Friday, 3 May 2013

The ‘archipelago’ that is the Lippmann & Rau Music Archive, Eisenach (Germany)

I had no idea what to expect on my visit to Eisenach, a town of 40,000 people in the former East Germany. Eisenach is home to the Lippmann & Rau Music Archive, formerly the Internationales Jazzarchiv. When I arrived I had not yet had confirmation of my visit to the archive and this gave me some time to find out about the town. What I discovered in my visits to Eisenach's museums and to Wartburg Castle was that Eisenach is a really interesting place with strong theological connections (Martin Luther) and historical links to a number of important classical musicians (Wagner, Telemann and Bach).

Fieldwork soon fell into place and when I met with Reinhard Lorenz, founder and “spiritus rector” of the Lippmann & Rau Music Archive, he provided further context for why Eisenach is the home of an international archive for jazz and popular music.

Before becoming East Germany, this was a lively “entertainment town” which, prior to the second world war, had many honky-tonks. Reinhard also pointed out that Eisenach was “the home of the world’s first jazz musician – Johann Sebastian Bach”. And since the 1950s Eisenach has had a thriving jazz scene, with its “jazz club” founded in 1959 making it one of the oldest continuing jazz clubs in Germany. Members of this jazz club made the founding of a jazz archive possible.

The Internationales JazzArchiv Eisenach was formed in 1999 and the first collection it received was that of German Jazz and Blues enthusiast Günter Boas (1920-1993). As the Archive’s website explains,

“several dedicated members of the Jazz Club Eisenach ... met once a week, usually on a Monday evening, in order to go through Günter Boas' old records together, or to sort out other items found in people's attics, to cut out newspaper articles and to arrange photos in proper order. The small archive which came into existence with modest means and time resources, began to grow rapidly through gifts from club members and other sympathisers ... and was threatening to outgrow its passionate amateur archivists.”

The next step was the transformation of the Jazz Archive into a Foundation. This was finalised in 2006 and was named after German concert artist agents Horst Lippmann (an Eisenacher by birth) and Fritz Rau, and foundation status also saw the expansion of the Archive’s focus to popular music more broadly. The founding story of the Archive can be found on its website.

The building that houses the archive is impressive – an historic building, “The Old Malthouse”. There is a bespoke coffee business still in operation here, right in the space between the two rooms that house the Archive and so as you enter the building the most delightful aroma of fresh coffee immediately envelopes the senses. It really smells quite delicious!

Reinhard had dreamed of founding a jazz archive long before this dream was eventually realised in 1999. And it was interesting to hear how the socio-political context of Eisenach, as part of East Germany, meant that such a dream could only ever have been realised after the fall of the Wall. I can’t wait to receive the transcript of this interview so that I can re-visit the story of Reinhard’s adventure to the West where he met with Günter Boas to negotiate that collection eventually being deposited at an Archive in Eisenach.

The archipelago of this blog post’s title is an extension of Reinhard’s idea that each distinct collection within the archive is an “island”, Boas’ being the first of many.

Reinhard Lorenz is a central figure in the Foundation and Archive and his work is truly representative of the passion and commitment of those who dedicate their time and efforts to DIY music institutions. Foundation status certainly “professionalises” the activities of such an archive, and its connection to a University (in this case the LISZT School of Music Weimar since 2009) lends a certain weight and opens up a variety of networks, but this culturally important archive is certainly still situated on the DIY continuum. Reinhard is the Head of the Cultural Office of the City of Eisenach, but the time he spends at the Archive is his own as a volunteer. This leaves very little time in the day for other things, but as he said after the interview, “Well, you only have one life”.

There are some exciting plans for the Archive, including the development of new buildings in which the collection can grow (it is already at capacity and there are some large collections due to arrive at the archive in the coming months) and for the introduction of a museum exhibition space. This is a question of money, of course, and like the other institutions I have visited for this research the Lippmann & Rau Music Archive similarly faces issues around lack of funding, space and volunteers.

My visit to the Lippmann & Rau Music Archive brings to a close this second, highly productive fieldwork trip for the DIY Archives project. I hope to return to Germany again in the next 12 months so that I can look in on the volunteers at another home of German jazz, the Jazz Museum Bix Eiben Hamburg.