Berlin State Library

Berlin, Germany | C.1661

Photo Credit: CC-BY-SA Thomas Guignard

One of the largest libraries in Europe, Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin, or the Berlin State Library, is one of the leading academic research libraries in the German-speaking world. Established in 1661, this library has an impressive collection of texts, media and cultural works including a Gutenberg Bible, manuscripts by Bach and Mozart and the original score of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9.

Upon its founding, the Berlin State Library was first known as the Electoral Library at Cölln on the River Spree. It was established at the request of Frederick William, Elector of Brandenburg, who wanted his private collection of books organized, catalogued and made available to the public.

Despite intentions to publicize the collection, the library became known for its discontinuity. Frederick I, who would become the first King of Prussia, gave away most of the scientific volumes in favor of keeping his preferences, which largely consisted of French literature. Frederick’s stance soon changed, however, and the collection would see significant acquisitions in the coming years.

By 1810, the library was independent from the king and part of the Prussian state administration. This transition allowed for considerable growth and acquisition of materials. Within a century, the library became the largest and most influential collection of materials in the German language with over 1.2 million books. Upon the founding of the German Republic, it was renamed the Prussian State Library.

After considerable growth, the 20th century would bring much destruction, especially during World War II. Following the war, the collection was divided up between East and West Berlin. In 1992, the two libraries reunited and the old State Library was reborn as the Berlin State Library.

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