October 3, 2006

Cultural suicide at Karlsruhe

This story has remained essentially invisible outside Germany, and I'm not sure why. It's been headline news there: a proposed selloff of 3500 of the 4200 medieval manuscripts -- many of them of the highest importance -- in the Badische Landesbibliothek of Karlsruhe. Worse, the money wouldn't even go to the library, or even to any public entity:

The Counts of Baden are broke and need 70 million euros to fix up their castle (which is the old Cistercian monastery at Salem, which they use as a boarding school [charging fees] and which is open for public tours [for which they charge fees]).

The Badische Landesbiliothek (BLB) manuscript holdings include all of the mss that survived the bombings of WWII, the holdings of the monastery of Reichenau (due to the 1803 secularization of the monasteries, that gave the counts of Baden the buildings at Salem), and several other monastic collections. It also includes the oldest complete ms of the *Nibelungenlied*, known as Manuscript C, a priceless literary treasure. [NOTE: This particular MS does not happen to be in danger; see the comments -- D.]

There seems to be some legal questions as to who owns the mss: the Baden family or the State, which means that the lawyers will make money. . .

Nonetheless, the Baden family is laying claim to *all* of the mss in the BLB. . .

Soooooo, the State of Baden is going to *GIVE* the mss back to the family so they can auction them! Since the mss don't appear on any list of cultural monuments, the State believes that they are of little value, and that no one will care about some moldy old documents.

Much more collected at Archivalia, especially here and here; most entries are in German, but not all. Protest letters in various languages have already been sent; the English version, published in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, is signed by a virtual Who's Who of American manuscript scholars and historians. A petition was also being circulated, to be sent out last Friday; if you want to add your name, instructions are here.

Posted by David on October 3, 2006 7:22 AM


Thankfully, the Nibelungenlied manuscript is not in danger, since it is not owned by the Land Baden-Württemberg nor the library, but by the Landesbank and the Federal Republic. It is just a permanent loan to Karlsruhe, which will probably have to be retracted once the library is not much more than any other community library (heaven forbid).

You're right: the manuscripts don't appear on any list of heritage in Baden-Württemberg. However, this is only due to the fact that items in state collections are never listed as cultural monuments, since no one ever thought of them being in danger.

Thanks for bringing this unbelievable case of barbarism here in Baden-Württemberg to the attention of the international public.

Posted by: Andreas on October 3, 2006 8:18 PM
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