The Duchess Anna Amalia Library 100 days after the Fire
The Duchess Anna Amalia Library was the victim of a ravaging fire on the evening of September 2, 2004. It took three days to fully extinguish the flames. The historic original building of the Duchess Anna Amalia Library as well as a large part of the historical books stored there were destroyed or severely damaged. More than 900 helpers, fire fighters, technician teams, Red Cross, employees of the Library and of the Foundation of Weimar Classics and Art Collections, volunteers from nearby cultural institutions and from the city government and many Weimar citizens worked day and night since the fire to evacuate the valuable art works and tens of thousands of books.
A turn of luck is in sight for the library building: One of the most beautiful library halls in Germany will be able to be reconstructed by 2007, the 200th anniversary of the death of Duchess Anna Amalia, to whom we owe this “artwork room”. The second gallery of the rococo hall and the roof above it no longer exist, but the building itself, declared part of the UNESCO World Heritage, will be able to be stabilized and restored, thanks to intelligent fire fighting. Fortunately, a team of architects and specialized planners had already been formed in preparation for the renovation and could be consulted during the night of the fire. The additional expenses due to the fire in the building already in need of renovation remain on a realistic scale. The financers from the national and state government gave their permission to start the planning phase on 29 September 2004, after private donors had also pledged their support. The first complicated task is to dry out the building, into which water soaked in amounting to two times the normal amount of annual precipitation. The rococo hall will reappear in old, not new splendour.
The 35 oil paintings with ducal portraits from the 16th to the 18th century in the 2nd Gallery are irreplaceable. Solely the ceiling painting by Johann Heinrich Meyer “Genius of Fame” after Annibale Carracci will be replaced by a copy. The material damage, even the damage done to the other art works by water from fire hoses, will fortunately be covered by insurance.
The heaviest damage was done to the books. 50,000 volumes have been counted as completely lost, and to a certain extent 62,000 volumes were badly damaged by water and fire. This includes two fifths of the books published before 1850, i.e. more than one tenth of the entire collection of the Duchess Anna Amalia Library. Before the fire, the book collection counted one million volumes.
Already during the night of the fire, the first water-soaked books were individually wrapped and brought to the Centre for Book Maintenance in Leipzig to be freeze-dried. During the next few days, the to a certain extent severely charred and dampened codices salvaged from the burned building were sent to the freezing facilities. This was the saddest and most difficult part of the work of cleaning up, keeping librarians, restorers and volunteers busy for days, during which they excellently mastered the task. It was a race against time, because mildew can begin as soon as 24 hours after wetness sets in. The 28,000 objects rescued from the charred remains will only be partly restorable. As soon as an exact analysis is possible, it will become apparent where the amount of text lost is too large, only fragments of books were left, or the attempt to replace the loss would be more sensible than restoration. That means that at some later time, the number of 50,000 books totally lost will have to be increased.
The rescue, cleaning and drying of the damaged books went very well, thanks to the excellent cooperation of all involved. They will be returned to Weimar bit by bit during the course of one year and stored in a rented temporary magazine. There, while the books lie, not stand, on the shelves because of the deformed covers, any remaining moisture can evaporate, and they can be individually examined. All damaged objects must first be found in the catalogues of the library, because at present no one can say for sure which books were destroyed by the fire and which were damaged and will be returned. A new data bank will be compiled to document and classify the damages. This expert task will last well into 2006. Only then can the restoration on a large scale begin, apart from several pieces demanding immediate attention. Part of the restoration can be done in the library’s own workshop for book restoration and conservation or in workshops of partner libraries, and part will be commissioned to third parties. The restoration of the 62,000 books is a challenge that will occupy the library for more than ten years.
The immediate care of the books up to the drying stage was possible with the help of the state of Thuringia and above all due to the fast and generous immediate help of the national government. The German Research Association (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft) also made generous help available. However, the subsequent individual restoration will only be possible with private support. For that purpose, a sum estimated at almost 20 million Euros will be needed. Therefore, donations – however high - from third parties are very welcome. To date, 2.5 million Euros have been donated by 15,000 individuals, businesses and foundations, and have been collected by benefit events and school projects, the sale of publications, by bets, art auctions and penalty fees.
Compensation for Losses
Total losses occurred among works dating from the 16th –20th centuries, in particular from the 17th and 18th centuries. These include Duchess Anna Amalia’s (1739-1807) culturally and historically significant music collection, dating from the 18th and 19th century including 2,100 music books and over 700 music manuscripts. Large parts of the universal scholarly library of the first Library Director, Konrad Samuel Schurzfleisch (1641-1708) must also be written off. Furthermore, many texts written by members of the “Fruchtbringende Gesellschaft” (The Fruitful Society), the first German language society founded in 1617 in Weimar, and large parts of the collection of Balthasar Friedrich von Logau (1645-1702) from Breslau (Silesia), including beautiful editions of baroque literature, were burned. One of the most complete series of Jean Paul prints was located in the middle of where the fire raged.
The older a book, the more unique is its outer appearance (e.g. cover, colouring) and its individual history, which is often recognizable (e.g. exlibris or marginalia of a previous owner). A score from Anna Amalia’s music collection or a volume from Conrad Samuel Schurzfleisch’s collection on the early modern period is more valuable, and more important for the history of the library than the same volume from any other origin. Therefore, restoration will always be preferred, as long as the difference in cost in comparison to replacement is not too high. The private donations are to be used primarily for book restoration.
35,000 volumes lost to the flames are most likely replaceable. In addition, there were 27,000 books badly damaged by the fire. On the average, each book will cost € 800. The replacement process will take many years. It has been an enormous help that book lovers and libraries throughout Europe, have offered to contribute a title to the Duchess Anna Amalia Library that they have found in the data bank of losses (http://www.anna-amalia-bibliothek.de)
. The investment fund “Fruchtbringende Gesellschaft” (Fruitful Society), which was furnished with a generous initial purchase by the Deutsche Bank, is to be built up by further donations and the interest used for purchases of new volumes.
Nevertheless, it is impossible to reconstruct the collection on a one to one basis. This is out of the question as far as unique pieces of the music collection and the essays from the 17th century with handwritten comments are concerned. But it is also doubtful whether replacements can be found for many printed works, which are very rare or particularly of regional importance. Who could furnish replacement copies of the four-page discourse “Von der Tröstung der sterbendenn Menschen” (About the Comforting of Dying People) by Wolff Stöckel from 1525, or the “Nothwendige und nützliche Ordnung, wie es mit dem Jagen und allem Weidewerg gehalten werden solle” (Necessary and useful rules for hunting and the care of grazing animals) written by the Counts of Schwarzburg and Hohnstein from 1623? On the long term, it would be more feasible to purchase complete, specialised collections of similar value, which correspond to the old collection emphases, rather than requiring the replacement of each and every lost book. This would be especially desirable for the area of baroque literature, which is so important for the profile of the library.
The fire was also responsible for the fact that about 40 working places for librarians are temporarily not usable. New work places in diverse buildings of the Foundation of Weimar Classics and Art Collections (Stiftung Weimarer Klassik und Kunstsammlungen) had to be sought. The logistics of book transports from house to house and the infrastructure between colleagues had to be re-designed. This kind of inconvenience is easier to shoulder, knowing the long planned addition to the library, which is connected to the original building underground, will be finished in a few weeks. The underground magazine, which belongs to that, was opened in advance so it could be utilized during the night of the fire for the storage of the undamaged books evacuated out of the library. At present, over 700,000 books from the various temporary magazines have been moved into the underground magazine, between the old and the new libraries.
Picture by Harald Wetzel-Orf
The preparations for the institution of the new research centre are being continued. 100,000 volumes, sorted according to subject areas, will be available there, directly accessible from the shelves, as well as 180 modern work places for use by researchers. The planned opening in February 2005 will be on time. From this time on, the service for local readers as well as mail requests will be resumed. The working conditions in the new research centre will represent the standard of a research library of the 21st century.
The Duchess Anna Amalia Library was seriously damaged by the largest library fire in Germany since World War II. However, we must not forget that the largest part of the valuable collection was left untouched. That includes the medieval autographs, the family trees, incunabula (early printed books dating from before 1500), the globes and 10,000 maps from the 16th to the 19th centuries, the largest Faust collection in the world, the Shakespeare library, Nietzsche’s private library, the libraries of Liszt, the von Arnim family or Georg Haar, and the main core collection of the classical period, etc. In this case, the fact that the collection had been stored in various temporary magazines was a stroke of luck. Even the original building was not lost. The fire did not touch its additions or the library tower at all. Hundreds of art works were evacuated out of the rococo hall in time.
Everything that was rescued and brought into safety and will enable us to hold fast to the concept of the library as a research library for literature and cultural history with an emphasis on German literature from the Enlightenment to the Late Romantic period. Also in the future, the Duchess Anna Amalia Library will be able to fulfil its function of being a living monument and an active library. The thread of cultural transmission will be newly tied to future generations.
More information about the collections of the Duchess Anna Amalia Library under:
Informations about further rescue efforts and reconstruction work. You can find the latest information here:
The original building dates back to the Renaissance, when it was named the “Green Palace”, built in 1562/65 by Nicol Gromann as the residence of Duke Johann Wilhelm. During the years 1761-66, Anna Amalia had the small palace remodelled into a library by August Friedrich Straßburger.
The exterior as well as the interior of the building were adjusted to suit the taste of the 18th century. The rococo hall with its two galleries was built into the first story and became the splendid attraction of the building. In 1803/05, upon Goethe’s suggestion, a building to the south was erected under the supervision of Johann Heinrich Gentz, connecting the library to the old tower fortification dating from 1435. From 1821 to 1825 Clemens Wenzeslaus Coudray and Carl Friedrich Steiner remodeled this tower into a book magazine and added a neo-gothic entrance. To complete the tower, Coudray built in a spiral staircase with a neo-gothic banister dating from 1761, taken from the Weida palace.
Finally, Coudray designed an addition of two axes to the north side of the original building incorporating the architectural style of the 18th century. With this last measure, the original building of the Duchess Anna Amalia Library arrived at its current appearance.
The fire at the Duchess Anna Amalia Library destroyed not only a large part of the historical building and many art works, but moreover, some culturally and historically unique parts of the book collection.
The historical rococo hall had been closed to the public since July 31, 2004, since it was to be restored, along with the rest of the original building, by the end of 2007. The emptying of the rococo hall had not yet begun at the time of the fire. Five weeks later, all books and art works would have been moved elsewhere – a tragic circumstance.
Allianz Cultural Foundation supports the recostruction of the Rococo Hall. Furthermore, it underlines its commitment for the book and library culture in two other projects: By announcing an essay competition entitled »My Favourite Library« as well as with »Anna-Amalia-Book Actions«
Here are the spatial impressions of the rococo hall, which extends over three floors. It is an all-encompassing artwork (Gesamtkunstwerk) from the late 18th century, in which art, architecture and books undergo an impressive symbiosis.
Duchess Anna Amalia’s music collection (1739–1807) was almost completely burned, including manuscripts and rare printed works such as Orlando di Lasso’s vocal book from 1588 (cat. no. 4:12). Also, other valuable printed works dating from the 16th and 17th centuries were destroyed, in particular a large part of the library of Konrad Samuel Schurzfleisch (1641-1708), the former Wittenberg University professor and Weimar library director, and that of his brother Heinrich Leonhard Schurzfleisch (1664–1722), including, for example a memorial publication on the occasion of the death of Christine Walther, a professor’s widow, in 1711 (cat. no. S1:80).
Most of the works published by the “Fruchtbringende Gesellschaft” (Fruitful Society), the first society for the German language founded in Weimar in 1617, were lost, including “Der Neu-Sprossende Teutsche Palmbaum” (The Newly Sprouting German Palm Tree), a society journal of the association from 1668 (cat. no. D, 6:19). Part of the inheritance of Wilhelm Fröhner (1834–1925), an important researcher and collector of archeological specimens, including several sets of volumes from various disciplines of antique studies (e.g. cat. no. 8°XXXIX : 62), were devoured by the flames.
The inheritance of the nationalistic author Adolf Bartels (1862–1945), encompassing several thousand books, was also destroyed. However, the bible collection, which had also been stored in the rococo hall and many other valuable volumes from the lower floors of the hall, could be rescued. Several precious parts of the collections named happened to be loaned out for other exhibits, for example Mozart’s manuscript of the “Concerto in B” (cat. no. Mus V : 125), and were saved by that lucky circumstance.
Among the irretrievable losses suffered by the Duchess Anna Amalia Library were 35 paintings destroyed completely by the fire, which were hung on the walls of the staircase leading up to the 4th story and on the walls of the 2nd gallery located on that level. These paintings as well as other artworks had been in various locations throughout the course of history, depending on the taste of the period or changes in public interest. The loss of them tears a hole within the context of the remaining paintings and busts of poets, statesmen, scholars and composers.
Several of these paintings belonged to the main inventory of the rococo hall during the original furnishing of the Library in 1766. The portraits of prominent ancestors of the ducal family dating from the 17th and 18th centuries had been moved out of the residence castle into the new, representative showroom to form a line of ancestry, together with representatives of important European nobility. Six double portraits including pictures of two Electors from Saxony as well as King Jacob and Queen Anna of England were among the paintings lost. The loss of a half-figure portrait of Duke Friedrich Wilhelm of Saxony-Weimar-Altenburg (1562–1602) dating from 1602 was particularly painful as it was one of the few signed portraits of the Weimar painter Christian Leutloff.
During the 19th century, the furnishing of the library hall was augmented with portraits of contemporary personalities. One example is the now lost self-portrait of the Weimar Court Painter, Ferdinand Jagemann (1780–1820); another is the portrait of Duke Carl August’s mistress, the celebrated actress Henriette Caroline von Heygendorff in one of her roles. Several of the lost paintings from the 19th century were those created in remembrance of important great minds of the past. The painting of the reformer “Martin Luther on his death bed”, by Adam Weise (1776–1835) belongs to these losses.
“The Genius of Fame” by Johann Heinrich Meyer (1760–1832) was the only allegory and a sort of symbolic description of the art program of the library, located in an exposed position in the middle of the oval ceiling. All that was left of the canvas painting was the charred frame.