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[BKARTS] Anna Amalia library's new building rises from the ashes; Bittersweet inauguration for the new building provides a glimpse at the future and a reminder of the fire's cruelty

Anna Amalia library's new building rises from the ashes
Bittersweet inauguration for the new building provides a glimpse at the future and a reminder of the fire's cruelty

11. Februar 2005 By Heinrich Wefing 
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 

Someone walking in the park along the Ilm River in Weimar might not even notice the city's newest architectural achievement. Local architects Hilde Barz-Malfatti and Karl-Heinz Schmitz, both professors at the prestigious Bauhaus University, have shown their fine architectural touch by creating a €44 million ($57 million), 14,000 square meter (150,000 square foot) colossus inside two existing structures, the so-called ”Yellow” and ”Red Castles” on the Anna Amalia library campus. This construction, which was inaugurated last Friday, now houses the library's new study center. The center's inauguration opens a new, positive perspective after that traumatic night last September when the main building of this one-of-a-kind library went up in flames. 

The enormous new addition is very well hidden. Even a passerby looking out from the Platz der Demokratie square will see only a small blip on an otherwise uniform horizon of historic landmarks. Large portions of the new construction are concealed under the square's concrete pavement, and it is easy to miss the giant library vaults and an underground passage to the older Anna Amalia building. In order to know what treasures lie inside, one really needs to step inside the grayish-green stone façade of the  study center's entrance.

The heart of the construction is a giant cube that has been set, like a building within a building, directly inside the two older structures that border it. It is a giant, four-story-high room with an impressive glass roof and cherry and maple woodwork. As in the old Anna Amalia structure, numerous staircases and balconies lead to catalog and reading rooms. But the light-colored woodwork, whitewashed walls and black metal fixtures give off a very different, modern feel. Only in the ”Red Castle” - the older and more interesting of the two buildings - can one get an idea of the old proportions. Otherwise only the structure's windows remind someone that they are actually standing behind a historic façade. 

It is not so much the study center's lower room temperatures, which will probably not be met with unanimous approval in Weimar, but much more the building's exquisite furnishing that has changed the library's character in one fell swoop. While the old Anna Amalia library was an anachronism - really more a museum dedicated to itself than a place to study classic literature - the new center is a modern research facility, in a league with what is offered at Marbach and Wolfenbüttel. The center affords enough space for one million editions, safely kept in up-to-date storage facilities, along with a 200,000-volume open-access library, a multi-media center, lecture room and a cafeteria. But the most significant change has been the addition of a much larger reading area. While the old building had only 30 separate places, tucked away in nooks and crannies, for scholars to page through the works of Germany's great writers, there are now 130 places for reading, most of them in a high-ceilinged, light-flooded reading room with long wooden tables, and sumptuous armchairs, which make one feel like a privileged entrant to a treasure trove. 

But the joys at the opening of this new center are mixed with the pangs of sorrow. A glance outside from the study center still falls on the fire-damaged Anna Amalia library and serves as a  painful reminder of what has been lost. The exterior of the Anna Amalia library does not betray all of the destruction that took place inside when the building caught fire during the night of Sept. 2 and 3, 2004. Only the emergency roof atop the nearly undamaged façade reminds one of the tragedy. No one in Weimar, no one in the library, in fact no one who loves books, can celebrate the new study center's inauguration without a heavy heart. There are still some 100,000 editions missing from Anna Amalia's vaults, among them countless, irreplaceable editions. Many of these can be saved through lengthy and costly restoration; others can be replaced through loans, endowments and new purchases. But many priceless works are lost forever.

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