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German archive acquires trove of works by poet Rilke

A huge collection of letters and manuscripts by modernist poet Rainer Maria Rilke has been handed over to the public German Literature Archive (DLA), the archive said Thursday.

Known as the so-called Gernsbach collection, the biggest existing archive of Rilke’s works and letters had been in private hands for almost 100 years, representatives from the DLA told journalists in Berlin.

Sandra Richter, director of the archive located in Marbach, near Stuttgart, described the deal as the “acquisition of the century”.

“We now want to make Rilke’s estate speak,” she said, announcing a major exhibition in 2025 to mark the 150th anniversary of the poet’s birth.

The collection was acquired for an undisclosed sum with funds from the federal government, the state of Baden-Wuerttemberg and various private foundations.

As well as more than 10,000 handwritten pages with drafts of works and notes, it includes around 8,800 letters to and from Rilke.

These include correspondence from his longtime lover, the Russian-born psychoanalyst Lou Andreas-Salome, and the French poet Paul Valery, a friend of his.

There are also more than 470 books annotated by Rilke, 131 drawings and more than 300 photographs from all phases of his life, according to the DLA.

Rilke, who lived from 1875 to 1926, is considered one of the most important German-language writers of the modern era, along with Franz Kafka and Thomas Mann.

He lived in various European countries and maintained an extensive correspondence with the intellectuals of his time.

Experts consider the Gernsbach collection to be one of the most important surviving legacies of a German-language poet.

After Rilke’s death, the material was inherited by his descendants and only became available to buy after the death of his granddaughter Hella Sieber-Rilke.

She had kept the collection in a private house in the town of Gernsbach, with access granted only to an elite group of experts.

The DLA is now planning to digitise the archive and make it accessible to literary researchers and the public.