Archives Week

This week, and next as well, I’m in Berlin for the annual spelunking of the Bundesarchiv, Germany’s premier archive.  The Bundesarchiv is a treasure house of information, if you can find it, that is.   The archive is hidden away in a leafy corner of Lichterfelde West just past Kadettenweg on the grounds of an officer’s school with roots in the Prussian past, all within a gated campus which was once used by US occupation officials as a barracks for Americans.   In short, it is a deeply layered thing.

Take, for instance, this random find, a listing sent by the German Institute for Foreign Science to the German Foreign Ministry in 1942, in response to the latter’s request for a list of people in Berlin who were good with the Turkish language.

And no, you can’t find this stuff sitting in your house, that is, unless you are a former Nazi official, circa 1942, and you generally can’t find it online.  (And some people can’t read German, but they should be working along with me to remedy that deficiency as well.)  The challenge with archival materials is always and perpetually to balance the need for incessant exploration with the equally present (though not always overpowering) desire to see the material into print.  I’ve found the Bundesarchiv materials to be extremely helpful, however, in many regards, not least of which is as a spur to keep my German language relatively limber and, more importantly, give me a better sense of the breadth and success of Chinese foreign policy with East Germany in the 1950s-1980s, East German aid to North Korea, and the complex ties between Japan and Nazi Germany in the 1930s.

And on the topic of archives, I may be posting a few more newsy items picked up along the way on my recent travels to Iceland (where my visit coincided with a PRC state visit for geothermal energy contracts) and London (where among other things I met with Sinologist Martin Jacques, joined an Iranian march for democracy, and partied with the dancers of the English National Ballet.)   But all in due time, or, in the infamous words of the Cairo Declaration, “in due course.”  Until then!


  1. Did you know that East German architects rebuilt Hamhung after the Korean War? Here are some photos of East German-designed (or inspired) buildings there. Apparently the East Germans’ involvement ended prematurely because of worsening relations between North Korea and the GDR.

  2. Oh yes, I’ve dug up more than a few documents from the Bundesarchiv on that topic — Rudiger Frank wrote a whole dissertation about it!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s