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Fire at Cologne's Historical Archive.



8 March, 2009

Dear Colleagues,

The interest in the fate of the Historical Archive in Cologne continues to grow unabated among experts. Much help has been offered - hence this report and further information on coordinating aid.

Today (March 8) an archive crisis-team has been assembled - consisting of representatives of the city, the historical archive, the professional firefighters of Cologne, the state archive of North Rhine-Westphalia, [various other archive administrations], and restorers - which will advise and make decisions on further steps of the recovery process.

On Wednesday, a large portion of the rubble-heap could be spared the rain that set in a couple hours later, by being covered by tarps. Delays occurred while a roof was being constructed over the rubble; these had to do with the uncertain stability of the school across from it. Only once that stability had been assured could the construction of the roof be undertaken. As of today, one third of the rubble heap has been stabilized by the roof; the remaining portions of the roof are being prepared and will be erected in the course of the next couple of days.

What has been saved, and how? First, how: At the site, firefighters are carrying the archival materials by hand - very carefully and according to established techniques [fachgerecht] - from the areas of the site that are ready to be cleared. The archival materials come from the areas that had to be cleared in order to allow for the construction of the roof and that arose during the search for missing persons. These materials are undergoing a preliminary examination, and then being packed up by archivists, restorers, museum workers, and other specialists on site. The condition is highly variable. Some of the materials have been damaged considerably, but there are some files and even boxes of files that have been completely preserved, and that could, in theory, be used again right away. Especially wet materials have been set aside. Away from the accident site, in a covered hall, all of the debris that's been hauled away in trucks is being examined and sorted. At the moment - a
!
 side from firefighters, rescue workers, [and other emergency specialists] - there are continually between 40 and 50 people in action, working in three shifts, around the clock, seven days a week. The archival holdings are being pre-sorted, readied for transport into the warehouse, and/or packed for freezing [Einfrierung]. The helpers include many colleagues from Cologne archives and from other places as well. In the next few days, the Archive School in Marburg will be sending over 50 students, teachers and other staff. The Fachhochschule in Potsdam has also offered help, which will be arriving soon.

Special thanks are owed to everyone, really everyone who has helped out on site, setting themselves to the task tirelessly and pushing themselves to the limits of their own capabilities. The solidarity among the Cologne archivists from all corners - without consideration of their career levels or divisions - is simply overwhelming. Colleagues throughout the state and country are also giving tremendous support.

At the moment we are seeking a larger hall in which the long-term conditions for the sorting work can proceed more efficiently; in this domain we're optimistic. I've just looked at one possible site that I'd noticed along with my colleague Dr. Ulrich Fischer. Further offers are coming from the city administration; in the next few days, we will certainly have a longer-term place to be able to sort through the archival materials in a way that is safe, climate-controlled, and technically appropriate.

The Historical Archive of Cologne nonetheless still needs help, now and in the coming weeks - above all from our colleagues! Only specialized help can save these cultural artifacts from 1000 years!

Offers to help are coming in from all over the world. In order to ensure a better coordination, we'd like to channel the aid as follows:

1) Offers for shelving and storage units [Magazinflächen]

Please contact the LVR-Archivberaturngs- und Fortbildungszentrum, attn. Herrn Dr. Arie Nabrings, rafo@xxxxxxx There the donated units will be pre-sorted and transferred to the Historical Archive.

2) Offers of personnel (archivists)

Please contact me first as the representative of the Association of German Archivists (VdA) on site. To facilitate all our work, please also be sure to contact this address - rwwa@xxxxxxxxxxxx - with information about your position or that of your group. We need the following information: first and last names, current position, place, telephone number, email address, and duration of your term (Excel-spreadsheet). Please understand that any archivist who needs a place to stay overnight (we'll help with this) should count on spending at least three days here; otherwise the administrative costs are prohibitively high. In particular the large archive administrations are asked to [vet or oversee] an assembly of specialized workers.

3) Offers of personnel (restorers)

Please contact bert.jacek@xxxxxxxxxxx with the information asked for above.

All offers already made have been considered here; a new communication is not necessary (and actually makes our work harder).

At the moment, the most important thing we need is personnel; consider the fact that, for the time being, it's necessary to have people working night shifts - over a full seven-day week - so that items can be salvaged as quickly as possible. Only when the systematic and coordinated recovery of items from the rubble has been undertaken can we shift to working through the salvaged materials as a strictly daytime activity.

There are of course various ways of contributing to this cause. But this message is aimed, above all, at archivists, with a plea for assistance with personnel in the coming weeks. We ask you to help now in the senses described above. Please show your solidarity through your specialized assistance.

All responsible parties - the city, fire department, and outside organizations - are well aware of the significance of the archival holdings, and they're undertaking every conceivable measure to save as much as possible! We are overseeing daily the rescue of materials at the site of operation. Just today I've witnessed a high level of engagement both at the disaster site and in the relocation areas.

The Historical Archive of Cologne, as an institution, did not collapse on March 3, 2009. We will all work to ensure that it receives a secure and sufficiently sized new building, in which the previous holdings as well as new ones can be used. The memory of Cologne - and, with it, the Rhineland and, in part, the nation - has a future! Together with the more than forty other archives in Cologne the Historical Archive will do justice to its mission in the future as well.

With warm regards,

Dr. Ulrich S. Soénius
Director
Stiftung Rheinisch-Westfälisches
Wirtschaftsarchiv zu Köln
Unter Sachsenhausen 10-26
50667 Cologne
Email: ulrich.soenius@xxxxxxxxxxxx
Internet: www.ihk-koeln.de/archiv/index.htm

                                    
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