Everyone knows the situation: you are moving house or clearing things out, you pick them up and have a look at them and try to decide what to do with them. In the attic and in the basement you find many long forgotten boxes of papers. All too often we discard the handwritten „heirlooms“ quickly: we cannot read the handwriting and anyway – who cares about grandma’s or grandpa’s letters?
“We should not cut short our elders when they want to tell us something and we should not put their diaries into the garbage bin, for they are directed at us: these are the experiences of whole generations and we cannot afford to destroy them, this would be sheer waste. We have to bend down and pick up what must not be forgotten: lt is our history.” Walter Kempowski*
So that these documents are not lost to history, the Deutsche Tagebucharchiv was founded in January 1998 by Frauke von Troschke. She was familiar with the Italian example in Pieve Santo Stefano , founded in 1985 by the well-known journalist Saverio Tutino, and had discovered that Germany had no institution devoted to the collection of personal memoirs. The small town of Emmendingen (15 km to the north of Freiburg, which has a large university) provided office space in the Old Historic Town Hall next to the market place.
Who we are
The Deutsche Tagebucharchiv is a registered non-profit association of public interest and is led by an elected volunteer executive board consisting of a president, a vice-president and a treasurer. Basic financing is more or less “secured” on the membership fees, on donations , on the rent-free office space and minor public grants.
The Deutsche Tagebucharchiv collects diaries, memoirs and letters, but also family chronicles, family reference books, where autobiography plays a part. We keep in mind how quickly the culture of diary- or letter-writing is disappearing: billions of blog entries are posted, e-mails, text-, video-, photo-messages are sent daily in millions but they are a fleeting medium and will probably not be preserved for posterity. The leisure and concentration needed to write a letter creates a different kind of communication, an intimate conversation with the recipient, not only “messages”.
What we hold and what we do
Since the foundation of the Deutsche Tagebucharchiv a permanent stream of submissions from all parts of Germany and even from abroad has come in. More than 15.00 documents by about 3.400 authors have been filed and registered. The contents can differ from a very small booklet with drawings up to a box full of letters, even 100 diaries written by only one person.
A Contract is made with all submitters. An attempt is made to find out as much personal information as possible about the author (date and place of birth, CV and profession). In Emmendingen all the texts are read. The reading group consists of 40-50 people (including external readers) who meet once a month to present the texts they have read. The readers have volunteered for this work because of their interest in biography. The group consists of both old and young.
An exact note is taken of the content and a multi-paged questionnaire is filled out for each item – main subject matters: e.g. childhood and youth, education, profession, teachers, parents, conflicts in the family, social conflicts, illnesses, flight and expulsion at the end of the Second World War, experiences as prisoners of war and many more.
A note is also taken of the relevant dates concerning the diary: first the time described in the diary and secondly the author’s dates . And then a note is taken of the place names in the text and what well-known personalities and events are mentioned. All information that the readers have noted in the questionnaires is collected in an electronic database so that research for subjects and subject combinations are possible.
Our major intention is to make all our documents available for scientific research purposes. We are continually improving our computer software to make documents available for full text search.
In our special yearly event “Journey through Time” the archives offer the occasion of insight into the content of the documents and the chance to talk about them. More public readings for example in response to the 50th Franco-German Elysée Treaty anniversary or an invitation to the Literaturhaus in Stuttgart provide an opportunity to read from our collection.
An advisory board representing various scientific disciplines from several German universities supports the activities of the archives and suggests new research projects.
Museum im Deutschen Tagebucharchiv
A long-term plan to create a small museum for the exhibition of outstanding documents and special themes was realized by the end of 2014.
Cooperation at a European level
We have not only learned from the Italian archives, but currently we are in close cooperation with the French Diary Archives , which has recently culminated in the joint project of “German-French Autobiography Days” in Strasbourg and Emmendingen in May 2014. On the occasion of First World War Centenary both archives published German and French diary excerpts in common brochures. Further projects are envisaged… (cf. EDAC)
* Walter Kempowski (1929 –2007) was a German writer. He was known for his series of novels called German Chronicle („Deutsche Chronik“) and the monumental Echolot („Sonar“), a collage of autobiographical reports, letters and other documents by contemporary witnesses of the Second World War.
The German Archives for Diaries in figures
|as of February 2017|
|stock of texts||17.668|
|authors||3.815||54 % male
40 % female
3 % anonymous
3 % multiple authorship
|type of material||diaries||13.280|
|script||German script (Kurrent)||5.063|
|visitors||60 to 70 per month|
|guided tours||4 per month|
|members of the association||~ 600|