“It is sensational that everything is still somehow there,” archive head Bettina Schmidt-Czaia said.
The documents, which date back up to 1,000 years ago, are in varying states, but less than one-quarter have been torn apart, and workers hope to piece them back together using software that was developed to restore shredded documents from the East German secret police, the Stasi.
But restoration work could take up to 30 years or longer, she said.
The archive collapsed on March 3, killing two men in a neighbouring building. Last month auditors working for the state of North Rhine-Westphalia estimated that the costs of the accident, which occurred due to underground metro construction instabilities, could top €1 billion.
Media reports revealed that construction managers and city officials saw measurements that clearly showed the archive was sinking weeks before the building collapsed into the nearby underground metro construction site.
The city has since opened an investigation into what caused the accident and has raided the offices of construction companies involved in the subway line’s construction.
In the meantime, 85 percent of the archive collection has been recovered – the remaining 15 percent still lies immersed in groundwater at the site of the collapse.
Fire department workers are analysing the safest way to retrieve it.
“We won’t give up,” Schmidt-Czaia said. “We need everything, we want everything.”
But according to the director, the archive requires more “money, money, money” to finish the recovery.
While the collapse was devastating, Schmidt-Czaia said it has been positive for archivists across the country, who have called to tell her there is a new awareness of the treasures they protect.
“Without the collapse we never would have had this, though the price for me has been too high,” she said.