Heinrich Böll's estate in Cologne - After the collapse of the Historical Archive of Cologne

The Historical Archive and the Heinrich Böll Archive are two different institutions

April 17, 2009

On March 3, 2009, the building at Severinstraße 222 in Cologne that housed the Historical Archive collapsed. The Historical Archive of Cologne is the largest municipal archive in Germany. Alongside official documents, maps and blueprints it also housed the private estates of around 700 musicians and artists, master builders and architects of the cathedral, Cologne authors (Irmgard Keun, Paul Schallück, Hans Mayer, Hans Bender, Dieter Wellershoff) and also Heinrich Böll.

The Historical Archive of Cologne

In 1984, Heinrich Böll sold 140 linear meters of material to the City of Cologne to be preserved in the Historical Archive. The papers included all typescripts and drafts of short stories, novellas and novels written after 1946 as well as all written records of Böll’s essays and speeches. Furthermore, the estate contained approximately 80,000 letters by and to Heinrich Böll and other documentary material such as his Nobel Prize award, his certificate of honorary citizenship of the City of Cologne and material gathered during Böll’s two PEN presidencies. In February 2009, four weeks before the collapse of the building, Böll’s heirs also sold the personal materials still remaining in the family’s possession to the Historical Archive. This bequeathal included documents vital to exhibitions from the heirs’ document archive (birth certificate, secondary school leaving certificate (Abiturzeugnis) and death certificate) as well as the entirety of Böll’s early work, his letters from the war, important correspondence with publishing houses and a comprehensive collection of photographs.

Heinrich Böll's estate, shelved on the third of seven stories of stacks, on the side facing the street, was most likely completely buried by rubble. The collapse was caused by construction work done in connection with a new subway line planned by the Kölner Verkehrsbetrieb (Cologne Transportation Company) that was to run directly in front of the Historical Archive. Based on the findings of the analyses to date, groundwater seepage caused a landslide below the building so that the tower the stacks were housed in sank and fell in on itself. The lower portion of the building – including of course the third story – collapsed into the crater created by the landslide, the upper stories then fell forward into the 28 meter deep construction pit that had been dug for the subway stop. The fire department believes that the third story, in which the estate was housed, has been pressed to a height of one meter by the tons of rubble piled on top of it and that the paper has been pulverized by the pressure. There is very little hope of finding unharmed documents.

The Heinrich Böll Archive

The Heinrich Böll Archive is located on Josef Haubrich Hof in Cologne and cooperates extensively with the Historical Archive. There is however no organizational overlap; the Heinrich Böll Archive is an institution under the aegis of the city library dedicated since its foundation to documenting and providing information on the life and work of Heinrich Boll. In this archive, Heinrich Böll's entire oeuvre, all translations of his work as well as secondary literature and newspaper clippings are collected and catalogued.

In recent years, the Heinrich Böll Archive broadened its activities, mostly through cooperation with Heinrich Böll's heirs, the Heinrich Böll Foundation and the publishing house Kiepenheuer & Witsch. The archive thus became a space in which numerous, very diverse activities centering on the life and work of Heinrich Böll take place. One of the first large Heinrich Böll Foundation projects initiated by René Böll for which the Heinrich Böll Archive first served as a platform was for example the publication of the correspondence between Heinrich Böll and Ernst-Adolf Kunz as well as designing and printing an exhibition on 40 posters "Heinrich Böll – Life and Work.”

A glimmer of hope: Ongoing projects not in jeopardy

Ongoing projects and those planned for the near future are not in jeopardy. The publication of the Cologne Edition, the culmination of the evaluation of the Böll papers housed in the Historical Archive, is to be completed shortly (the last volumes of the Cologne Edition will be published in 2010). The documents necessary for the uncompleted volumes were lent to and have been housed by the Heinrich Böll Archive since work on the edition began. The publication of the colored novel diagrams planned by the Heinrich Böll Foundation will also be able to be finished, although some diagrams are under the rubble. Likewise, work on the publication of the correspondence between Heinrich Böll and Lev Kopelev, commissioned by the Foundation and currently in planning, can continue unhindered. All accessible letters between the two authors are still available, most in the original and the remainder at least as copies.