The German National Library in Leipzig


A review of the German National Library (Deutsche Nationalbibliothek, DNB), Leipzig, Germany.

Although I spent most of my research “year” in Dresden, the capital of Saxony, I went to the state’s second city in order to work in the rich collections of the Deutsche Nationalbibliothek (DNB, German National Library). The DNB is a private institution founded in Leipzig in 1912 as the Deutsche Bücherei with the objective of collecting all German and German-language publications. A twin library was founded as the Deutsche Bibliothek in Frankfurt am Main in 1946, as it became increasingly likely that the country would be divided. In 2006, these two institutions joined under the new name Deutsche Nationalbibliothek. The branch in Leipzig is particularly strong in sources from 1913 to 1945, while that in Frankfurt concentrates on post-1945 literature.

Ed. note: This is the third in a trio of German archive reviews by Kristen Ehrenberger. For her review on the Federal Film Archive in Berlin, click here, and for her review on the Dresden City Archive, click here.

The DNB Leipzig is located in Deutscher Platz in the southeastern part of the city center, right below the Friedenspark (Address and opening hours in English). Be aware that it is cut off from the western part of town by train tracks, and you will have to go out of your way north or south to cross them until the construction of the City-Tunnel Leipzig is finished (projected at the end of 2013). Next door is a beautiful new repository and the Deutsches Buch- und Schriftmuseum (DBSM, Book and Writing Museum). The complex is accessible by the Straβenbahn (Lines 2 or 16), and there is ample bicycle parking.

Because the DNB is a center for bibliographic information, one can use of the online catalog and make some inquiries by email for free. To use the library itself, you need to be at least eighteen years old and have a valid ID (e.g. passport) and a research question. You can apply for a library ID number online to get access to some services, but you must pay for an ID card to use the physical facilities and everything else. The prices are very reasonable: 38 euros for a year, 15 euros for a month, or 5 euros for a day (which is actually good until the end of the next working day). When you arrive on your first day, pay for the pass you would like at the Automat in the lobby, then take the receipt to the information office on one side of the lobby to get your ID card. The guards are extremely friendly and very willing to direct you if you get confused. Neither a letter of introduction nor a registration certificate with the city government is necessary, although if you are living in Germany long enough to have one it certainly cannot hurt to have your local address on record.

In the locker room on the other side of the lobby, there are small lockers (1 or 2 euro coin required; you can get it back). You can also leave your bag and coat with the staff behind the counter, who will give you a tag. (This is also free.) There are even shelves for putting your lunch or snack in easy reach, without having to bother the staff to retrieve your bag. Bring only what you need with you. The library is kept comfortably warm and has wireless internet access.

When you enter the library, be sure to touch your ID on the pad to the right of the large doorway and look for the green light. You will walk past the book pick-up windows, organized by last name, and into the main reading room, with its dark wood floor, walls, and desks. This was my office for the month that I lived and worked in Leipzig. The desks have classic green-glass hooded lamps; when they glowed in the evenings lent the appropriate mood for doing research on early-twentieth-century ladies’ journals. In addition to two decades of the Dresdner Hausfrau, I also ordered grocery cooperative yearly reports, cookbooks, and other publications about nutrition that I had not found in Dresden or could not get in Berlin.

Numerous sub-libraries contribute to the size and breadth of the DNB. One of the oldest is a nationalist collection donated to the Frankfurt National Congress in 1848/1849 (Reichsbibliothek). The Anne Frank Shoah Library has a separate reading room for use of extensive materials referencing the National Socialists’ persecution and murder of Jews and other minorities that can be searched in the main catalog or separately. There is a related collection from and about emigrants and exiles from 1933 to 1945. The DNB is also a depository for many international organizations, among them the United Nations, UNESCO, European Union, World Trade Organization and World Health Organization. Since 2002, the DNB has housed the archive and library of the Börsenverein des Deutschen Buchhandels (German Publishers and Booksellers Association), which date back to 1841. In 2010, the Deutsches Musikarchiv (est. 1970) moved from Berlin to Leipzig. There are also collections of maps, Sozialistica (1830-1912), patents (1877-1990), and posters from the First and Second World Wars.

Many of these are available for use in other reading rooms on the first and second floors, which often have shorter hours of operation and more modern furniture, if you prefer that aesthetic. Some reference books can be perused on the shelves, and about 500 are available in the Electronic Reference Library, but the vast majority of the holdings is kept out of sight and must be requested via the online portal. In my experience, requests made by 10am or 10:30am generally arrive by 1:30pm; requests made after about noon on Friday or on Saturday will be filled on Monday. You can have 10 items out at one time, and anything that has not been picked up within a week is returned to the repository. Microfilm/fiche readers are on the second floor.

Photography is not allowed, so I made extensive use of the DNB’s in-house reproduction services, and the staff worked with me to process several requests of hundreds of pages each, and in just a few days. Because the cost of photocopies is the same as for scans, I came away with three DVDs (20 cents per page + 1.50 euros fee for titles older than 40 years). These had to be picked up from the information office and paid for at the Automat. If you are using newer sources, you can make copies yourself for 10 cents, or 50-75 cents for microfilm/fiche.

When you need a break, there is a cafeteria in the basement that sells a daily menu of hot food during lunch hours. The only places in walking distance to buy food at other hours are the clubhouse of a neighboring Schrebergarten and two grocery stores a little farther away. If the weather is nice, you can sit in the courtyard or on the grassy lawn out front. With its beautiful mosaics and pretty stained-glass windows, the building itself is noteworthy, so many of the city tour buses pause in the circle drive for tourists to snap photographs. When eating outside on the steps I often felt like part of the attraction!

Kristen Ann Ehrenberger
MD/PhD Candidate
Department of History and College of Medicine
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign


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Image: “Eingang Deutsche Nationalbibliothek Leipzig” by Appaloosa, Wikimedia Commons.

1 comment
  1. Here’s an update, posted while I’m at the DNB: If you are not going to be in Leipzig long enough to get an apartment and are on a budget, try the Cafe & Pension M14, less than a 10-minute walk away: . The outfitting is a little primitive, but if you’re just going to be sleeping there and spending your waking hours in the library, it suffices. (Ask for the reduced rate for visiting students.) I also note there is a cafeteria across the park from the library selling organic breakfast and lunch on weekdays: . Also beware that the Exilsammlung is not available for the foreseeable future while they digitize the collection.

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