German Floods Exact Heavy Cultural Toll
July 21st, 2021
The historic flooding taking place in Europe in recent days has impacted the art world in both local and global terms. Artnet News reports that renowned art dealer Inge Baecker, an early and tireless champion of Fluxus and Action artists and the onetime representative of Nam June Paik and Allan Kaprow, is among the 188 people thus far reported to have died as a result of the unprecedented heavy rains seen in parts of Europe, which have swept away whole towns and left thousands without power. Baecker, a resident of Bad Münstereifel, Germany, was said to be ailing and in need of a respirator, whose battery ran out. With no power available to recharge it, Baecker is alleged to have become too exhausted to continue calling for help.
The Art Newspaper reports that flash flooding resulted in the possible destruction of documents and objects dating back to the eighteenth century held in the city archives of Stolberg. The town, located near the Dutch and Belgium borders, was inundated, and the city archive and two external depots submerged. The Cologne Historic Archive has sent a team to assist local authorities in salvaging items.
The rescue group brought with it a special vehicle developed in association with fire officials, which allows for the washing-off of muddy documents followed by their subsequent freezing. The process prevents the mud from drying on the documents and rendering them unsalvageable, instead preserving the papers while conservationists determine a path forward. Officials at the Cologne Historic Archive used this temporary preservation method over a decade ago, when the structure housing their own trove collapsed, with the result that a number of documents held there became mired in groundwater.
The Cologne archive has reached out to other towns to see if it can be of assistance. Hard hit by the rains were Burg Blessem, a thirteenth-century castle in Erftstadt, which is reported to have partially collapsed owing to a mudslide, and the recently renovated Schloss Neuenhof, a Baroque seventeenth-century castle in Lüdenscheid, which also suffered damage. Germany has so far promised more than $350 million in immediate aid toward rebuilding the country’s infrastructure, with billions more expected to flow to the affected regions.