500 years old books discovered in an attic

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AWhen Sebastian Walther became the new director of the Museum Alte Pfefferküchlerei in Weißenberg near Bautzen last summer, he first inspected the collections. “That's what you do when you're responsible for a house for the first time,” says the historian. It was not long before he reached the loft in the small two-story half-timbered house. The room was filled to the ceiling with shelves, he says. On them lay especially the bequests of Pfefferküchlern, baking models, documents to the city and the craftsmanship of the gingerbread production. Walther worked his way through the depot thickets until he stopped at a shelf of books. Right at eye level, he saw several thick volumes bound in leather that did not seem to fit in with the museum. “That was very noticeable,” says Walther.

Stefan Locke

Stefan Locke

Correspondent for Saxony and Thuringia based in Dresden.

He was sure he was looking in the books. It was about 500 years old Reformation writings, which, he concluded, probably had nothing to do with his museum. Walther's house is home to Germany's only technical museum of gingerbread craft, the house itself was a Pfefferküchlerei 300 years long. And in that the “interpretation of the Epistles and Gospels from Easter to Advent”, as one of the volumes has been overwritten, probably hardly played a role. The sub-line reads: “Dr. Martin Luther – on the new court “. And in the cover is to learn that the book was printed in 1552 by Hans Lufft in Wittenberg.

The heavy wooden lids, the artistically decorated leather of the covers, the clean print and the partly hand-colored woodcuts on the surprisingly well-preserved, handmade paper made Sebastian Walther's historian's heart beat faster. He began to research, soon came to the digitally visible loss of war list of the Saxon State Library and landed a direct hit: All nine volumes were found on the list again.

About half of the volumes have been missing since the end of the war

Achim Bonte, director general of the library, is enthusiastic about the recovered writings. “They are even more magnificent than I imagined them,” he says on Wednesday at the presentation of the volumes in Dresden. Some of them even belong to the foundation of the library. It is about 500 years old copies and interpretations of the Luther Bible from the 16th century, especially for the sermon and mostly in German. A volume contains a long, personal dedication by Johannes Bugenhagen, one of Martin Luther's most important friends and companions. According to the autograph, the book belonged to the son of a Hamburg councilor who studied in Wittenberg in the 16th century. About 7400 of such sermons and edification books had the library until 1945 in its existence, just under a quarter of which has since disappeared.

Sebastian Walther (left) has handed over the writings Achim Bonte and Jana Kocourek from the Saxon State Library.


Altogether, since 1945, the house that emerged 500 years ago from the private library of the Saxon Elector August misses about half of its then about one million volumes; about 200,000 are to be burned at the end of the war, another 200,000 have been brought to the Soviet Union. However, in the war and in the post-war period with the overview also a part of the outsourced stocks completely lost. While their distribution to allegedly secure country castles, forest houses and banks began in 1943 comparatively orderly, it was from 1944 increasingly hectic and panic, reports the head of department for manuscripts, Jana Kocourek. In the absence of boxes, books were also loosely loaded and taken away in unnumbered containers from the state capital, including to Gröditz Castle.

Unnoticed scattered – in bookshelves and in attics

The estate is located very close to the present site of Weißenberg and at that time housed at least 268 boxes of outsourced books from the State Library. 38 boxes of these were no longer found during the salvage in the summer of 1946. “So far, we have assumed that the boxes were shipped to Russia,” says Kocourek. However, the castle was after the expropriation in 1945 temporarily freely accessible. Library boss Bonte says that unlike some specimens did not even get to Russia, but were taken by vagabonds and looters and now scattered throughout the country in attics or unnoticed in bookshelves. Perhaps this was also the case with the volumes discovered by Walther in Weissenberg.

In contrast, the library now has the best knowledge about which of its former stocks are in Russia today. “We can at least retrieve many of these digitally,” says Bonte. The digitization of the music stored in Russia has just been completed. Next, the incunabula of the German National Library, located in the Russian State Library, will be made digitally accessible. This was possible above all through the German-Russian library dialogue, in which experts from both sides cooperated brilliantly despite all political differences between Germany and Russia. “The physical retrieval, however, will rather remain the exception.” In the case of Weißenberg, of course, this is different. It makes him a little sad to give the wonderful books out of hand, says Walther. But the return to the rightful owner is also a matter of decency.

. (tagsToTranslate) Achim Bonte (t) Sebastian Walthers (t) Martin Luther (t) Sebastian Walther (t) Hans Lufft (t) Jana Kocourek (t) Loft

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