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.

San­ary-sur-Mer, Photo: Hein­rich-und-Thomas-Mann-Zen­trum, Bud­den­brookhaus, Lübeck

In the mono­graph on the Mann fam­ily by Hans Wißkirchen, pub­lished by Rowohlt, I had found a pho­to­graph show­ing the town’s har­bour at the time when the emig­rants were stay­ing there. In the back­ground the ridges along the coast – and prom­in­ently in the fore­ground in the middle, like a stand­ard, a lamp. It was not least this pic­ture that gave me the idea to insert a lamp from San­ary into the monu­ment in Munich.

This lumin­aire is still there today, in 2020, and the pav­ing with the lime­stone slabs seems to be the same. It has three spheres of real glass, as I was shown on site, is painted sea green and bears the coat of arms of San­ary, a tower at the har­bour, on its mast.

In San­ary, the memory of the emig­rants from Ger­many and Aus­tria is firmly anchored: Right at the har­bour there is a large com­mem­or­ative plaque which San­ary calls a „Lieu de Mémor­ie Vivante“, thus emphas­ising live­li­ness and rel­ev­ance to the present. Tri­lin­gual, also in Ger­man („Geden­kort“) and Eng­lish („Memori­al site“), the plaque addresses an inter­na­tion­al audi­ence, as inter­na­tion­al as the emig­rants and the vis­it­ors who fol­low their traces. It lists some 70 names, a who’s who of Ger­man lit­er­at­ure at the time: Ernst Bloch, Ber­to­lt Brecht, Lion Feucht­wanger, Alfred Kerr, Lud­wig Mar­cuse, Erich-Maria Remarque, Joseph Roth, Franz Wer­fel, Arnold and Stefan Zweig … The name „Mann“ is rep­res­en­ted in large num­bers, six times, with Hein­rich, Thomas, Katia, Erika, Klaus and Golo.

But the com­mem­or­a­tion is also linked to places of interest, leis­ure activ­it­ies, tour­ism: the plaque is loc­ated out­side the pavil­ion of the Office du Tour­isme. To the left of it, screens show films about diving, sail­ing and the zoo. On the right, a smal­ler board tells the story of the emig­rants who came to San­ary in the 1930s. Thomas Mann acts as their rep­res­ent­at­ive. The respect­ive places of res­id­ence are marked with sim­il­ar boards. The res­ult is a par­cours of the places and the memory of their former inhabitants.

I walk up the hill from the har­bour. Pass a chapel with votive tab­lets, on the left side with a view to the sea. At the end of the road I come across the house that Thomas Mann lived in, the Villa La Tran­quille. Here the houses have been giv­en names, per­son­al­ising them, names that evoke har­mony and nat­ur­al beauty. When I am there, how­ever, it is any­thing but quiet: an angle grinder screeches nearby. The present once again speaks out. Nev­er­the­less, I can under­stand the peace and seclu­sion of this small coastal town and begin to under­stand why the men and oth­er emig­rants came here.
For Thomas Mann, the house looks almost mod­est com­pared to his Munich villa, the one in Prin­ceton or even the one in Pacific Pal­is­ades. But Katia and Thomas Mann did not live here for long either, for about nine months in 1933; it was a place of trans­ition before they moved to Küssnacht on Lake Zurich, then later to America.

The next day there will be a meet­ing with rep­res­ent­at­ives of the city to dis­cuss ques­tions about the monu­ment pro­ject and the lumin­aire from San­ary. Patri­cia Aubert, Deputy May­or, Jean-Pierre Moul­ar­de, Head of the Depart­ment of Tech­no­logy, and Aman­dine Alivon from the Muni­cip­al Archives will be present, as the pro­ject is also about the his­tory of the town. The muni­cip­al­ity is will­ing to con­trib­ute a light for the monu­ment. With the help of the com­pany, which still has moulds, this will be pos­sible. The parts still have to be col­lec­ted and restored. And it is also a mat­ter of medi­ation: wheth­er, for example, ref­er­ences to the monu­ment can also be attached to Thomas Mann’s former house. I am asked an inter­est­ing ques­tion: what is my artist­ic con­tri­bu­tion, my modi­fic­a­tion of the lamps? I answer with Duch­amp that the selec­tion in itself is an artist­ic act, that it is about cre­at­ing ref­er­ences. For my rather pass­ive know­ledge of French, the meet­ing is a challenge.

I treat myself to a room in the Hotel de la Tour, an angu­lar-cubic build­ing, built around the tower that is the sym­bol of San­ary, as it appears on the coats of arms on the lamp-posts. It was also the hotel where Klaus and Erika stayed dur­ing their stays. The fact that it was designed for per­man­ent guests, who also received their mail here, is shown by the shelf with com­part­ments on which the room key is hung when leaving.

From the win­dow and from the tower there is a view of the sea, ships and light­houses. Fur­ther back, you can see wooded and rocky ridges rising to the north and east. They exert a strong attrac­tion on me, and after the meet­ing in San­ary, I explore the area from nearby Toulon for a few days and walk back towards Mar­seille. On the way I get into heavy rain showers on a moun­tain ridge and a storm that almost blows me down. So the weath­er and the land­scape are not always as Medi­ter­ranean as the name of Thomas Mann’s villa „La Tran­quille“ prom­ises (who wisely left the area again in Septem­ber).

By the way, there is a rich lit­er­at­ure about San­ary, such as Das flüchtige Paradies. Künst­ler an der Côte d’Azur [The Fleet­ing Para­dise. Artist on the Côte d’Azur] by Man­fred Flügge (2008). A good review and sum­mary here. Or Exil unter Pal­men. Deutsche Emig­ranten in San­ary-sur-Mer [Exile under Palm Trees. Ger­man emig­rants in San­ary-sur-Mer] (2018) by Magali Nieradka-Steiner.