History of the Archives

Heinrich Mann’s papers from the USA, 1956

From the personal papers of Georg Kaiser, Membership Certificate, 1926

Granite tablet commemorating the founding of the East German Akademie der Künste, from the building at Robert-Koch-Platz 7, 1987

View of the Reading Room and storeroom of the Academy Archives (West), Hanseatenweg 10

Reinhold Begas, Der gefesselte Prometheus, rediscovered in the Akademie der Künste, Berlin, in the building at Pariser Platz 4, Condition in 1990

The Akademie der Künste can trace its tradition of collecting back to the year it was founded in the late seventeenth century. Initially, the collection was designed for teaching and training artists, and for display. In addition, it included works submitted by prospective members or donated as gifts. In a parallel development, an extensive specialised library was established. Despite losses through a fire in 1743 and during the Second World War, these holdings, together with the Academy’s administrative files, still form the foundation of the Archives.

The Archives were only formed as a distinct institution considerably later. In the wake of the Second World War and Germany’s political division, two new academies were formed in Berlin, one in the west founded in 1954 and one in the east established in 1950. With the dissolved Prussian Akademie der Künste collections divided between them, the new institutions in east and west began to expand their collections by acquiring additional artistic and literary estates, and to employ trained personnel to look after their holdings. While the art collection passed to the Deutsche Akademie der Künste, later the East German “Akademie der Künste der DDR”, the Historical Archives and President’s Library was administered by the Akademie der Künste in West Berlin.

The active collection of archival materials started with two artistic estates from writers in exile: the East Berlin Akademie der Künste acquired the personal papers of its designated president Heinrich Mann, while the West Berlin Akademie der Künste acquired the estate of Georg Kaiser.

As both these institutions introduced more departments or sections, the range of their collections expanded. The Performing Arts Section was added to those already existing for the Visual Arts, Music, and Literature. The Architecture Section and the Film and Media Arts Section, founded in 1984, was initially only part of the West Berlin Akademie.

In 1993, four years after the Berlin Wall fell, the Akademie der Künste in East and West Berlin were reunited, a move which also merged the two Archives. The Stiftung Archiv der Akademie der Künste (Academy Archives Foundation) became the body responsible for the numerous locations of the Archives and the archival materials and collections from East and West. In 2006, when the Akademie der Künste acquired the status of a publicly administered body under the Federal Government, the Foundation was dissolved and its collections and Archives passed fully to the Akademie der Künste. 

Volker Kahl/Wolfgang Trautwein, Design of the unified Academy Archives (Konzeption des vereinigten Akademie-Archivs, extract), 1990