The "Barn Stock" of the Berlin City Library

The so-called "Scheunenbestand" (barn stock) are books of the Berlin City Library that were moved to a barn in Berlin-Müggelheim before the conversion of the New Marstall on Schlossplatz (Marx-Engels-Platz) into the administrative building of the Palace of the Republic in 1974. From there, the holdings returned to what is now the Central and Regional Library of Berlin between 1990 and 1995.

The books were stored in several cellars in the Neuer Marstall in 1965 during the construction of the new library. The holdings included unregistered books, parts of special collections, former Berlin school libraries and looted books of deported Jews from the Städtische Pfandleihanstalt, which was dissolved in 1943.[i]

Space for the tunnel to the Palace of the Republic

Construction of the Palace of the Republic began in 1973. The Neuer Marstall (New Stables) opposite was intended as an external administrative building with the director's office, recreation rooms for the guard regiment of the GDR State Security Service "Feliks Dzierzynski", police and army, and other organisational rooms. Both buildings were later connected by a tunnel in which telephone lines were laid in a tap-proof manner. It served primarily as a connecting passage for the guard regiment and the palace staff.[ii]

The "Aufbauleitung Sondervorhaben der Hauptstadt Berlin" was responsible for the conversion of the Marstall. On 5 April 1974, it proposed to the presidium of the GDR's Bauakademie that a replacement building be erected in Wallstraße for the storage of library books. However, this was not realised; presumably it was too expensive with estimated construction costs of 3 million marks.[iii]  At the same time, soldiers of the National People's Army (NVA), who were deployed on the construction site of the palace, began to clear out the first cellars. They first transported the books to cellars of the Neues Stadthaus in Parochialstraße and from there to a solidly built barn in Müggelheim in autumn of 1974.[iv]  The number of books can no longer be reconstructed today. It can be assumed that there were at least 1,000 shelf metres.[v]

It is not known how contact was made with the owners of the barn. Possibly the construction management, with the help of the SED, had been looking for a place to store the books and had learned that the formerly privately run agricultural business had been deregistered in 1972 and the barn was no longer in use. The library now rented the larger of the two rooms inside, with an area of 110 m². The owners received a monthly rent. In return, they were obliged to ensure the safety of the books and to clear the snow in front of the barn in winter so that library staff had accident-free access.[vi]

The barn was given a concrete floor, the walls were whitewashed, the doors to the garden were bricked up and the roof was sealed. Slits between the roof and walls were used for ventilation; wind also came through the old entrance gate. The books were stored in blocks, meaning they were piled up into large squares, with more books piled in the middle.[vii]  In October 1974, the move was completed. In the following years, the library brought only a few books back into its stock.

The clearing of the barn (1990 to 1995)

After the reunification of the two German states, the owners of the barn negotiated with the senate about a higher usage fee in line with the German rents for commercial space. This could have been the trigger for the beginning of the clearing at the end of 1990. The process dragged on until November 1995 for several reasons: The books were first cleaned on site, pre-sorted and then further processed in a branch of the library. Only a few staff members were employed for this and these only twice a week. Moreover, due to the temperatures, they could only work in the barn from spring to autumn.[viii]

Many books had been destroyed by mice, humidity, mould and lime from the walls. After the first clean-up, the rest was again checked for damage in a branch of the library, sorted by category, assigned to the subject departments, brought to the main library and incorporated into the collection there. Doublet copies went to antiquarian bookshops and to the "Central Office for Old Academic Collections" (Zentralstelle für Wissenschaftliche Altbestände, ZWA) of the Prussian State Library, which, however, was dissolved in 1995. The rest was brought to a Berlin landfill site. Exlibris were detached from the books and collected separately. Duplicate copies also went to antiquarian bookshops in Berlin.

The complete cleaning of the books was not always successful. Professional mould removal, as has since become established in the library, was not practised at the time for technical and personnel reasons. So books remained untreated for years. Some of them still show the traces of years of poor storage today: irreparable deformations, destroyed bindings and discolouration due to mould.

The clearing of the barn made it possible to reunite some books with the special collections they used to be a part of, such as the collection of the Berlin school headmaster August Engelien, the library of Bernhard Büchsenschütz, the headmaster of the Friedrichswerder Grammar School, and that of the philologist Ulrich Wilamowitz-Moellendorf. Relevant quantities of printed works from the period before 1850 were also collected. From these, the special collection "Old Prints" could be created and supplemented with the works already in the library.

Although Nazi loot was not yet in the awareness when the barn stock was incorporated into the library, all Hebraica that did not belong to a collection were nevertheless placed separately and given to the New Synagogue Berlin - Centrum Judaicum Foundation.

The barn stock today

The books from the Müggelheim barn can now be found in almost all of the library's holdings. They have been gradually processed and prepared for the public again. However, it is still unclear how many books were removed at that time and how many still exist today. There was no storage list or subsequent marking of the copies when they were reintroduced into the library system. Today, the barn in Müggelheim serves as a venue for events - traces of its use as a storage location for the Berlin Public Library for over 16 years can no longer be found.


Text & Research Jeanette Toussaint



[i] On the origin and relocation of the books in the course of the new building at the beginning of the 1960s: Zentral- und Landesbibliothek Berlin (ZLB), Rohrlach files, HA F 8/1; ZLB, Berliner Stadtbibliothek 783, correspondence on the acquisition of the books in 1943 from the Städtische Pfandleihe. The file was in the NS Looted Property Project at the time of inspection on 7.4.2021, but is to be handed over to the Landesarchiv Berlin; Friedhilde Krause/Paul Raabe (eds.): Handbuch der historischen Buchbestände in Deutschland. Volume 14, Berlin, Part 1. Hildesheim/Zurich/New York 1995, pp. 222-241.

[ii] Interview by Jeanette Toussaint with the architect responsible for this on 14.10.2020.

[iii] Bundesarchiv, DH 2/20658 vol. 1: Presidium meeting of the Bauakademie der DDR on 5.4.1974.

[iv] Daily notes of the library employee Peter R., April, May and October 1974. Transcript in the possession of the ZLB.

[v] ZLB, Rohrlach files, HA F4/3: Work report of the Council Library dated 12.7.1974. However, it is not clear from this whether a total of more than 1,000 shelf metres was involved or only the quantity of the Council Library.

[vi] Rental contract dated 13.2.1975. Copy in the possession of the ZLB.

[vii] Interview by Jeanette Toussaint with the owners of the barn on 4.9.2021.

[viii] Interviews by Jeanette Toussaint with the library staff involved in the clearance and incorporation of the books, September/October 2020.