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Bayerische Staatsbibliothek

An institution preserving the past, documents the present and develops the future

The Bavarian State Library is a treasure cabinet housing countless artifacts of cultural heritage, as well as a multimedia information section supporting scientific work. The Bayerische Staatsbibliothek also serves as one of the world’s best research archives and is one of Europe’s most renowned libraries.

Bavarian State Library 276x
As early as 1558, Wittelsbach Duke Albrecht V planned a universal approach for the Staatsbibliothek. He purchased the private library of Austrian Chancellor Johann Albrecht Widmanstetter, an important promoter of art and science at the time. Widmanstetter’s books ranged broadly from classical philology and theology to medical writings. The collection also included 300 manuscripts, most of them in Hebrew and Arabic, which continue to be of vital importance to contemporary researchers. Twelve years later, in 1571, Duke Albrecht acquired another great collection, that of patrician Johann Jakob Fugger.
The Augsburg book connoisseur had assembled more than 10,000 volumes containing prints from Italy, historical literature and texts on jurisprudence. By 1600, the stock of the royal library had grown to 17,000 books and valuable maps, but it was 19th-century secularization that truly sparked the library’s growth.

Over 150 Bavarian cloisters and monasteries were expropriated, thus adding a thousand-year tradition of clerical knowledge to the archives. After those acquisitions, experts mentioned the library in the same breath as the French Bibliothèque National. At the same time, the library intensified its policy of mandatory submission of all new Bavarian publications. Thanks to constant additions in all fields of science and literature, the Staatsbibliothek now contains more than nine million volumes. The loss of over 500,000 copies during World War II is almost compensated.

Apart from this extraordinary collection, the home of the Staatsbibliothek at Ludwigstrasse is itself an impressive brick edifice. It was Germany’s most modern library building at its opening in 1843. Commissioned by King Ludwig I, architect Friedrich von Gärtner realized the project by closing the gap between the Ludwig Church and the Royal War Ministry, which today houses the Hauptstaatsarchiv (Principal State Archive). The Wittelsbach library had been stored at the Alter Hof, but moved to the Old Residence and had a brief stay in a building next to St. Michael’s Church at Neuhauserstrasse before finally settling in at Ludwigstrasse.

At the outside staircase, four larger-than-life statues greet knowledge-seeking visitors. From left to right the statues personify Thucydides (the founder of scientific historiography), Homer (the author of The Iliad and Odyssey), Aristotle (philosopher and teacher of Alexander the Great) and Hippocrates (the first and most famous medical scientist). As a whole they represent the plurality of science, the literature of which the Royal Court and State Library was appointed to collect. The monumental stairway in the central block used to be reserved for the King only, and has been copied several times in other buildings. After entering the dim entrance hall, it must have been a compelling effect to climb the 54 broad stairs up to the bright light of science, sheltered by vaults with beautifully painted frescoes. Unfortunately a bomb attack on March 10, 1943, destroyed most of the library. Repair work lasted until 1970, but the stairwell frescoes were not restored until last year. With the financial support of patrons of the Staatsbibliothek, the ornaments on 22 window arches were reestablished, lending the hall a hint of the colorful beauty Friedrich von Gärtner had originally intended.

Along with the reconstruction work, architects Hans Döllgast, Sep Ruf and Helmut Kirsten also built an extension. The transition from the old structures to the new parts of the Staatsbibliothek are hardly visible, and can be considered a metaphor for the fluid coexistence of the past and the present in this library. While the computer center and the special departments are situated in the west wing and the central block of the old building, the south wing mainly houses the department for manuscripts, old prints and magazines. On the first floor of the east wing, users of the Staatsbibliothek will find the books they order and computers to research the library’s online catalogue. Though two thirds of all users are students, the offerings of the Bavarian State Library are open to everyone in possession of a library card (registration is possible through presentation of your identity card and the verification of your residence in Germany). The extension of the library includes a book processing area, a reading room with 550 desks on the upper floor and another reading room for journals in the basement. Nonetheless, much of the Staatsbiliothek’s inventory is stored at a satellite station in Garching and at another outpost on the outskirts of Munich. (The reason for the one-week delivery time for books ordered online.) Plans to further extend the headquarters at Ludwigstrasse, have long been in the making, but a lack of public funds has delayed their realization.

For opening hours, information on registration and the online catalogue of the Bavarian State Library, see

© MF Adler/March 08

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