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Notable German Collections

We acquire printed publications in the humanities and social sciences from Germany, Austria and German-speaking Switzerland. Some of the strengths of our collection are described below.


German material from the 1848 Revolution

1848 Revolutionary Broadsides : Brunnen

Sendschreiben des Granaten-Brunnens in Berlin an seine Collegen, die Brunnen in den Provinzen. Berlin: E. Litfass, 1848. Shelfmark: 1851.c.5.(23.). Copyright © The British Library Board

The Library holds a large amount of contemporary material relating to the 1848 revolutions in Germany and Austria including books, periodicals and single-sheet broadsides and proclamations which form a fascinating primary source for the study of this period.

The collection is particularly strong in material from Berlin. Two volumes of broadsides and proclamations from the Berlin revolution are bound in chronological order, providing an overview of events in the city between March and November 1848 as they happened and as politicians and writers reacted to them. Other Berlin-related broadside collections contain material in verse and single issues of journals from the period. Material from Berlin also predominates among books and pamphlets. As with the single-sheet items, these range in scope from official documents and reports to personal expressions of opinion, the latter reflecting the whole political spectrum from conservatism to radicalism. There is also a mixture of prose and poetry, serious and satirical material. Well-known writers such as the poet Ferdinand Freiligrath are represented alongside figures whose literary career flourished only for a few revolutionary months, and statesmen of the day alongside soapbox orators.

Alongside the Berlin material, we have a number of items relating to the other parts of Germany and two further bound collections of pamphlets, periodical issues and proclamations from the Revolutions of 1848-49 in Austria. Some short runs and individual numbers of revolutionary periodicals can also be found at British Library Newspapers including, as a pendant to the works published in Germany during the revolution, a number of radical or liberal papers produced by German refugees in London in the later nineteenth century. The Library's French Collections also include material from the French uprisings of 1848.

Like many such collections in the Library, 1848 revolutionary material is not kept together and there is no separate catalogue of the collection as a whole. The large volumes of single-sheet material mentioned above bring a number of items together, and work is currently in progress to create individual catalogue entries for broadsides contained in these in order to make the identification of particular items and authors easier. However, potential users must be prepared to search the general catalogues for relevant material.

Two websites which may be useful in providing details of names and events are:

4 x 1848: Geschichten aus der Berliner Märzrevolution An exhibition mounted by the Zentral- und Landesbibliothek Berlin which provides an interesting introduction to the history of the revolution in Berlin.

1848 Flugschriften im Netz A Frankfurt-based site with digitised examples of revolutionary broadsheet publications from all parts of Germany.

  Germany 1933-45

At the end of the Second World War the Allied forces in Europe made a point of confiscating German publications of the period since 1933 from countries that had been under German occupation, including the Channel Islands, and collecting them at the Supreme Headquarters, Allied Expeditionary Force, in Paris. Some thousands of these books subsequently entered the library of the British Museum. They are not academic publications, but books in practical everyday use or aimed at the general reader which for the most part would not otherwise have found their way into libraries in the United Kingdom. Because of its ideological bias, such material was withdrawn from most German libraries after the war, but in the light of continuing interest in this period of German history and current teaching curricula in sixth forms and universities it represents an almost unparalleled collection of primary source material for the study of this era. The materials may be divided into various categories or subjects:

  • Popular works on history, geography and international relations seen from a National Socialist point of view. Favourite subjects
  • include British imperialism; loss of German colonies; Fascist Italy; German national heroes.
  • Contemporary history, e.g. German successes in World War II, biographies of leading National Socialists.
  • Politics, economics, agriculture.
  • Racial theories, Jews, the German national character.
  • Military science (e.g. artillery manuals); language primers for soldiers in occupied countries; guides to military careers; military
  • regulations; pay-scales.
  • Popular literature, including special editions for soldiers on campaign.
  • Text-books for primary, middle and senior schools in English, history, biology, mathematics, etc.
  • Vocational training, e.g. for commerce, administration; guides for soldiers planning to return to civilian life (Soldatenbriefe).
  • Laws and regulations.
  • Books of practical advice, especially on on air-raid precautions.

Material in the above categories is not kept together in one place, but has all been entered in the catalogues, partly in the pre-1975 catalogue and partly in the post-1975 catalogue (which includes some books published before 1975 but catalogued at a later date). Because of the quality of the paper, and the conditions in which many of the books were used, a great deal of conservation work has had to be done on this collection and much still remains to be done.  

Publications from the German Democratic Republic (GDR) / Deutsche Demokratische Republik (DDR)

The British Library regularly acquired publications from the German Democratic Republic (GDR) / Deutsche Demokratische Republik (DDR) throughout almost the entire period of its existence.

Although there is no separate catalogue of the Library's holdings of material from the GDR, an analysis of the general post-1975 catalogue indicates that, between 1976 and 1990, the Library acquired, on average, more than 500 monographs and new serials per year from the GDR.

The number of monographs and serials from the GDR in the Library's earlier catalogues cannot be calculated with the same degree of accuracy. It is known, however, that the Library's collection includes extensive holdings of the series and other publications issued by East German academies, universities and major libraries, museums and archives.

Publications from the GDR were often produced in small editions and consequently went out of print quickly, but the Library has endeavoured to acquire, as extensively as possible, publications of a scholarly nature in the full range of subjects across the humanities and social sciences. Works relating to the GDR itself, and to Eastern Europe in general, constitute only part of the collection.

As in the case of the Library's other German collections, particular strengths include scholarly publications on economic, political and social history, literature, language, philosophy, theology, music and the arts. Bibliography, librarianship and politics are also well represented.

The literary texts of leading German authors living in the GDR have also been acquired as extensively as possible.

By virtue of an exchange agreement with the Deutsche Staatsbibliothek in East Berlin, the British Library has a good - if incomplete - collection of parliamentary and other official publications from the GDR.


German Section
The British Library
96 Euston Road
United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0)20 7412 7572
Fax: +44 (0)20 7412 7578