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View of Cologne's city archive after it collapsed
It could take up to 50 years to restore Cologne's City ArchiveImage: AP

Archive collapse

February 9, 2010

Workers have admitted to stealing reinforcing steel meant to support the Cologne City Archives before its collapse last year. But prosecutors say the weakness of the wall did not cause the disaster.


Prosecutors investigating last year's collapse of the Cologne City Archives said Tuesday that construction workers have confessed to stealing reinforcing steel meant for a retaining wall under the building.

But the resulting weakness of the wall was not the cause of the collapse, according to senior prosecutor Guenther Feld.

"There’s a lot of speculation about the cause of the collapse, but we do not no conclusive evidence whatsoever," he said. "At the moment, the site is not even fully accessible, that is why we cannot possibly have that evidence at this point in time."

The pothole which triggered the collapse starts 10 meters under the retaining wall. With excavations still ongoing, it could be months before the ultimate cause is known.

Rods sold on

The two workers, who sold the ties to scrap-metal dealers, will likely be charged with theft and fraud. According to reports, at least one third of the necessary steel ties were missing.

Firefighters leaving the site of the collapsed Cologne City Archive the day after the accident
The City Archive contained documents dating back 1,000 yearsImage: AP

Prosecutors say there are indications that the foreman in charge instigated or at least condoned the theft of the steel rods. But press reports say the foreman denied the allegations.

Reports also suggest that a large number of rods were sold.

"If indeed one third of those rods went missing, that would be major," said the President of the engineering and building federation in North-Rhine Westphalia, Heinrich Boekamp.

Precious documents

The storehouse, built in the 1970s, collapsed on March 3 of last year, along with neighboring apartment houses, killing two people. The building contained around 65,000 documents connected to the city's history, with some of the material dating back to the year 922.

It was the most important city archive north of the Alps. Restoration work is expected to cost 500 million euros ($700 million).

The collapse happened during building work aimed at expanding Cologne’s underground train network. The archive was above one the building sites.

Cologne’s public transport authority, the KVB, oversees the building work. It has declared all the building sites involved in the expansion as safe and stable. The KVB has undertaken several tests and has found no irregularities.

The KVB refused to comment on the latest findings.

"We do not want to jeopardize the current investigation and are therefore not in a position to give any more details at this point," the KVB said in a press release on Tuesday.

The City of Cologne, which is in charge of the archive, was also cautious on Tuesday.

"We are following this latest news with great interest, but we cannot say anymore at this point, while the prosecutors’ investigation is ongoing," a spokesman for the city told Deutsche Welle.

Editor: Rob Turner

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