‘Alas, alas. House, oh house!’: the collapse of the Cologne City Archive

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When the Historical Archive of the City of Cologne (known as Cologne’s City Archive) collapsed in 2009, a municipal institution became visible in quite unintended ways. The incident and its consequences tell us about the structure, constitution and regulation of the archive as such but also about the significance of the archive for the memory culture that shapes Germany today. This article turns to the collapse to show how the archive is implicated in the politics of the city and of memory. In the midst of other local scandals, the disaster has become an emblem of political and moral breakdown in Cologne, but it has also confronted citizens with the loss of something fundamental – given, but perhaps not acknowledged – to their identity. This article outlines the response to the incident more broadly, before focusing on works by the British Jewish artist Tanya Ury (Fury, 2009, archive burn out, 2014) and the Austrian writer Elfriede Jelinek (Ein Sturz/A Fall, 2010), which use the former archive as a site of resistance, challenging the prescriptive, patriarchal logic of the archive and its implications for the culture and politics of memory.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)395-416
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of Urban Cultural Studies
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2014


  • Cologne
  • Jelinek
  • Ury
  • Archive
  • Memory
  • Performance


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