[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]
[BKARTS] Devastation, Now Salvage, Page by Page (NY Times report about the aftermath of the Anna Amalia Library fire)
Devastation, Now Salvage, Page by Page
By ANDREAS TZORTZIS
lEIPZIG, Germany - Bent over books once held by Goethe and Schiller, workers
in white lab coats brush away ash and creeping mold, doing their best to
salvage the centuries-old victims of a recent fire that devastated one of
Germany's cultural treasures.
About 2,000 books are stacked on tables behind the workers in a large room
at the Center for Book Conservation here.
The books are a small portion of the 62,000 heavily damaged in a fire at the
Anna Amalia Library in Weimar in September.
"I was pretty crushed, because I know the library," said Manfred Anders, the
center's director and chief executive, as he thumbed through brittle pages.
"I know what sorts of books are in there. The value of the collection is in
front of your eyes." In the weeks since the Sept. 2 fire, Mr. Anders has
served as a sort of nurse to the books rescued from the flames and water.
About 10 percent of the library's collection of a million books has been
irreparably damaged, library officials say. But the 600-piece Bible
collection, including Martin Luther's 1534 copy, and the huge Faust and
Shakespeare collections have been saved or only slightly damaged.
And between 25,000 and 30,000 other rare books are presumed lost, listed
like missing persons in a databank on the library's Web site.
"The texts in Weimar were of a special nature in that they had their own
history," said Michael Knoche, the library's director since 1991,
emphasizing their personal connections with the greats of German literature.
"They were used by Goethe, Schiller and Wieland. They wrote on the book
covers, or margins." Geothe was himself administrator of the library, which
was established in 1691.
The fire, which the police blame on an electrical short in the 473-year-old
building, started in the upper two floors and devastated the 18th-century
Rococo salon built by the library's namesake, Duchess Anna Amalia of
Before firefighters could control the flames, most of the duchess's personal
musical collection, thousands of books from the 16th to 18th century and 33
oil paintings were gone.
Those damaged by the fire and water were quickly shipped off to Mr. Anders's
center, one of the largest in the world. In the last few weeks, specialists
there have dried and "stabilized" them.
Now, Mr. Anders and library officials are preparing for perhaps an even
bigger challenge: holding the interest of the government and the public long
enough to help finance the tens of millions it will cost to rebuild the
damaged collection. "I am very worried about that," Mr Knoche said. He was
among those in the human chain formed to pull books out of the library even
as the roof continued to burn.
"The reaction we received after the fire, it was overwhelming," he said,
adding that he feared that in the three years it is estimated the building
restoration will take, at a cost of more than $12 million (10 million
euros), the public will have lost interest.
And no one is ready to talk about how long it will take to restore the
cultural treasures the building contained. In the week after the disaster,
trucks filled with books arrived daily at the center, situated in a bland
office complex on the outskirts of Leipzig. About 34,000 had suffered heavy
water damage and another 28,000 both fire and water damage. It will be up to
Mr. Anders, Mr. Knoche and a team of book restoration experts to determine
just how great a blow the fire was to Europe's cultural legacy.
Clearly, the scope of the disaster has not been lost on literary fans
abroad, or on the residents of Weimar, many of whom seem to have almost a
personal attachment to the city's treasures. More than $2 million has so far
been donated to the library, either from benefit concerts or private
donations. But the amount is not nearly enough, experts say. Complete
restoration of a single book, depending on how great the damage, can cost
between $491 and $3,194. With an estimated 62,000 books with various degrees
of damage, the total could reach more than $73 million.
A $4.9 million pledge from the state and federal governments will go to
reconstructing and renovating the Baroque library. The $1.8 million devoted
to book restoration is only intended for immediate first aid - brushing the
books clear of debris and mold and forcing them back into their original
That done, the books are wrapped in plastic bags and stacked in a large
freezer at minus 68 degrees Fahrenheit. They are finally transferred to a
gigantic freeze-drying machine that evaporates the ice into gas, so that the
books don't suffer additional water damage.
"First we dry them, and then the question is what is possible," said Mr.
Anders, a chemist by training. "And that question is not necessarily
dependent on the technology, but the financial possibilities."
He said that when it comes to the country's cultural legacy, German public
officials are more inclined to invest in building preservation than in the
written treasures contained inside. Book restorers say their trade is a
small but growing industry in Germany ultimately limited by how much spare
cash individual donors, foundations or governments have.
"Restoration is a preventative measure for the future," said Helmut Bansa, a
retired professor and publisher of the trade publication Restaurator. "Like
in other areas, it is often cut in order to save money, to the disadvantage
of future generations."
Following the floods along the Elbe River in Germany in 2002, book restorers
saw a spike in interest in their work, but that curiosity ebbed. For the
last several weeks, reporters and photographers have descended on Mr.
Anders's center asking for interviews and filming portions of the 80 tons of
soaked and blackened books being pulled out of boxes.
Mr. Anders is grateful for every photo op, knowing that his business often
depends on the free publicity. Spun off of the German National Library in
1998, the Center for Book Conservation has seen the number of contracts it
receives sink in recent years, but it still has one from the Library of
Congress in the United States - to work on 10,880 pages of American
newspapers from the 1940's and 1950's to extend their lifespans.
The Weimar state agency responsible for the library estimates that the first
books will not be restored until the end of 2005 at the earliest. To raise
money for this work, a number of events are planned, including an exhibition
of the art saved from the fire. "At the moment, we have no other choice but
to keep people talking about us," Mr. Knoche said.
Thousands of books, stabilized for the time being by the center, have
already made their way back to Weimar. The deliveries will continue at the
rate of roughly 2,000 a week until the middle of 2005.
The library already has an underground storage facility in which it had
planned to hold the collection ahead of its move to a new building. It was
five weeks before the move that the fire broke out.
The Bonefolder: an e-journal for the bookbinder and book artist
For all your subscription questions, go to the
Book_Arts-L FAQ and Archive.
Both at: <http://www.philobiblon.com>