On Times and Tomes – The DHM celebrates three library jubilees

Charlotte Lenz | 14. Dezember 2022

In 2022 the Deutsches Historisches Museum (DHM) can celebrate 200 years of libraries in the Berlin Zeughaus. It is no doubt a unique event among German museums and libraries that the DHM can mark the founding of three libraries at the same time, thus paying tribute to the preceding institutions on whose book collections the current stocks of the museum’s library are based. Charlotte Lenz, a library staff member, tells us about the history of the DHM library and its predecessors.

Carl Traugott Fechhelm: The street Unter den Linden in Berlin with Zeughaus and Kronprinzenpalais, Öl auf Leinwand, 1785 (DHM Sammlung Kunst, Gm 96/12)

The history of the Berlin Zeughaus – No. 2 on the capital’s boulevard Unter den Linden – began in 1821/22 as an important military museum when it first took in weapons and trophies from the wars of independence in order to collect, preserve and display them as historically valuable objects. Until the Zeughaus (originally an armoury) was systematically redesigned as a genuine artillery museum after the Franco-Prussian War of 1870/71, it served a twofold purpose as a weapons depot and a collection. Objects listed in the DHM Library under the handwritten entry “Possessions of the weapons and model collection of the Royal Zeughaus of Berlin” show that not only original pieces, such as armaments, uniforms, medals and flags, but also books related to work with the objects were collected from the very beginning. Accordingly, in 2022 the museum can celebrate the founding of the former Zeughaus library 200 years ago as the original predecessor of the present DHM Library.

Budik, Peter Alcantara: Origin, Training, Acceptance and Expiry of the Tournament, Vienna: Grund, 1836 (Titelblatt ; DHM Bibliothek, M 57/1834)

The history of this library was marked above all by the massive destruction of the Zeughaus during the Second World War and the necessary evacuation of the museum’s collections at that time.

View into the destroyed west wing of the armoury, under whose undestroyed intermediate ceiling the remains of the armoury library have survived, 1949 (DHM Fotografische Sammlung, F 54/707)

The extant files, including a handwritten inventory catalogue, lists of the objects evacuated and recovered, as well as archived invoices, show that the total stocks of the Zeughaus library in 1946 can be estimated at 10,000 tomes, of which to date 4,500 could be identified in the current book collection. In addition to scholarly books on war, the library collected valuable manuscripts and books on history, geography, art, and the natural sciences.

Catalogue of the Library of the Royal Armoury in Berlin, 1st and 2nd Department, Berlin 1885 (Titelblatt ; DHM Bibliothek, RB 16/1710 -1)

After the war, the Zeughaus library was completely phased out in the course of the later 1940s and the remaining books were distributed to other large Berlin libraries. Nevertheless, after only a few years, books began to be procured again, and by 1957, the library in the meanwhile reconstructed Zeughaus contained a sizable collection. Until the reunification of West and East Germany in 1990, the Museum für Deutsche Geschichte (MfDG) of the German Democratic Republic, founded in 1952, maintained a large museum library; its founding 70 years ago could also be celebrated in 2022.

Reading room of the library of the MfDG,1971 (DHM Fotografische Sammlung, F 71/497)

Already in October 1951, Werner Richter, later head of the MfDG library, began gathering back the stocks of the Zeughaus library that had been outsourced in 1948, in which he was largely successful. Along with some 25,000 volumes from the former archive library of the headquarters of the Socialist Unity Party (SED) of Saxony, the restituted stocks formed a basic, representative inventory for the library. In the next forty years, the stocks were increased to around 165,000 media units, which were naturally oriented on the fundamental socialist principles dictated by the GDR government, but were also expanded to include literature from capitalist countries.

In 1987, when a reunification of East and West Germany still seemed to be a distant hope, Federal Chancellor Helmut Kohl presented the city of Berlin with a counterpart to the MfDG – the Deutsches Historisches Museum, which as a Forum for History aimed to be a place that would provide “answers to the questions of where the Germans come from and where they are headed.” [1]  

Among the original 43 employees of the DHM, there was a librarian in charge of building up a service library for the personnel of the museum by purchasing, requesting endowments, and actively exchanging books with other museums and libraries. Thus, in 2022, the DHM celebrates a further anniversary: 35 years since the founding of the DHM Library.

DHM, Reading room and desk in Windscheidstraße, 1987 (private collection)

After the political unification of Germany in 1990, the MfDG and the DHM consolidated their library collections. It took altogether four years until the smaller stock of the DHM could be integrated into the larger collection of the MfDG with all the necessary signatures and shelving. It was then moved together with the personnel into the Zeughaus. After a further six years, in the year 2000, the office and reading room of the DHM library were transferred from the Zeughaus to the DHM administration building. The majority of the meanwhile 260,000 volumes of the library’s collection are still located in the Zeughaus, albeit in a depot in the attic above the north and east wings of the building.

DHM, book stacks of the library in the Zeughaus, 2022

In the meantime, the DHM library is among the most important scholarly specialist libraries on German history, collecting literature for the exhibitions and for the work in other areas of the museum. As an independent collection, it also provides exponents for the different exhibition projects. In the past 15 years, the library has made significant advances, particularly from a technical standpoint. Since 2017, after a retro-conversion of the card catalogues into a local online catalogue, the entire book inventory can be researched, and can now also be accessed through the Bavarian library network. Moreover, as a smaller, Berlin-wide network, the DHM library is connected through branch offices with the libraries of the Documentation Centre for Displacement, Expulsion, Reconciliation as well as the Allied Museum, whose stocks provide a great addition to the DHM library. It offers our employees as well as external visitors the opportunity to do their work and research with the help of these additional sources. Through expertise and far-reaching offers, the library continues to expand its range of services.

Dr Matthias Miller and Charlotte Lenz have taken the anniversaries of the Zeughaus library, the library of the MfDG, and the DHM library as an occasion to publish the richly illustrated German-language volume Seiten & Zeiten – 200 Jahre Bibliotheken im Zeughaus, which relates the eventful history of the libraries and highlights special objects in the collection. The book can be purchased through the museum’s online shop.

Klaudia Charlotte Lenz; Matthias Miller:
Zeiten & Seiten – 200 Jahre Bibliotheken im Berliner Zeughaus
Berlin: Stiftung Deutsches Historisches Museum, 2022

[1] Arnulf Scriba: Die Gründung des Deutschen Historischen Museums 1987, in: LeMO, Oktober 2021 (https://www.dhm.de/lemo/rueckblick/die-gruendung-des-deutschen-historischenmuseums-1987.html ; Letzter Zugriff: 02.12.2022)

Foto: DHM



Klaudia Charlotte Lenz

Klaudia Charlotte Lenz is deputy head of the library of the German Historical Museum