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Need an original article from a 1949 copy of the Picture Post? Edda Tasiemka is your woman. Her library of cuttings beats the internet hands down, says Ciar Byrne
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The Independent Online

The first sight that greets you when Edda Tasiemka opens the door to her semi in leafy north London is a hallway piled high with stacks of newspaper cuttings. It is a tight squeeze through the narrow corridor between the piles of paper into a kitchen that at first sight appears to be cuttings-free. A closer inspection reveals files on Tony Blair beside the fridge freezer - an overflow of cuttings on the column-inch-generating PM and his family - while above the kitchen table and hob, panels of white hardboard slide back to reveal shelves stuffed with extracts from newspapers and magazines.

The first sight that greets you when Edda Tasiemka opens the door to her semi in leafy north London is a hallway piled high with stacks of newspaper cuttings. It is a tight squeeze through the narrow corridor between the piles of paper into a kitchen that at first sight appears to be cuttings-free. A closer inspection reveals files on Tony Blair beside the fridge freezer - an overflow of cuttings on the column-inch-generating PM and his family - while above the kitchen table and hob, panels of white hardboard slide back to reveal shelves stuffed with extracts from newspapers and magazines.

In the sitting room, a book-lined treasure trove of antique furniture and paintings bought from Portobello Road, John Prescott, David Blunkett and Greg Dyke share a cranny beside the sofa. Bill Clinton and the other US presidents take up an entire sideboard, while a chest of drawers in the hall is home to spies past and present.

An extension at the back of the house is a collector's paradise, with cuttings stacked alongside cabinets containing a hoard of Staffordshire figurines of Queen Victoria's brood and dozens of crystal knife rests. A portrait of the Virgin and Child draws back James Bond-style to reveal a collection of literary clippings.

Footballers live above the upstairs loo, except for David Beckham, who is given pride of place alongside religion in Tasiemka's bedroom.

It is a love affair with newspaper and magazine cuttings that began more than 55 years ago and has grown from a journalist's personal obsession into a thriving business. Tasiemka now employs three full-time members of staff to sort, photocopy and supply archive material to national newspapers, magazines and authors.

Recent headlines have suggested that at 82, Tasiemka - a slim, sprightly woman who looks much younger than her years - is preparing to find a buyer for her vast collection. She is keen to set the record straight. She has no intention of selling up, but wants to make arrangements to preserve her unwieldy but wonderful collection of cuttings. "I want to make arrangements for it to be continued after my death," she says. Feelers were recently put out to City University's School of Journalism on her behalf, but the college decided it did not have the space.

It is not the first time she has considered rehousing the collection. Robert Maxwell negotiated to take over the library when he launched the short-lived London Daily News, but wanted a majority stake, which she resisted. A couple of years ago, Mark Getty of Getty Images came to take a look, but decided to stick to pictures.

The uninitiated may query the usefulness of a physical archive in this age of internet search engines and online cuttings libraries. But what Tasiemka offers is unique - an intelligent cuttings service stretching back much further than most newspaper libraries, and encompassing periodicals from as long ago as the 1840s.

"I have a number of customers who only want cuttings from periodicals and magazines and not from the daily press. But others, who have used it for a long time, carry on because they get a package just as they want it," she says.

A recent triumph was a customer who rang up asking for an article from the Picture Post of 1949 by the journalist Fyfe Robertson writing on the East Africa ground nut scandal. After a lengthy search, Tasiemka located the piece in question in her file on Tanzania and has just received an effusive thank-you letter for her efforts. After so many years, she still derives great pleasure from her seemingly inexhaustible archive. "Sometimes I take cuttings to bed with me. This I took to bed with me to read all about it. During the day I've got to control myself and not start reading unless it's for a customer."

The seeds of the archive, which is used by journalists and writers including Andrew Duncan of the Radio Times, historian Robert Lacey and the novelist Marianne MacDonald, were planted when Tasiemka met her husband in her hometown of Hamburg in 1949. Hans Tasiemka, 17 years her senior, was a German journalist who had fought with the Foreign Legion in the Sahara before joining the British Army at Casablanca in 1943. After the war, he was attached to the war crimes centre in Hamburg as an interpreter.

"When I first met him he had cuttings in his uniform pockets. I thought 'what are all these bits of paper?'" When he was demobbed, she followed him to England, where they married and lived in a tiny bedsit off the Finchley Road, where they stored their burgeoning collection of cuttings under the bed. Both worked as journalists for the German press, and in their spare time would scour bookshops for old magazines and journals.

In 1962, they moved to the house where Tasiemka still lives, which grew organically with their ever-increasing stash of cuttings. "It got out of hand. It took everything over. We converted the loft, then we had an extension built, all for cuttings. If we wanted a piece of furniture, it had to be suitable for cuttings." When first friends, then strangers started to ask to borrow cuttings, the Tasiemkas decided to start charging. In 1979, Hans died, leaving the collection in the capable hands of his widow, who registered it in his name as the Hans Tasiemka Archive.

Tasiemka's life is worthy of its own cuttings file. Born in Hamburg in the 1920s, her father, who was not married to her mother because his first wife refused to give him a divorce, was a Communist and an MP. Even though he left the party when Stalin took over, he was arrested and imprisoned by the Nazis in 1933. Released in a Christmas amnesty, he skied to Prague and then travelled to Paris, before catching the last boat from Marseille to America when war broke out. Back in Hamburg, Tasiemka grew used to regular house visits from the Gestapo as a child.

In 1938 her mother was arrested and imprisoned for six months. Tasiemka attended technical college and then worked as a draughtsman in an architect's office, designing air-raid shelters, before training as a civil engineer. When Hamburg was blitzed, she and her mother moved into a hut on an allotment, with no running water or electricity.

With such a background, it is little wonder Tasiemka has devoted the rest of her life to archiving history as it happens. No internet search engine could compare.

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