Sun, Sep 05, 2004 - Page 7 News List

Priceless historical works destroyed in library fire

AFP , WEIMAR, GERMANY

Up to 30,000 priceless books may have been destroyed by a fire that swept through a historic library in this eastern German city, authorities said Friday.

The blaze broke out late Thursday and destroyed part of the roof and the top floor of the 17th-century Anna-Amalia library and spread through the rest of the ornate building, the Weimar Classic Foundation said.

"The literary memory of Germany has suffered severe damage," said Culture Minister Christine Weiss, who rushed to the scene Friday morning and pledged up to four million euros (US$4.8 million) in federal aid.

"A piece of the world's cultural heritage has been lost forever."

Thousands of works from the 16th to 18th centuries were ruined including part of the collection of the first Weimar librarian, Daniel Schurzfleisch, and the sheet music archive of the library's late patron, Duchess of Saxony-Weimar Anna Amalia (1739-1807).

Some 50,000 books, including a 1534 bible owned by the German leader of the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther, were rescued when library employees, firefighters and citizens of Weimar formed a human chain after the fire broke out to carry the books to safety.

But 40,000 of the evacuated volumes were damaged, many of them from smoke or the water used by firefighters. They were to be frozen to prevent their further disintegration until they can be restored.

The library, opened in 1691, holds around one million books including the world's largest collection of Faust by Johann Wolfgang Goethe, considered Germany's greatest writer and who lived in Weimar for a major part of his life.

The archive also includes 2,000 hand-written medieval documents, 8,400 historic maps and a renowned bible collection.

The fire appeared to have started in an attic of the library and then reached the building's magnificent Rococo Hall, which forms the heart of the library.

Around 330 firefighters from across the state of Thuringia were called to the scene and the blaze was brought under control after about three hours. Two firefighters were hospitalized for smoke inhalation. By the late morning, embers were still glowing at sites throughout the building.

Some 100 police were also at the site, where authorities feared the roof might cave in under the weight of the wreckage. Officials said the initial clean-up work would take several days.

The cause of the blaze was not immediately known but it was speculated that electrical problems were to blame.

Library director Michael Knoche said he could not estimate the financial losses from the fire because some of the books were irreplaceable and therefore not insured. Damage to the building was estimated in the millions of euros range. Knoche noted that the fire was particularly tragic because the spectacular collection was to move to another site in late October.

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