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From São Paulo to Munich – Rua Thomas Mann

After a long jour­ney, in Octo­ber 2023 the last of the signes arrived that will be part of the monu­ment to the Mann fam­ily. It came from Brasil: a copy of the sign of Rua Thomas Mann in São Paulo. CSV Sin­al­iz­a­ção in Campina/São Paulo pro­duced it in close col­lab­or­a­tion with Albert Coers. As it arrived, covered with stick­ers and stamps of cus­toms, mail, deliv­ery, it is an object of Mail Art, too. 

Pacific Palisades – Light, Shadow, and Fire

In 1941, Katia and Thomas Mann moved from Prin­ceton to the West Coast, to Los Angeles – the decis­ive factor being the pro­spect of being able to live in a villa they had built them­selves and no longer ren­ted, thus leav­ing behind their emig­rant status and put­ting down roots in the USA. Added to this are the land­scape and the weath­er: „The sky is bright here almost all year round and sends out an incom­par­able, all-beau­ti­fy­ing light“ (TM to Her­mann Hesse).

Haus Thomas Manns, ca. 1942; Design & Archi­tec­ture Museum; Uni­ver­sity of Cali­for­nia, Santa Barbara

LA – a bleak picture?

But in autum 2019, when I planned vis­it­ing Thomas Manns home, I had been warned by a driver I was trav­el­ling with on the East Coast, in Maine: „You may give going to LA some ser­i­ous thought. Things there are pretty tough.“

And Georg Bloch­mann, dir­ect­or of the Goethe-Insti­tut in New York, also paints a bleak pic­ture: LA is a sym­bol of the fail­ure of the Amer­ic­an Dream, with extreme social segreg­a­tion and the dys­func­tion­al­ity of pub­lic infra­struc­ture, includ­ing pub­lic transport.

The stay will be about con­trasts. In the social aspect, between pub­lic and private, the light of the met­ro­pol­is and its dark sides.

In this respect, I am inter­ested in pub­lic trans­port and how it can be used to get to Thomas Mann’s former home in this car-dom­in­ated city – even though he nev­er took the bus in LA, but always drove his own car (he did not have a driv­ing licence, unlike Katia and his chil­dren, of whom Erika and Elisa­beth in par­tic­u­lar were pas­sion­ate drivers, prob­ably a ter­rain of the female Manns).

It all takes quite a long time, but works sur­pris­ingly well over­all. Once again, it takes an hour and a half, which is already typ­ic­al for oth­er cit­ies, to get from the city centre to the des­tin­a­tion asso­ci­ated with the Manns. It’s off to Pacific Pal­is­ades, on the hilly west­ern edge of the met­ro­pol­is. This time there are no prob­lem neigh­bour­hoods or com­muter sub­urbs on the peri­phery, but vil­las. By bus towards Santa Mon­ica and Beverly Hills, then anoth­er in Westwood;

Get off at the Sunset/Capri stop, up San Remo Drive. Even the name „Drive“ indic­ates that you nor­mally get around here by (car). Lush gar­dens, palm trees, sweep­ing and mow­ing, mostly by His­pan­ics or blacks. After sev­er­al turns, a place that looks famil­i­ar to me from my vir­tu­al tours via Google Earth, where high hedges and trees form a wall-like corner, behind which the house lies like Sleep­ing Beauty. Here again the need for pri­vacy seems to mani­fest itself; and time has done the rest.

San Remo Drive

Get off at the Sunset/Capri stop, up San Remo Drive. Even the name „Drive“ indic­ates that you nor­mally get around here by (car). Lush gar­dens, palm trees, sweep­ing and mow­ing, mostly by His­pan­ics or blacks. After sev­er­al turns, a place that looks famil­i­ar to me from my vir­tu­al tours via Google Earth, where high hedges and trees form a wall-like corner, behind which the house lies like Sleep­ing Beauty. Here again the need for pri­vacy seems to mani­fest itself; and time has done the rest.

A light fix­ture has grown into the bushes. Anoth­er one faces the drive­way of No. 1550; on it the street names „Monaco Drive“ and „San Remo Drive“, evok­ing the Medi­ter­ranean, the fash­ion­able coastal towns of the Rivi­era (the neigh­bour­hood is also called that), in whose flair Los Angeles likes to share. But one could also asso­ci­ate (Itali­an) „Monaco“ with „Munich“, and thus be with Thomas Mann’s former residence.

Original-Reconstruction?

As in New York, it is inter­est­ing to know who is respons­ible for the lights and can provide inform­a­tion about them. It is the city’s Bur­eau of Light­ing, to which I paid a vis­it. But in this „res­id­en­tial neigh­bour­hood“, the res­id­ents them­selves also take an interest. Bob Gale, author of the screen­play and co-pro­du­cer of „Back to the Future“ lives in the area (incid­ent­ally, so does Armin Mueller-Stahl, who por­trayed Thomas Mann in the series „The Manns“), is pres­id­ent of the loc­al homeown­ers’ asso­ci­ation and is very famil­i­ar with the dif­fer­ent types of lamps and their his­tory, even send­ing pho­tos of them. He recom­mends recon­struc­tion in Ger­many as the most eco­nom­ic­al meth­od of obtain­ing lamps – prob­ably also because he comes from the film industry.

The ques­tion of original/reconstruction will con­tin­ue to occupy me; it is also rel­ev­ant to Thomas Mann’s former res­id­ence and the way it is treated. First of all, how­ever, I am quite happy to see the lumin­aires in their spa­tial con­text on site.

The lamps, espe­cially when they stand so over­grown and ram­shackle in the bushes, tell of the city’s ambi­tion, its grandeur, its façade-like qual­ity. Installed in the 1920s to 1940s, they stood here when Thomas Mann moved into his newly built Bauhaus-style res­id­ence – which was more mod­ern com­pared to the his­tor­icising, opu­lent lamps.

Inside Thomas Mann House

In 2016, the Ger­man state acquired the house and set it up as the Thomas Mann House as a res­id­ence for schol­ar­ship hold­ers, a place for meet­ings and events. Nikolai Blaumer, pro­gramme dir­ect­or, leads me through the house and garden. The lib­rary is being recon­struc­ted, books are arriv­ing from many places and insti­tu­tions, includ­ing Yale.

The impres­sion: it’s a good place to work. The fur­nish­ings are func­tion­al, new, com­fort­able, without excess­ive lux­ury. The ref­er­ence to Thomas Mann is also pleas­antly restrained: a few pho­tos, but no hagi­o­graph­ic sta­ging in which the per­son of the former land­lord would fol­low you at every turn. Meet schol­ars, includ­ing the Ger­man­ist Stefan Kep­pler-Tasaki. Talk about the memori­al pro­ject. He knows a lot about the Manns and their contemporaries.

As in the garden with its high hedge, there are also ele­ments in the archi­tec­ture that demarc­ate and emphas­ise a space of their own: the wall drawn for­ward from the corner of the study, which, at Thomas Mann’s request, was to provide pro­tec­tion from view and noise.

From the garden you have a view over to the hill range with the former house of Lion Feucht­wanger, today as Villa Aurora also a res­id­ence for artists, writers, musi­cians. Next to it is the Getty Museum. Even fur­ther away, perched on a hill, is the Getty Cen­ter. The area is full of big names, insti­tu­tions and buildings.

As I return from San Remo Drive, I catch the bus head­ing into the city – with the same bus driver as on the out­ward jour­ney – and am greeted cas­u­ally by a man in a mint-col­oured shirt: „Take a seat, relax, cold drinks will be served.“ Cali­for­ni­an relaxation.

A few days later I’m back at the Manns’ former home. Fran­cis Fukuyama is giv­ing a short talk, along the lines of the radio addresses „Ger­man listen­ers!“ Thomas Mann’s in the 1940s. Fukuyama expects a strength­en­ing of the left/liberals as a reac­tion to Trump, and is „not too pess­im­ist­ic“ about the future.

At the small recep­tion after­wards, to my sur­prise, I meet Thomas Demand, who has lived in LA for ten years. With regard to the memori­al, he recom­mends Chris Burden’s install­a­tion of hun­dreds of street lights in front of LACMA to me. It has become a favour­ite of the pub­lic, a land­mark of the museum, even of the city, in that ubi­quit­ous ele­ments of pub­lic space with which res­id­ents identi­fy are brought togeth­er in a con­cen­trated way and strictly ordered accord­ing to their size – so that they can be seen from a distance.

For a moment, I feel like I belong to the schol­ar­ship hold­ers; besides those from the Thomas Mann House, there are also some from the Villa Aurora. LA turns out to be an inter­est­ing hot­spot, des­pite or per­haps because of the stark con­trasts, of archi­tec­tur­al land­marks and rampant home­less­ness, of glam­our and neg­lect.
I regret that I can­’t stay longer. I have to con­tin­ue my jour­ney to Brazil, to São Paulo, my last stop.

By chance, now, at the end of my stay, I am asked to evac­u­ate: there is a fire. When, dur­ing a vis­it to the Villa Getty, a recon­struc­ted villa from Pom­peii, there are clouds of smoke in the sky and it is rain­ing ash, it is strangely fitting.

„Back to the Future“ – luminare L.A. cast

These days the lumin­aire was com­pleted, which with­in the memori­al refers to the one in Pacific Palisades/Los Angeles that stands there in front of the house that Thomas Mann lived in with his fam­ily dur­ing his exile in Cali­for­nia, today’s Thomas Mann House. The art foundry Ant­on Gugg made an alu­mini­um cast­ing for it.
Once again, this marked the end of a lengthy pro­cess: based on pho­tos I had taken in 2019 and plans by Pub­lic Works Los Angeles, a digit­al mod­el of the light was drawn, by artist Flori­an Froese-Peek, trans­ferred with a 3D print­er into a three-dimen­sion­al 1:1 mod­el made of plastic, then cast using the melt-out pro­cess.
I had vis­ited Pacific Pal­is­ades in autumn 2019 – see the blog post.
For a long time I had researched and tried to get a light from there – which turned out to be dif­fi­cult. Trans­port­ing it to Ger­many would also have been a lengthy under­tak­ing, as I found out with the example of the lumin­aire pro­duced in the USA based on the mod­el in New York.
In the end, I fol­lowed the advice of Bob Gale, screen­writer and film pro­du­cer (includ­ing „Back to the Future“), who lives in the neigh­bour­hood. He wrote at the time: „My sug­ges­tion is that you have the fix­ture extens­ively pho­to­graphed and meas­ured, and then duplic­ate it in Ger­many. This would be the most cost effect and simple solu­tion.“ This sug­ges­tion cer­tainly does not come by chance from someone who is at home in the film industry, which often works with props and rep­licas.
And per­haps the concept of rep­lic­at­ing a lumin­aire from the 1920s/30s using mod­ern digit­al, but also tra­di­tion­al meth­ods, for a monu­ment that is to be erec­ted in the future – pre­sum­ably in spring 2024 – also fits the motto „Back to the Future“.

Luminaire from Sanary arrived

A few days ago, the muni­cip­al­ity of San­ary-sur-Mer in the south of France made a con­tri­bu­tion to the memori­al for the Mann fam­ily with the lamp or can­de­labra, as his­tor­ic­al lamps are often called. In autumn 2020, I vis­ited the former emig­ra­tion site of the Mann family.

The can­de­labra came well packed from the Fonder­ie de Roquevaire, which had restored it, and was received at the Bauhof in Munich, meas­ured – and labelled. As a small side effect, the let­ters in my name got mixed up and I became a „Cors(ican)“.

Lecture: A Memorial for the Mann Family, Conference „On Site: Memory, Exile, Migration“, 3.9.2021

Dieses Bild hat ein leeres Alt-Attribut. Der Dateiname ist Screenshot-2021-08-30-at-17-08-56-Erinnerung-Exil-Migration-1024x214.png

On 3.9.2021 Albert Coers will give a lec­ture on the memori­al for the Mann fam­ily, at the online con­fer­ence „Vor Ort: Erin­ner­ung, Exil, Migra­tion“, annu­al con­fer­ence of the Gesell­schaft für Exil­forschung in cooper­a­tion with the NS-Dok­u­ment­a­tion­szen­trum München, 3.–4.9.2021.

The annu­al con­fer­ence 2021 deals with places of exile and migra­tion and their rela­tion to cul­tures of memory and stim­u­lates exchange between exile research and oth­er research fields deal­ing with (forced) migra­tion and flight.

More inform­a­tion, pro­gram and regis­tra­tion here.

Radio feature: „Schöner Schilderwald [Beautiful sign forest]“, BR

On 21. 3.2021 there was as a broad­cast on Bay­ern 2 in the Kul­tur­journ­al the radio fea­ture „Schön­er Schilder­wald [Beau­ti­ful sign forest]. The artist Albert Coers and his Munich monu­ment to the Mann fam­ily“ by journ­al­ist Astrid May­erle, based on an extens­ive inter­view. Listen to it here.

Sanary – Lights, Villas, Towers

A jour­ney at the end of Septem­ber, which I make des­pite Corona con­cerns: I arrive by train from Mar­seille around mid­night. The sta­tion, built for the towns of Olli­oules and San­ary-sur-Mer togeth­er, is deser­ted but brightly lit – which puts me in the mood for the theme of the lights.
On the temple-like façade, which her­alds the grandeur of the small towns on the Côte d’Azur, the names are writ­ten in large let­ters. So I have it in black and white that I am in the right place. The place where many Ger­man-speak­ing emig­rants met in the 1930s, includ­ing the Manns.

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„In the right place“: the signs of Klaus-Mann-square in Frankfurt

On Octo­ber 6th I’m in Frank­furt again for a loc­al appoint­ment: to receive the street signs from Klaus-Mann-Platz, which will be part of the monu­ment to the Mann fam­ily in Munich.

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Decicison on monument

On 10.4.2019, the plen­ary assembly of the Munich City Coun­cil decided to real­ize the design of Albert Coers. Coers’ concept, which has won an invited art com­pet­i­tion of the cul­tur­al depart­ment, bears the title „Straßen Namen Leucht­en“ [Streets names lights]. 

Pre­vi­ously, on 28 March 2019, the City Council’s Cul­ture Com­mit­tee had unan­im­ously decided to fol­low the jury’s pro­pos­al and award the con­tract for a „Memori­al to the Mann Fam­ily“ at Sal­vat­or­platz to the artist, who lives in Ber­lin and Munich .