The sun sometimes shines in the Rhineland…

20 November 2009

The Bundesarchiv Koblenz in the sunlight (a rare occurrence lately, as we’ve only had a couple non-rainy days this month, and there are only about 9 hours of sunlight a day this far north).

I know, I know, it’s been a while, but research at the BA Koblenz really takes it out of you. First, there’s the sheer hassle of getting there: 1 train per hour from Bad Godesburg, 40 minutes on that (and each round trip is €15.40), then you can either climb the hill (about 80 meters straight up) or pay the ridiculously expensive bus fare (€2.40 before reductions for about a km ride, 30 cents more than a subway trip ANYWHERE within the city of Berlin).

Once you get to the archive (much like NARA in College Park) you’re faced with a dishearteningly long list of relevant files, often found with the help of a nice fachreferant, that you know you don’t have nearly enough time to work through. Still, you have to start somewhere, and if you’re disciplined enough to stay in the reading room (not difficult when it’s raining and barely above freezing) you can work through several boxes of files in a day.

After Berlin, I’ve reverted to my old National Archives practices of scanning files quickly, taking whatever notes may be necessary, and requesting a lot of copies. The nice thing is, they will scan everything I request and send me a CD when I’m back in the US. Yes, there is a cost for this, but it’s already rolled into the steep copying costs of €3 per file to start, and 39 cents per page after that. At least some of it’s in English, so I could potentially use it in a class someday (if I ever teach the Berlin Wall seminar again).

One of the things that still amazes me about researching a period after the invention of mechanized (or at least easy) document copying – and this is still before the age of Xerox, mind you – is the sheer volume of identical documents out there. I have now found the same memos in three different archives (Berlin, Hannover, Koblenz), and I have no doubt that if I were to go to Wiesbaden, Düsseldorf or Munich (other state-level archives) I would find even more copies. But even that’s nothing compared to the files that have 2, 3, 4, or 20 copies of the same document. I looked at one file where about 25% was a single set of copies of a Protokoll, an account of a meeting transcribed for sharing with other departments. I’m guessing that some poor secretary ran all of these through the mimeograph, collated them, and instead of sending them around, put them somewhere safe (like a filing cabinet). Then, 20 years later, they were duly noted as important historical documents and trucked to Koblenz. Thank god the Germans seem to have relied a bit less on carbon paper than the Americans did – there’s nothing in this world worse than trying to read a document that was clearly the fourth sheet of onion skin in a stack of four.

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One Response to “The sun sometimes shines in the Rhineland…”

  1. tellerallaboutit said

    Sounds like the Rhineland gets about as much rain, clouds, and sunlight as my dear PDX. Can’t wait for you to show back up Stateside! Hope you’re well!

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