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Anna Amalia Library restored after fire

Germany's famed Anna Amalia Library, damaged by fire three years ago, was restored, said the officials.The library is expected to be open shortly.

The Ђ12.8 million (US$18.2 million) restoration was undertaken after a fire on Sept. 2, 2004, tore through the roof and top floor of the 16th-century rococo palace that houses the library.

Tens of thousands of irreplaceable books were lost and damaged in the fire, though in a dramatic rescue, a daisy-chain of people spirited 6,000 historical tomes including a 1543 Martin Luther Bible away from the flames.

Among the volumes destroyed were a collection of 18th-century musical works donated by Duchess Anna Amalia and the renowned book collection gathered by the first librarian, Daniel Schurzfleisch, who brought them to the library on 35 horse-drawn carts in 1722.

In total, 50,000 books were destroyed and 62,000 were damaged some Ђ67 million (US$95.14 million) total in damage and loss while 28,000 escaped any harm. They were part of an overall collection of some 1 million volumes belonging to the library, held at several places in Weimar, a city about 250 kilometers (150 miles) southwest of Berlin.

The collection centers on German literature from between 1750 and 1850. During that time, Germany's most revered writer, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, lived in Weimar, where his house remains a major tourist attraction. Another German literary great, Friedrich Schiller, best known for his classical dramas, spent the last years of his life in Weimar and died there in 1805.

While construction teams labored to get the building back in shape for the official Oct. 24 reopening ceremony, to be led by German President Horst Koehler, thousands of books were painstakingly restored and 60,000 volumes have now been returned to the library, said the director, Michael Knoche.

"For me this day is like waking up from a terrible nightmare," Knoche said at a ceremony marking the end of construction. "The library stands again in its old majesty, with a new sheen."

Still, he said, restoration of all of the books will not be complete until 2015.

While the state of Thuringia and the federal government paid for most of the restoration work to the building, nearly Ђ21 million (US$30 million) in donations that came in from around the world has been put toward the restoration of the precious books, said state culture minister Jens Goebel.

"The help we got was overwhelming," he said.

The reconstruction helps bring the building back to its original glory, but also includes some modern upgrades including a state-of-the-art sprinkler system hidden beneath the facade in an attempt to prevent another such fire, which was started by an electrical fault.

This year is the 200th anniversary of the death of Anna Amalia who, with her son, Duke Carl August, helped put Weimar on Europe's cultural map in the late 18th century.

Seeking a tutor for her son, she brought in Christoph Martin Wieland, a well-known poet and translator of Shakespeare's works, and also helped draw both Goethe and Schiller to the city. It was also Anna Amalia who converted the palace into a library and made it open to the public.

The library was added to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization's World Heritage List in 1998 as part of "classical Weimar."

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