The Books Are Back Weimar's Anna Amalia Library To Re-Open

Three years after a fire destroyed much of the famous Anna Amalia library in Weimar, the books are returning to the shelves of the world-renowned Rococo gem. The UNESCO World Heritage Site is due to re-open on Oct. 24.

At €12.8 million ($18 million), the restoration and modernization of the historic library was not an inexpensive affair. But library director Michael Knoche was pleased to announce that the room looks much the same as it did in the days of Johann Wolfgang Goethe. "It smells of old books again," he told a press conference this week.

Prior to the fire, the library was considered one of the most beautiful in central Europe. It now gleams again in slightly bluish white, the original colour it was given under the reign of Duchess Anna Amalia. Hidden are the state of the art technologies designed to prevent another fire, including an atomised fire-extinguisher, the first of its kind to be built into a library.

According to head architect Walter Grunwald, the fire of Sept. 2, 2004 lasted 67 hours. It took 15 months to repair the damage caused by 380,000 litres (100,400 gallons) of water used to extinguish it. The new extinguisher will go on automatically when the temperature reaches 57 degrees Celsius (135 degrees Fahrenheit) and spray a mist that brings down the temperature, thus preventing a fire in the first place. Grunwald's biggest challenge was incorporating this ultra-modern system discretely into an "icon of German culture."

According to the Foundation of Weimar Classics, roughly 4,000 volumes are finding their way back onto the shelves daily. Roughly 50, 000 irreplacable books from the 16th to 20th centuries and 35 paintings went up in flames in the fire of 2004. Some 62,000 books were rescued, of which only 28,000 were intact.

Of the damaged books, roughly 16,000 have been restored and a further 12,500 new acquisitions are replacing the unsalvageable ones. Knoche estimates the total cost of book restoration and re-acquisition at €67 million. Roughly a quarter of that has been raised so far, mainly from private donations. By 2015, the book restoration project should be complete; the new purchases will probably take a good three decades. "We'll never be able to restore the collection, one to one," Knoche concedes.

Germany's President Horst Köhler will preside over the re-opening ceremony on Oct. 24, Duchess Anna Amalia's birthday. The library will then open its doors to the public on Dec. 1.



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