Tragedy in Weimar

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.

5 Responses to Tragedy in Weimar

  1. That really is a tragedy. It reminds me of the terrible fire at the Ashburnham House at Westminster in October 1731 which damaged the only surviving manuscript of Beowulf. It makes me wonder if it would be a better policy to spread original manuscripts throughout the world instead of collecting them to a few locations where a fire or flood can destroy them in bulk.

    Thanks for the interesting post.

  2. john f. says:

    No doubt losing the Beowulf manuscript was a far greater tragedy than this. But these volumes were also one-of-a-kind (although perhaps not so important as that manuscript). Luckily, some of the more important collections, such as the massive Faust collection, were not harmed, from what I understand.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Fortunately the Beowulf Manuscript was not destroyed…just damaged. Had it been destroyed we probably would never have know about Beowulf at all. It was the only existing manuscript and the first copies and translations of the manuscript weren’t made until 1786, 55 years after the fire. (See a more detailed history here.)

    Do you know which one-of-a-kind texts might have been lost in the Weimar fire?

  4. john f. says:

    So far I’ve heard that Anna Amalia’s music collection was destroyed.

    I guess that many of these works aren’t one-of-a-kind in the same sense that Beowulf was, because most of them stem from the modern period in which books were printed on presses. But I am checking to see if any letters or diaries were destroyed. I know a few of the collections were destroyed by water as well as the firefighters tried to put out the fire.

  5. Kristine says:

    John, Kannst du (wir koennen duzen, nicht?) mir mal ein e-mail senden ( Obwohl du ueberall im Bloggernacle bist kann ich nirgends deine Addresse finden!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: