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East Asia Department

Berlin-Krakow Project: The Digitisation of East Asian Berlinka

Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and the Media

The Virtual Reconstruction of the Old East Asia Collection of the Prussian State Library

A generous grant allotted by the Commissary for Culture and Media (BKM) of the German Federal Government and the cooperation with the Biblioteka Jagiellońska in Krakow, Poland, enabled the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin to take first steps towards a virtual reconstruction of the old East Asia Collection of the Prussian State Library.


When, in 1941, the former Preußische Staatsbibliothek Unter den Linden was hit by a bomb, precautions were taken to evacuate by and by all holdings of the library to surrounding estates, coal mines, etc. outside of Berlin. What began as a well-controlled procedure with detailed packing lists and evacuation registers soon turned into a hectic removal of the materials due to the pressures of the bomb war, with staff trying to save as much as possible from fire and pillaging. Shortly before the end of the war, a bomb hit the very heart of the building, the central dome-shaped reading hall, and destroyed about 40 percent of it. At this time, fortunately, the majority of the holdings were no longer in the library but packed in crates and distributed among 30 evacuation places to the East and West of Berlin.

In 1943, the East Asia Collection of the former Prussian State Library comprised about 72,000 volumes and was, at the time, one of the most important and largest institutions of its kind in the Western world. As early as towards the end of the 17th century, the Elector Friedrich Wilhelm von Brandenburg (1620-1688) had acquired the first Chinese titles for his library which he had opened also to scholars and guests. In 1683, a card catalogue compiled by Andreas Müller listed, after all, 25 mostly Chinese titles.
In the following time, the collection only grew sporadically and with long periods of acquisition intermissions, until, in the 19th century, access to Chinese and subsequently Japanese, titles became easier. By means of the systematical acquisition trips to China of Karl Friedrich Neumann at the beginning of the 19th century and of Herbert Müller in the early 20th century, as well as the purchase of collections by Friedrich Wilhelm Karl Müller, Friedrich Hirth, Paul Georg von Moellendorff (mainly Mandschu titles) and Eugen Pander (Tibetan titles), the inventory was developed into a pre-eminent working basis for those interested in China and East Asia. The last accession number in the bookform-catalogue of the Libri sinici N.S. (Neue Sammlung, i.e., new collection) dates back to 1939.

Only about 24,000 volumes of the collection made their way back into the library which after the war found itself being situated in what by then had become part of the Soviet occupation zone. A small fraction of materials that went to Marburg were those holdings of the Staatsbibliothek which had been evacuated during the war to places that now were part of the Allies’ occupation zones.
To a large extent, the East Asia Collection is considered destroyed or missing. Nearly one third of the old Collection with ca. 20,000 volumes was stored after the war on Polish territory and was transferred in its entirety to Krakow’s large and important Biblioteka Jagiellonska, where today it comprises a part of the so-called “Berlinka”. At Krakow, the collection is shelved together and professionally taken care of. The materials are accessible in the special manuscript reading room. However, until now, it has not been accessed bibliographically nor is there a catalogue.

Current State

In 2011, both the German and the Polish side expressed their shared and common interest in reprocessing the East Asia holdings among the Berlinka. This mutual accord was extended in 2012 to include the aspect of digitisation as well as the possible virtual reconstruction of the old East Asia Collection of the former Prussian State Library.
After a initial one-year grant was allotted by the Commissary for Culture and Media (BKM) of the German Federal Government, the East Asia Department of the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin was able to start in early 2013 with the visual inspection and selection of titles to be digitised in Krakow.

The cataloguing of the holdings in Krakow according to present-day standards is being conducted partly in situ, but will mainly be executed as a follow-up by referring to the digitised material. Until then, the handwritten catalogues in bookform of the Libri sin. and Libri sin. N.S., as well as the description of his collection, as compiled by Hirth himself, will provide an initial overview. These catalogues are available in digitised format.

The East Asia Berlinka in Krakow can be separated into two parts and altogether five collection segments. These will be briefly described below, and their present state of assessment and digitisation presented.

Sinica and Mandschurica

Part 1. Collection Building and Central Fund of Sinica and Mandschurica

Libri sinici
Up to 1912, the Sinica and Mandschurica in the East Asia Collection of the Royal- and, later, Prussian, State Library were assigned the shelf marks Libri sin.. After that, on the occasion of an incipient large-scope and systematical acquisition, the shelf marks were changed to Libri sin. N.S. (Neue Sammlung, i.e., new collection). Altogether, there were 1603 Libri sin. shelf marks assigned to about 900 titles. Libri sin. N.S. 2049 is the last historical shelf mark of the New Collection (Libri sin. N.S. 1651-2049) and was assigned to a title published in 1935. Printed catalogues in bookform for both of these segments do exist, albeit their title entries are partially rather sketchy. They are available in digital format and can be accessed in the digital collections of the Staatsbibliothek (a structured access is possible via Search).

Essential parts from both shelf mark segments can be found in both Berlin and Krakow. Considering 309 titles in Berlin and 84 in Krakow, the digitisation project will make it possible to provide digital access for the general public to about one quarter of the historical Libri sinici (Libri sin. and Ms. sin.).

211 Libri sin. N.S. titles are kept safe in Krakow, about fifty percent of the former inventory have found their way back to Berlin. This means that after their virtual reunification, about two thirds of this old segment can be reconstructed.

The shelf marks Libri sin. N.S. started above all with works that had been purchased by Herbert Müller (1885-1966) between 1912 and 1914 on the basis of a list of desiderata for the Royal Library in Peking, Shandong, Henan and Shanghai. Herbert Müller had studied Law, Economics, Ethnology and Linguistics. He worked under F.W.K. (Friedrich Wilhelm Karl) Müller in the East Asia Department of the Berlin Ethnological Museum, the collection of which had also been acquired by the Royal Library; it is today kept in Krakow (cf. below). Herbert Müller undertook his trip to China during the years 1912-1914 on behalf of the Museum, mainly to collect archaeological materials.

Individual Collections

Part 2. Collections with Separate Groups of Shelf Marks

The Müller Collection
The collection was purchased in 1901 by F.W.K. Müller (1863-1930) in Peking. In Krakow there are today 188 items from this collection including, presumably, parts of the folio-sized Peking Tripitaka which originally comprised 8,016 folding books. 

F.W.K Müller had studied Theology, before he turned to Oriental and East Asian Cultures and Languages, especially the Arabic, Chinese and Syrian languages. Between 1887 and 1928, Müller worked at the Ethnological Museum in Berlin, firstly, as research associate and, since 1906, as Director of the East Asia Department. Müller earned major credits when he deciphered the - mainly Middle Persian - manuscript fragments which had been salvaged during the Turfan expeditions (1902-1914), and for his discovery of Manichaean writing among these texts. 

The Moellendorf Collection
The collection of Paul Georg von Moellendorff (1847-1901) contains mainly Manchurian literature. It supposedly entered the Staatsbibliothek in 1931. In the course of the evacuations during the Second World War, the collection had been allocated to the three locations of Banz, Beuron und Fürstenstein. Today, 39 items of this collection are in Krakow. They mostly contain works on the Manchurian language and literature, as well as translations of Chinese works into the Manchurian language.

Von Moellendorff had studied Law, Linguistics and Oriental Studies. In 1869, he accepted an offer to work under Sir Robert Hart (1835-1911) in China’s Imperial Maritime Custom Service. Von Moellendorff stayed until 1874, when he entered the Consular Service of the German Foreign Office in China. In this capacity, he was active in Canton, Peking, Tianjin and Shanghai. Upon the recommendation of Li Hongzhang (1823-1901), he went to Korea in 1882 where he worked as Advisor to the Foreign Ministry and, a year later, he became Vice-Minister. He stayed for three years, when, due to external circumstances, he returned to China and re-entered the Chinese Maritime Custom Service. Von Moellendorf died in 1901 in Ningbo.

The Pander Collection
The Pander collection encompassed, under A. 370 prints and manuscripts of Tibetan origin, under B. 315 prints and manuscripts from Peking, under C. 40 prints produced by Imperial command – the latter group containing texts in Tibetan, Mongolian, Chinese and, Manchurian. D. 37 volumes in Kandjur; E. 18 Mongolian manuscripts and prints as well as F. 68 Chinese prints and manuscripts. The Pander Collection was relocated during the Second World War to Fürstenstein (today’s Ksiaz) and transferred from there to Grüssau (present-day Krzeszów). In Krakow today there are about 300 titles of the collection.

Eugen Pander (1854-1894[?]) was Professor of National Economics at Tongwenguan 同文 College in Peking since 1881. He was a collector of Lamaist books and works of art. While the latter were acquired by the Ethnological Museum in Berlin, the books passed into ownership of the Royal Library and were accessioned in Berlin in 1889.

The Hirth Collection
According to the list produced by Friedrich Hirth (1845-1927), the collection contained 175 numbers (11 for manuscripts, 164 for prints). Just as the collection of Von Moellendorff, the Hirth Collection had been allocated to the three locations of Banz, Beuron und Fürstenstein during the war. In Krakow today there are extant 149 numbers.

Friedrich Hirth had originally studied Classical Philology in Leipzig, Berlin and Greifswald, before in 1869 he turned to the study of the Chinese language, encouraged by the recruitments of Sir Robert Hart, the organizer of the Chinese Custom Service. Just a year later, he assumed office as Customs Assistant in Canton, where he stayed for five years, studying, among others, the local Cantonese language.

In 1875 Hirth was transferred to Amoy as Assistant and later, Head, of the local Custom Office. From 1877 to 1888, he was active in the Statistical Bureau of the Custom Office in Shanghai. At all these different postings in China, Hirth cultivated his contact to and exchange with scholars. During his last Shanghai years, he was elected President of the local China Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society. He himself characterized his library as one „mainly serving the sinological problems of the time.“ In 1890, when Hirth returned to China after a longer stay in Germany, it was acquired by the Royal Library.