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Munich 1957 - International League Conference

Translated by Mr. Martin Hamlyn from the official News Sheet of the Austrian Antiquarian Association


The 11th Congress of the International League was opened at Munich on 16th September. The President of the German Association, Dr. Karl, welcomed Mr. Benzold, a member of the Bavarian State Government. Mr. Stanley Sawyer, President of the League, Messrs. Muir and Poursin, Presidents of Honour, and Mr. Hertzberger, Father of the League, and colleagues from thirteen nations. He hoped that friendly relations, which had been broken by the war would be restored and thought that by virtue of their profession antiquarian booksellers had an international outlook. He then expressed his very special thanks to “our Jewish colleagues for coming” and explained how deeply Munich was indebted to them: the unique position it held before the war in the world of rare books and especially incunabula, was “due primarily to antiquarian booksellers such as the Rosenthals, Emil Hirsch, Halle, Hess, Weil, Hermann and Weiss.”

Compared with those days there was now only a small group of antiquarian booksellers in Munich and they were proud therefore of being allowed to organize the first German Congress. He admitted that in view of “the wonderful London Congress last year” they were a little anxious, but he was glad to report that they had received the maximum support from the State and City authorities and he took this opportunity of thanking all those who had helped. He ended with a wish that everyone would feel at home in Munich.

At the end of the opening ceremony the company forgathered at the Haus der Kunst for cocktails. The room was vast and tables set round it somewhat isolated on an expanse of floor so that getting together was not too easy, but as this was not the one originally booked one cannot grumble at such a small matter at the end of a successful day.

On Tuesday morning, after a short meeting of the Congress, the delegates and visitors assembled as guests of the City of Munich to a traditional Munich “Weisswurst” snack at the Ratskeller. This took place in the large timbered basement under the Town Hall. Large barrels and similar emblems were the chief decorations. The snack consisted of white sausages, rolls and large glasses of beer, and as soon as the glasses and plates were emptied they were replenished by waitresses wearing Bavarian costume. The Mayor of Munich who was present, gave a long speech and replies were made by Mr. Sawyer and Doctor Karl. In the afternoon of the same day the delegates went to the opening of an extremely fine exhibition of illustrated incunables at the Graphische Sammlung. These had been specially brought together for the Congress by the officials of the Bavarian State Library, and the delegates were presented with a fine illustrated catalogue of the exhibition. All those who saw the books realised that it had been a privilege to see such a collection, more so as it had been organized for their benefit, and they gratefully thanked those responsible for it.

On Wednesday evening we were guests of the Bavarian State Government at the Opera House and saw Mozart’s “Magic Flute”. It was a delightful evening. The front rows of the circle just above the orchestra were given over to the delegates. The singing was first rate, the opera appeared to one delegate to be taken rather more light-heartedly than when it is performed in English, the cast though in some cases somewhat ageing, sang with gusto as well as feeling. The scenery would put most opera companies in England to shame. Finally, it delighted us all to note how the members of the orchestra, including the conductor, scurried from the orchestral pit at the end leaving the singers still on the stage taking their curtain call.

After four cold and wet days it was to everybody’s relief that Thursday was sunny and warm, because this was the day chosen to visit the Bavarian Baroque churches at Ettal, Wies and Andechs. A whole day was devoted to this and the party left in five coaches. The magnificent artistry, the brilliant display of the decoration of these churches has to be seen to be appreciated; they combine a dramatic and religious intensity. At the Ettal church we were fortunate in having a priest who was able to describe the interior to us in English, and this was translated into French by Mr. Franco. We had an excellent lunch at Oberammergau and some of us wished that we could have spent a little longer at this charming village, but the timing of the programme would not permit it and it was dark when we returned to Munich.

The festivities of the Congress ended as is customary with a Farewell Dinner. And a gay gathering it was, held at the Hotel Bayerischer Hof. There was no top table, the principal guests sitting round a fairly small circular table at which were Dr. and Mrs. Karl and the President and Vice-President of the League and their ladies. The rest of us sat at small tables set round the room. The President of the League and the Presidents of the different countries present made speeches and, with the exception of three, they spoke in German, urged to do so by Dr. Karl, who assured them that they would get an extra cheer if they did so. The British President, Mr. Thomas Thorp, spoke in German, and judging by the applause it was very well received. After the men had finished it was the ladies’ turn, and Mrs. Sawyer led the way with a short and graceful speech; she was followed by Mrs. Frauendorfer who, on ending, distributed posies ot the German ladies who had helped organize the Congress. The last speaker was Mr. Karl, and her gay and charming speech in French, German and English, received a tremendous ovation. A procession of waiters then appeared and presented to all the ladies a marzipan heart attached to a ribbon, and as Mrs. Karl pointed out the day emblems and was given to the ladies as a fitting end to the Congress. After dinner dancing started and for those young and active continued until the small hours. It is, when all is said and done, the festive side of the Congresses which welds together international friendships: and points of view which may seem difficult at the business sessions are clarified on these occasions. Munich thus ended its Conference in a scene of friendliness and one of German hospitality, but it ended also with a touch of sadness that for the first time since the Conference in Amsterdam in 1947, no place had been fixed for next year’s Conference.

Extract from the ABA Newsletter no 24.

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