Historisches Archiv der Stadt Köln

Historisches Archiv der Stadt Köln

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The Historical Archive of the City of Cologne is the municipal archive
An archive is a collection of historical records, or the physical place they are located. Archives contain primary source documents that have accumulated over the course of an individual or organization's lifetime, and are kept to show the function of an organization...

 of Cologne
Cologne is Germany's fourth-largest city , and is the largest city both in the Germany Federal State of North Rhine-Westphalia and within the Rhine-Ruhr Metropolitan Area, one of the major European metropolitan areas with more than ten million inhabitants.Cologne is located on both sides of the...

, Germany. It ranks among the largest communal archives in Europe.

A municipal archive has been taking custody of records in Cologne since the Middle Ages
Middle Ages
The Middle Ages is a periodization of European history from the 5th century to the 15th century. The Middle Ages follows the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 and precedes the Early Modern Era. It is the middle period of a three-period division of Western history: Classic, Medieval and Modern...

. The oldest inventory of charters in the archive is dated 1408/1409. The oldest document kept in the archive is a charter dated 922 AD.

The archive contains official records and private documents from all ages of Cologne history, as well as an extensive library of manuscripts. While the adjective "historical" in its name might suggest a closed, complete archive with a focus on older history, the archive is also the official government repository that is collecting the most recent municipal archival records.

The six-story archive building collapsed on 3 March 2009, along with two neighboring apartment buildings. Two residents of neighboring buildings were found dead. All archive staff and visiting archive users survived, as they could escape after a warning by construction workers. The actual degree of damage to the historical treasures kept in the building is still unknown. A substantial part of the written records of the city's history is believed to have been destroyed.

Legal basis

The work of communal archives in the land of North Rhine-Westphalia is based on the "Archivgesetz des Landes NRW" bill of 1989. The municipal archive of Cologne is also governed by the municipal archive ordinance "Archivsatzung" (last revised in 2007). The federal "Bundesarchivgesetz" bill does not apply.

Shrine system

An early method of archiving in Cologne was the so-called Schreinswesen (shrine system), used for documenting citizens' rights. A Schrein (shrine
A shrine is a holy or sacred place, which is dedicated to a specific deity, ancestor, hero, martyr, saint, daemon or similar figure of awe and respect, at which they are venerated or worshipped. Shrines often contain idols, relics, or other such objects associated with the figure being venerated....

, from Latin scrinium) was a wooden chest or cabinet where parish administrations stored records and charters. Such shrines were used for records storage throughout the Middle Ages, extending into early modern times, most notably in the parish of St. Lawrence near the Cologne town hall. The records concerned mainly real estate transactions and were mostly stored on parchment sheets or in books which subsequently became known as Schreinsbücher (shrine books). In Cologne, these books can be traced back to AD 1130. Similar books from the late 12th century are known from the cities of Metz
Metz is a city in the northeast of France located at the confluence of the Moselle and the Seille rivers.Metz is the capital of the Lorraine region and prefecture of the Moselle department. Located near the tripoint along the junction of France, Germany, and Luxembourg, Metz forms a central place...

 and Andernach
Andernach is a town in the district of Mayen-Koblenz, in Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany, of currently about 30,000 inhabitants. It is situated towards the end of the Neuwied basin on the left bank of the Rhine between the former tiny fishing village of Fornich in the north and the mouth of the...

. In the 19th century, all records of the old Cologne shrine quarters were transferred to the municipal archives.

First traces of a municipal archive

The existence of a municipal archive can be traced at least to the year 1322. In 1326 the city council
Cologne City Hall
The City Hall is a historical building in Cologne, western Germany, located off Hohe Straße in the district of Innenstadt, set between the two squares of Rathausplatz and Alter Markt. It houses part of the city government, including the city council and offices of the Lord Mayor. It is...

 decided to establish the so-called White Book (Weißes Buch), a book of copies of charters and privileges. Since at least 1370, the archives were located in the Haus zur Stessen.

Archive in the town hall tower

In medieval Cologne, valuable goods and important trade documents were mostly stored in vaulted warehouses specially built in backyards. This method of storage was used by both business owners and the municipal administration. Documents included privileges, contracts, law case records, maps, seals and documents from the estates of important persons. As the city and its national and international trade thrived and prospered, the municipal administration planned to store the growing number of documents in an adequate space.

On 19 August 1406, the city council resolved upon adding a tower to the town hall. The tower was eventually built from 1407 until 1414 and served, among various other purposes, as a storage room for municipal charters, privileges and securities. Responsible for its construction was Cologne's bursary officer, Roland von Odendorp. The Gothic building with its two tetragonal upper stories and two more octagonal top stories has some similarities to Dutch belfries
Bell tower
A bell tower is a tower which contains one or more bells, or which is designed to hold bells, even if it has none. In the European tradition, such a tower most commonly serves as part of a church and contains church bells. When attached to a city hall or other civic building, especially in...

 of the time and rises to 61 m. It contained a wine cellar, an armory, a meeting room for the municipal council, a firefighter guardroom on the very top, and a vaulted room for the municipal archives. Documents were stored in chests or cabinets marked A to X. The "Kölner Verbundbrief" charter, a municipal constitution document of 1396, was granted pride of place in a chest decorated with a crown. From 1414, the archive was directed by a Gewulvemeister (vault master). Later, the direction was taken over by a committee of municipal jurists, the syndici.

In 1594, the records of the Brugge
Brügge is a municipality in the district of Rendsburg-Eckernförde, in Schleswig-Holstein, Germany.Its small church and market square are noted for their beauty....

 offices of the Hanseatic League
Hanseatic League
The Hanseatic League was an economic alliance of trading cities and their merchant guilds that dominated trade along the coast of Northern Europe...

 (then stored in Antwerp) were transferred to the Cologne archives. These records included copies of the protocols of the diets of the Hanseatic League. With the 1594 transfer, the Cologne archive became the most important repository of historical material concerning the Hanseatic League and thus concerning the history of Northern Germany in general, only matched by the municipal archives of Lübeck
The Hanseatic City of Lübeck is the second-largest city in Schleswig-Holstein, in northern Germany, and one of the major ports of Germany. It was for several centuries the "capital" of the Hanseatic League and, because of its Brick Gothic architectural heritage, is listed by UNESCO as a World...


On 27 February 1602, the city council ordered that books on jurisdiction and administration were to be bought at the regularly held Frankfurt Book Fair
Frankfurt Book Fair
The Frankfurt Book Fair is the world's largest trade fair for books, based on the number of publishing companies represented. As to the number of visitors, the Turin Book Fair attracts about as many visitors, viz. some 300,000....

 on a regular basis. These were subsequently stored in the municipal archive and were the basis of the Cologne municipal library. The Ratsbibliothek was one of the few Cologne libraries that did not suffer major losses during the French occupation in the early years of the 19th century.

After the secularization
Secularization is the transformation of a society from close identification with religious values and institutions toward non-religious values and secular institutions...

 of abbeys and colleges of canons in Cologne in the early years of the 19th century, the French government ordered their archives to be stored in the state archives in Düsseldorf. It was not until 1949 that a Cologne mayor succeeded in claiming 19,000 charters and many other records for the Cologne municipal archives.

Acquisitions in the 19th century

In 1818, the city of Cologne was bequeathed Ferdinand Franz Wallraf's major collection of art, books and manuscripts. After Wallraf's death in 1824, his collection of statues and paintings were the cornerstone of the Wallrafianum, now known as the Wallraf-Richartz Museum
Wallraf-Richartz Museum
The Wallraf-Richartz-Museum is one of the three major museums in Cologne, Germany. It houses an art gallery with a collection of fine art from the medieval period to the early twentieth century...

, one of Cologne's major art museums. The archive and library, then still operated as one entity, were chosen to keep all books and manuscripts. When the institutions were administratively separated in the 1880s, all manuscripts were retained by the archive, while all printed books were given to the library. That is why, unlike most other archives, the Cologne archive boasts a major collection of medieval manuscripts. Both archive and library shared a building until 1934, when the library moved to the newly built building of the University of Cologne
University of Cologne
The University of Cologne is one of the oldest universities in Europe and, with over 44,000 students, one of the largest universities in Germany. The university is part of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, an association of Germany's leading research universities...


From 1815 until he died in 1857, Johann Jakob Peter Fuchs governed the municipal archive as its volunteer director. Fuchs was a friend of Wallraf's who also supervised the incorporation and cataloging of the Wallraf collection in 1824. He reorganized the entire archive and made its contents accessible to scholarly research.

In 1857, Leonhard Ennen
Leonhard Ennen
Leonhard Ennen, also spelled Leonard Ennen, was a German theologian, historian and archivist born in Schleiden, in the Eifel region of modern-day Germany...

 became the first full-time municipal archivist. Among others, he acquired documents from the estate of Hermann von Weinsberg, a 16th-century Cologne jurist famous for his autobiographical writings.

Archive building of 1897

From 1894 to 1897, a new building was specially built for the municipal archive and library. The Gothic revival building by architect Friedrich Carl Heimann was inaugurated in December 1897. The new building was large enough to accommodate the archive in a time of accelerated growth when the city of Cologne incorporated many independent towns and villages.

During World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

 the building suffered damage by bombing. However, since all records and manuscripts had been put in safe storage from as early as September 1939, the archive did not suffer any substantial loss.

Since the archive moved to its new location in 1971, the building has been used as a private library by Gerling, a large insurance company.

Archive building of 1971

In 1971, a six-story archive building by architect Fritz Haferkamp was built on Severinstraße in the southern part of Cologne's city center.

One goal of the construction was to save archival records from changes in weather and climate while creating a balanced room climate. Contrary to the contemporary trend towards artificial air-conditioning, Haferkamp preferred a structural-physical, self-regulating solution that needed only little additional climate technology. As the "Cologne Model", the building became a paradigm of many later archive buildings.

For maximum protection of the stack rooms against atmospheric exposure, an armored concrete frame was immured by a brick wall with a thickness of 49 cm. A facade was attached at a distance of 7 cm from the brick wall, made from bright Czech granite. The interior walls were plastered with lime mortar that absorbed air moisture from the inside. The moisture diffused through the brick wall and was drained through the space between the wall and the facade. Only the basement rooms (located under a ceiling with a thickness of 30 cm) were artificially air-conditioned. Vertical light slots with a height of 130 cm and a width of 25 cm let only diffused light pass to the interior wall, so sunlight was not able to cause any change in temperature. Only the ground floor was equipped with larger windows. The slots were also used for ventilation: opposing slots caused a stream of air that went exactly parallel to the shelf rows. Each story of the stacks building had a capacity of 4221 linear metres of records on 647 m² of effective surface. Rooms were 2.30 m high, shelves rose to 2.25 m. Each shelf had a carrying capacity of 70 kg.

The dominating stacks building was 21.4 m high, 48.8 m wide and 16 m deep, yet both the ground floor and the basement of the whole complex were considerably larger. Towards Severinstraße, the ground floor consisted of the main entrance hall and an exhibition room. Adjacent were the reading room, around 20 office rooms, the restoration workshop and various functional rooms. Four courtyards provided natural light to the rear ground floor rooms. The basement included the charters archive, the archival library and, in its center, a treasure bunker for charters and records walled by armored concrete of 60 cm thickness. The building was secured by fire detectors, a carbon-dioxide-based fire-extinguishing system, and a burglar alarm device.

After the archives had moved from the 1897 building to its new home (April 26 to June 20, 1971), a little under 44% of the whole volumes were used. The stacks volume was only designed to last 30 years. The maximum capacity was already reached in 1996, so some records had to be outsourced.

Collapse of the archive in 2009

On 3 March 2009 at 1:58 p.m. the archive building collapsed. The exact cause of this catastrophe is not known. It is generally believed, however, that the construction of a new subway line of the Cologne Stadtbahn
Cologne Stadtbahn
The Cologne Stadtbahn is a light rail system in the German city of Cologne, including several surrounding cities...

 system is closely related to the collapse. Construction workers who built an underground switch facility noticed that water flooded the building pit. After that, they quickly warned staff and visitors of the archive and told them to leave the building. Shortly after that, an underground landslide into the subway tunnel caused the archive building to collapse. Two adjacent apartment buildings also collapsed, killing two residents.

In the collapsed stacks building, the main holdings of the archive were stored, including the medieval manuscripts of the Wallraf collection. Around 90% of archival records were buried by the collapsing building. Other holdings, mainly those stored in the ground floor extension with the reading room, such as the film and photograph collection and ca. 40,000 charters could be evacuated. Some other, albeit minor parts of the records had been outsourced and were thus not affected by the collapse. According to the former director Hugo Stehkämper, the collection of 80 "shrine charters" from the 12th century, a seals collection and most inventory books could be saved and remain intact.


The archival holdings include(d):
  • 65,000 charters from 922 AD to the present
  • 26,000 linear meters of records
  • 104,000 maps and plans
  • 50,000 posters
  • 800 estates, literary remains and other special collections

Among the 700 private estates are those of writer and Nobel laureate Heinrich Böll
Heinrich Böll
Heinrich Theodor Böll was one of Germany's foremost post-World War II writers. Böll was awarded the Georg Büchner Prize in 1967 and the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1972.- Biography :...

, and writers Jakob Ignaz Hittorf, Irmgard Keun
Irmgard Keun
Irmgard Keun was a German author noteworthy both for her portrayals of life in the Weimar Republic as well as the early years of the Nazi Germany era.-Biography:...

, Vilma Sturm, Paul Schallück and Hans Mayer
Hans Mayer
Hans Mayer was a German literary scholar. Mayer was also a jurist and social researcher and was internationally recognized as a critic, author and musicologist.- Life :...

, architects Ernst Friedrich Zwirner
Ernst Friedrich Zwirner
Ernst Friedrich Zwirner was an architect born at Jakobswalde in Silesia in 1802, he died at Cologne in 1861. He studied in Breslau and Berlin, and worked at the latter place under Karl Friedrich Schinkel....

 and Sulpiz Boisserée
Sulpiz Boisserée
Johann Sulpiz Melchior Dominikus Boisserée was a German art collector who played a large role raising money for the restoration the Cathedral of his native city, Cologne.He died at Bonn.-External links:*...

, collector Ferdinand Franz Wallraf, composers Jacques Offenbach
Jacques Offenbach
Jacques Offenbach was a Prussian-born French composer, cellist and impresario. He is remembered for his nearly 100 operettas of the 1850s–1870s and his uncompleted opera The Tales of Hoffmann. He was a powerful influence on later composers of the operetta genre, particularly Johann Strauss, Jr....

 and Max Bruch
Max Bruch
Max Christian Friedrich Bruch , also known as Max Karl August Bruch, was a German Romantic composer and conductor who wrote over 200 works, including three violin concertos, the first of which has become a staple of the violin repertoire.-Life:Bruch was born in Cologne, Rhine Province, where he...

, conductor Günter Wand
Günter Wand
Günter Wand was a German orchestra conductor and composer. Wand studied in Wuppertal, Allenstein and Detmold. At the Cologne conservatory, he was a composition student with Philipp Jarnach and a piano student with Paul Baumgartner...

, and philosopher Vilém Flusser
Vilém Flusser
Vilém Flusser was a Czech-born philosopher, writer and journalist. He lived for a long period in São Paulo, Brazil and later in France, and his works are written in several different languages....

. Plans and drawings of architects Hans Schilling, Oswald Mathias Ungers
Oswald Mathias Ungers
Oswald Mathias Ungers was a German architect and architectural theorist, known for his rationalist designs and the use of cubic forms. Among his notable projects are museums in Frankfurt, Hamburg and Cologne....

, Wilhelm Riphahn
Wilhelm Riphahn
Wilhelm Riphahn was a German architect.Riphahn studied at the technical universities in Berlin-Charlottenburg, Munich, and Karlsruhe. He worked for a Siemens construction office in Berlin and in 1912 for "Gebrüder Taut & Hoffmann"...

, Karl Band, Gottfried Böhm
Gottfried Böhm
Gottfried Böhm is a German architect.Böhm was born into a family of architects in Offenbach, Hessen. His father, Dominikus Böhm, is renowned for having built several churches throughout Germany. His grandfather was also an architect. After graduating from Technical University of Munich in 1946, he...

, and Dominikus Böhm
Dominikus Böhm
Dominikus Böhm was a German architect specializing in churches. He build churches in Cologne, the Ruhr area, Swabia, and Hesse...

 were stored in the building.

All charters and privileges formerly stored in the town hall tower were catalogued in the first inventory (inv. no. "Alte Repertorien 6"). This collection, also known as "Haupturkundenarchiv" (main charters archive), is regarded as the core part of the archive and was hence given the inventory number I.

Until 2009, all registers of births, marriages and deaths were stored at the municipal civil registry offices regardless of their age. Following a reform bill of 13 March 2008, birth registers until 1898, marriage registers until 1928 and death registers until 1978 were transferred to the archives in 2009.

Many of the most important unique holdings of the Cologne archives have been preserved on microfilm in the central safekeeping archive of Germany, the "Barbarastollen" caves in Oberried
Oberried, Germany
Oberried is a town in the district of Breisgau-Hochschwarzwald in Baden-Württemberg in southern Germany.Oberried is home to the Barbarastollen caves, the central safekeeping archive of Germany. The Barbarastollen holds microfilms with millions of images from German archives and museums.- References :...

 in the Black Forest
Black Forest
The Black Forest is a wooded mountain range in Baden-Württemberg, southwestern Germany. It is bordered by the Rhine valley to the west and south. The highest peak is the Feldberg with an elevation of 1,493 metres ....

region. The Barbarastollen holds around 638 microfilms with one million of images in varying grades of quality from the various Cologne collections, including the municipal archive. In addition, the 1400 medieval manuscript books of the Archives were microfilmed by the Hill Museum & Manuscript Library in the 1980s. However, recent acquisitions have not yet been preserved on microfilm, such as the estate of writer Heinrich Böll. According to director Schmidt-Czaia, the archive has only digitized a tiny fraction of its holdings.

The Marburg photo archive of old charters holds high-quality black and white photographs of 284 charters from the Cologne archive.

List of directors

Directors of the Cologne municipal archive:
Director Time Photo
Johann Jakob Peter Fuchs 1815–1857
Leonhard Ennen 1857–1880
Konstantin Höhlbaum 1880–1890
Joseph Hansen 1891–1927
Erich Kuphal 1932–1960
Arnold Güttsches 1960–1969
Hugo Stehkämper 1969–1994
Everhard Kleinertz 1994–2004
Bettina Schmidt-Czaia (* 1960) 2004–

External links