This is a page of advice and tips for those visiting German archives and libraries. I find there are usually things I wish I’d known before I went that would have saved me time or trouble. My thought is that, if this is useful, people will send me information I can add to this page that will make life easier for others. This has not been updated since 2014, so the information may be dated.
If you would like to add something, e-mail me at: bytw2calvin.edu (replace the 2 with an @).
First, H-Net maintains an excellent page on German archives. It includes links to archive home pages. It is the place to start for anyone planning an archival visit to Germany. The German Historical Institute in Washington also maintains useful information.Berlin
Bundesarchiv Berlin: The Lichterfelde branch includes the holdings from East Germany as well as a lot of Nazi-era material. The library includes not only the publications of the Socialist Unity Party of East Germany, but also the library of the former Berlin Document center. Its holdings of Nazi-era published materials are not as good as those at the German National Library in Leipzig, but are still substantial.
The Bundesarchiv is microfilming many holdings. Often, that is not a problem, but some of the files I’ve used have numerous carbon copies and are highly unpleasant to read on screen. Usually, a request to the staff for the physical files will be successful.
German National Library: The Deutsche Bücherei was the German depository library until 1945. Afterwards, the Deutsche Bibliothek was established in Frankfurt. However, publishers in both East and West Germany almost always sent copies of new books to both libraries. Thus, anything published before 1945 in Germany is likely to be in Leipzig, anything after in both Leipzig and Frankfurt. Both are depository libraries for German-language publications. Unlike, say, the Library of Congress, they do not attempt to build comprehensive collections of material from the rest of the world.
For those interested in the Nazi era, the German National Library in Leipzig has particularly valuable collections, though they are rather hidden, and many items are not in the electronic catalog. The Multi-Media Department on the sixth floor has remarkable things. There are drawers of catalog cards for publications of every level of the Nazi Party. For example, there are substantial holdings of Hitlerjugend publications. There are sections for the publications of each Gau. There are the Heimatbriefe (newsletters from home to the troops) from hundreds of places. There are also complete runs of most significant German newspapers from January 1939 to the end of the war. In most cases, one gets the paper copies, though the Völkischer Beobachter generally arrives on microfilm. The area is not heavily used, and the staff will usually deliver requested items within half an hour.
One needs to secure a library card, which is issued immediately. Once you have that, books can be ordered on-line. Books ordered in the morning will arrive (usually) later in the same afternoon.
There is a decent cafeteria at the Deutsche Bücherei — but better food is available just across the street at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. It’s worth the walk over.
I stayed at the Pension SchlafGut in Leipzig in January 2006. They have two modestly priced and comfortable establishments, both about 12 minutes away from the Deutsche Bücherei by tram #16.
Bavarian State Library: Unlike the Deutsche Bücherei, one can’t walk into the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek and get an instant library card. It can take several days, though there is a librarian for Sonderfälle outside the main reading room who, if sympathetic, can provide a card immediately. If you plan to visit, make contact in advance.
Institute for Contemporary History: The catalog room has an excellent collection of German archival guides. These days, many archival guides are available on-line — but not all. Rather than finding the guides one by one, here one finds several hundred in one place.
Go to the 1933-1945 page
Go to the German Propaganda Archive Home Page