Tragedy in Weimar

September 4, 2004

Yesterday a fire destroyed between 25,000 and 30,000 priceless, irreplaceable, one-of-a-kind volumes in the Anna-Amalia Library in Weimar, Germany. The library stems from 1691 and moved into its current eighteenth-century renovated palace in 1766 while duchess Anna Amalia reigned as regent for her son, Karl August. Goethe was Privy Councillor (Geheimrat) of the principality of Weimar from the 1775 to his death in 1832. By 1832, thanks to Goethe’s stewardship and interest in the library, it already contained more than 130,000 volumes. The main house of the library, which houses 120,000 of the millions of volumes that the library currently holds, was severely damaged by the fire, which consumed whole collections of the library’s holdings. Other whole collections were soaked by water used to extinguish the fire.

A 1534 bible owned by Martin Luther was saved, however. That would have been another tragic loss. This is one of the most important libraries, if not the most important library, for German classical studies. I wrote my Oxford master’s thesis on Weimar Classicism, and so this news hits me particularly hard. Additionally, my wife and I have enjoyed spending time in Weimar over the years (we are wierd like that and consider visits to East German towns such as Weimar, Schwerin, and Greifswald to be fun-filled vacations). We wonder how this could have happened, how such a priceless, indeed uninsurable, could have caught fire. The news report says that 330 firemen and hundreds of civil volunteers couldn’t stop it from destroying the main house of the library. It is a real tragedy.