Görtz
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 

This is the graveyard,? said Manfred Anders, manager of the Center for Book
Preservation in Leipzig. Then he pushed the heavy steel door to the cold
storage chamber wide enough to show a vision of chaos lurking within: gauze
bandages, cloth compresses, hundreds of sooty book covers and charred inner
books stacked alongside each other on several floors. These were parts of
the stock of books from the Duchess Anna Amalia Library in Weimar that had
suffered fire and water damage the night of Sept. 2, 2004. 
Rolf Gerewitz, one of the master bookbinders at the center in Leipzig, had
followed the news of the library fire on television. Then, early the next
morning, he heard on the radio that the first volumes salvaged from the
flames had already been wrapped in cling film and packed into boxes during
the night. ?They are coming to us,? he surmised - and set off for the
office. ?The sight was really agonizing,? said Gerewitz. ?The tomes in their
shriveled parchment covers looked like burnt joints of pork - and of course
they stank to high heaven. The fire was bad enough, but it was the water
that was the last straw for the books in the lower stories.?
Water had poured down from the walls and ceilings of the uppermost
balustrade onto the shelves on the two floors underneath, combining
gradually with plaster and stucco into a milky sludge that was also laced
with the chemicals used repeatedly to treat rafters, floors and wood
paneling in the previous years. When the fire was extinguished, the sludge
comprising foam, rubble, burnt beams and soot-black book fragments was one
meter high on the floor of the second gallery.
Around 50,000 books, most of them from the 17th and 18th centuries, along
with 35 paintings and the Duchess Anna Amalia's sheet music collection were
destroyed by the flames. Some 62,000 volumes that were damaged by fire and
extinguishing water, each wrapped individually in cling film, were
transported to Leipzig for ?first aid? - more than 40 metric tons of
librarian-style emergency cases. ?It was a race against time,? said Michael
Knoche, director of the Duchess Anna Amalia Library. ?For when books are as
wet as these, mold often grows after only 24 hours.? 
Before being placed cover to cover alongside each other into the cold
storage chamber to be freeze-dried, the approximately 34,000 soaked books
were encased, sometimes even crosswise, in a firm twill or gauze bandage in
order that neither the book nor its binding loses its shape and the pages
can be opened up individually again after drying. Small octavo volumes are
dry again after three or four hours, but full-sized bibles, in which the
paper has absorbed a lot of water, need days, if not weeks, to dry out.
Only one month after the fire, the first 2,000 books have already returned
to Weimar. ?Minor damage,? as the librarians diagnose on the first
appearance. However, since the fire-damaged volumes have been returned, the
new basement stockroom has taken on the smell of a smokehouse, they say to
each other, shrugging their shoulders instead of making any comment, for the
stench is nonetheless probably one of the lesser evils.
In the course of the next year, all the volumes that were affected by fire
and water damage are to return to Weimar. The cost for restoring a single
volume can run up to EUR2,500. For restoring the entire collection, a sum of
EUR20 million had been calculated.
Nov. 5

© Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 2004


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