Copernicus work found among burned books
Ten years after the Anna Amalia Library in Weimar - one of Germany's most significant cultural landmarks - went up in flames, an invaluable work by Copernicus was discovered among the most severely damaged volumes.
When flames engulfed the Duchess Anna Amalia Library in 2004, Nicolaus Copernicus' significant text, "De Revolutionibus Orbium coelestium, Libri VI" (1543), appeared lost. But on Friday, August 15, library director Michael Knoche announced it had been found amongst works awaiting restoration. The volume notoriously postulates that the earth spins on its own axis and rotates around the sun.
Founded in 1691, the Duchess Anna Amalia Library in Weimar is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Rococo structure is one of the most decadent libraries in the world and contains mainly German literature from the Enlightenment to the Late Romantic period. When the flames struck on September 2, 2004, scores of invaluable texts were damaged or irrevocably destroyed.
From paper to soot
Plans had been made to restore the library in 2004, but they were interrupted by the fire. The two mansard roofs in the historic part of the library were swallowed up in the flames. The city of Weimar, as well as literature fans around the world were shocked by the loss. Experts believe the fire was caused by a defective electrical connection.
A portion of the Rococo chamber was irreversibly destroyed by the fire, while other sections were severely damaged by water used to put out the flames. Some 50,000 historical volumes were lost; another 62,000 were damaged by both fire and water. "The great disappointment came the day after the fire when we were calmer and could understand the dimension of the damage," said director Michael Knoche.
Surveying the loss
This is how the scene looked just after the flames were extinguished. The fire had destroyed or damaged one fifth of the historical volumes and one tenth of the library's total inventory of one million books. Director Michael Knoche and other helpers were able to rescue 28,000 volumes - including a valuable Luther Bible.
Goethe in charge
This is how the Rococo library looked before the fire. Anna Amalia's son Karl August, Grand Duke of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach, extended the library in 1775. Two years later, he commissioned Johann Wolfgang von Goethe to oversee it. Goethe managed the library until his death in 1832, making it one of Germany's most significant book havens.
One book at a time
A total of 38.8 million euros ($51.9 million) in international donations and public and private funds have been collected since 2004 for the restoration of the library and its inventory. Of that, 20 million euros have already been spent. The library was reopened on October 24, 2007 - Anna Amalia's name day - but restoration work is expected to continue for the next 15 years.
Page by page
Some 36,000 books have already been restored. "Every single page is treated," explained director Michael Knoche, "First washed to remove the contamination, then the page is meshed with a new paper substance so that it can be handled. Then the book is dried and covered with very thin Japanese tissue paper." The restoration of the most severely damaged volumes is still in progress.
Just five months after the biggest library fire in post-war history, a modern extension of the Duchess Anna Amalia Library - located adjacent to the damaged building - was opened in February 2005. Costing 23.8 million euros, the extension contains more than 100,000 multimedia items. This new portion also includes two subterranean rooms that link it with the old library.
The destroyed portion of the Rococo chamber in the old library was not restored to its original form, but rebuilt as a reading room. Here, hand-written manuscripts, incunabula, maps and other fragile treasures can be studied. In the photo above, the burned and restored sections are clearly visible.
The Duchess Anna Amalia Library is a favorite destination for tourists, but also for researchers of German literature from the Enlightenment to the Late Romantic period. Among its resources are 2,600 hand-written manuscripts, 8,600 maps and 29 globes, as well as audio recordings, microforms and electronic documents. Digitalization is a major challenge, along with restoration, said Michael Knoche.
The damaged books were placed in four groups; Copernicus' masterpiece was found in group four with the most severely impacted volumes. Groups one through three were restored first, which is why it took 10 years to discover the treasure. Library director Michael Knoche said the text is so valuable because "Copernicus contradicts the medieval world view." He estimated it is worth 1.4 million euros.