Causa Stralsund – the sellout of an archive

So it’s not only the electronic records being altered by gag orders et al., also the historic archives are at stake—albeit not for the intent of tampered public relations or censorship; in this case not even for the most obvious threat to old books, deterioration over time. No, the causa Stralsund is merely caused by a calamitous combination of poor transparency, of ignorance and of financial straits in times of widespread austerity.

The affected books have survived centuries in the hands of mostly responsible archivists, they have survived 40 years of the German Democratic Republic, and it’s just now the modern times—cluttered with buzzwords à la outsourcing or lean/agile management, dazing the minds of some administrative authorities in their quest for all too ‘modern’ governance—that endanger the integrity of our historical record. Books can last centuries, so it is fatuous to overzealously fall prey to practical constraints imposed by a debt-based money system that we’ll chuckle about once its limited shelf life of at worst another decade is elapsed.

This timeline of events mostly follows the summary published on the Archivalia blog, with some additional sources used. Unless otherwise stated, all links lead to German pages.


On its website, the town Stralsund announces the temporary closure of its city archives (en) due to mould-infestation.

In a comment on a posting on the Archivalia blog, Falk Eisermann draws attention to the fact that the announcement of the archive’s temporary closure contains reference to a partial sale of the archive’s stock of books.

Subsequent to this discovery, several postings and comments on the Archivalia blog cover the subject, discussions on the librarian mailing list INETBIB take place. Books from the library appear on online platforms (Abebooks, ZVAB, Ebay) originating mainly from antiquarian bookshops around the city of Augsburg (Peter Hassold, Augusta-Antiquariat, ebay-seller Robert Hassold).

Regarding the transaction’s legality, it is noted that the Stralsund archive’s statute states: “The archive’s and library’s assets are objects of cultural value and are inalienable.” While Stralsund authorities contest applicability, according to library jurists Eric Steinhauer and Dr. Harald Müller the transaction is void by law.

Upon request by Archivalia, a spokesperson of the major’s office briefly confirms that the sale has taken place. Dr. Klaus Graf (@Archivalia_kg) finds the sale of the historic Gymnasialbibliothek (“grammar-school library”, founded in 1627, now part of the city archives) listed on the agenda of a closed-door council meeting from the 5th of June 2012. The question arises whether a part of the Gymnasialbibliothek was sold, as stated in the announcement of temporary closure, whether the entire library was sold, as wording in the council’s agenda would indicate, or whether even more was sold, as indicated by the fact that antique dealers offer books from other parts of the archive’s library, e.g. from the Löwen’sche Sammlung.

Press coverage of the subject starts with two articles: one in the Schweriner Volkszeitung (behind a paywall, here are some quotes) and one article in the Ostsee-Zeitung. Those newspapers had obtained somewhat more detailed information from authorities, i.e. that around 2,500 titles comprising 6,210 volumes were offered to an antiquarian bookseller, who then bought 5,926 volumes. The price remains undisclosed.

The town’s spokesperson Peter Koslik states that no items covering regional Pomeranian history were sold: “We would never do such a thing. That would constitute a grave sin”. A lie, as Margret Ott (@schlawe) from the Verein für pommersche Familien- und Ortsgeschichte (Association for Pomeranian Family and Municipal History) notices a day later by observing offers on Ebay.

Considering that details were disclosed to newspapers but not to the public, Mr Graf issues a request for information, directing ten questions to the town of Stralsund. Information is sought—inter alia—regarding contract price, reasons for secrecy of the decision, the list of books presented to the council at decision-time and why no other archives or experts where consulted in advance.

The Verband deutscher Archivarinnen und Archivare e.V. (Association of German Archivists) expresses its outrage and announces to deliver a statement.

Mr Graf addresses the mayor of Wismar (sharing UNESCO World Heritage Site status together with Stralsund) in a comprehensive open letter, decisively criticising the sale and calling it “barbarism unconcerned with history”.

In an open letter by the AG für pommersche Kirchengeschichte (Study Group for Pomeranian Church History) the counsellor of the Protestant regional church, Dr. Christoph Ehricht, expresses strong dismay over the events.

For the first time, major Dr. Alexander Badrow publicly addresses the issue. He claims to take the allegations seriously and annunciates to order an expert assessment.

A petition (English translation) is started by Philipp Maass.

The interior ministry tells dpa that, subject to inquiries, an examination into possible violation of laws could take place.

The statement by the Verband deutscher Archivarinnen und Archivare e.V. firmly denounces the sale.

An English source, a letter from Otto Vervaart from Utrecht to Mr Graf, covers the petition launched the day before, as well as the whole initiative around the scandal.

As a proper reply by town of Stralsund to the request for information from November 5th is still pending, an action for disclosure is submitted to the administrative court of Greifswald.

Rumors are, according to the Ostsee-Zeitung, that the 5,926 volumes sold for a mere €95,000. Quite a bad deal for the Archive, single volumes were offered in resale for up to €7,800.

A response by the opposing party in the action for disclosure from November 10th arrives, proposing the action’s dismissal. Mr Graf replies to the court.

In a press release, Major Badrow addresses the issue. Having acquired an expert assessment by Prof. Dr. Nigel Palmer (University of Oxford) and Prof. Jürgen Wolf (University of Marburg), he now asserts misjudgment on the part of the municipal archive. He announces immediate suspension of the archive’s head and a planned reversal of the transaction.

In an emergency meeting, the Stralsund township decides to reverse the transaction. 90% of the sold books will be transferred back next week, the remaining 10% are either already sold or destroyed by the antique dealer due to their bad condition. Experts will determine which of the books already sold need to be re-bought with priority.

In reply to a telefax from the court regarding the request for information from November 5th, Mr Graf submits a reply, detailing the standing relevancy of the questions.

The scandal broadens: 1,000 books were already sold in March 2012 for €20,000, without the knowledge of city authorities and township. This was confirmed by major Badrow. Whereabouts of the money are unknown, the investigation is ongoing.

The head of the municipal archive gets dismissed without notice.

Ms Ott [edit: at first falsely attributed to Klaus Graf] writes: “On the town’s official Facebook page, the entire scandal around the archive is persistently hushed up barely mentioned and my reference to the petition was deleted. That’s how transparency looks like.”

After having given insufficient Answers to the request for information from November 5th, the town of Stralsund offers to take on the costs for the action for disclosure from November 10th, provided the action be declared settled. Mr Graf decides to not accept the deal and upholds the action.

… to be continued.



Archivalia, INETBIB and pommerschergreif.
Link collection by Margret Ott


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