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Rue Thomas Mann, Paris – in Munich

Rue Thomas Mann, Par­is, 2018, Photo: Eva-Maria Troelenberg

As the first com­pon­ent of the memori­al to the Mann fam­ily, „Rue Thomas Mann“ in the char­ac­ter­ist­ic Parisi­an design was installed on Sal­vat­or­platz in Munich in April 2024, on the façade of the Sal­vat­or garage.

It refers to the street in Par­is that has com­mem­or­ated the „Ècrivain alle­mand“ since 1995, as the sign also says. It is loc­ated in the 13th arron­disse­ment, in the mod­ern „Gare“ dis­trict, which was redesigned at the same time as the street was named, in the neigh­bour­hood of the Bib­lio­thèque François-Mit­ter­rand (Nation­al Lib­rary of France, BnF), which makes the choice of the writer as the name­sake all the more plausible.

The sign sym­bol­ises the lit­er­ary and polit­ic­al Franco-Ger­man rela­tion­ship and the role Thomas Mann played in it. He held the Gon­court broth­ers, among oth­ers, in high esteem and drew decis­ive inspir­a­tion from their works for his fam­ily nov­el „Bud­den­brooks“. And he was the first Ger­man writer to make a pub­lic appear­ance in Par­is after the First World War to give a speech entitled „The intel­lec­tu­al tend­en­cies of con­tem­por­ary Ger­many“. In the role of an unof­fi­cial cul­tur­al ambas­sad­or of the Wei­mar Repub­lic, Mann pro­moted Franco-Ger­man friend­ship and inter­na­tion­al under­stand­ing – see also his report on the trip and his stay, „Par­iser Rechenschaft“[Parisian Account]. The nam­ing is also a reflec­tion of the later polit­ic­al rela­tions between the two coun­tries, which intens­i­fied in the 1990s.

The install­a­tion on Sal­vat­or­platz was pre­ceded by a lengthy pro­cess of research and con­tact, includ­ing via the Goethe-Insti­tut Par­is. In the end, the city of Par­is approved the repro­duc­tion of the sign, which was car­ried out by the com­pany LACROIX Signalisation/Signaclic, which also works for the city of Paris.

As street signs in Par­is are pre­dom­in­antly attached to build­ing facades, it was neces­sary to find a suit­able loc­a­tion in Munich. The façade of the Sal­vat­or­gar­age was an obvi­ous choice, for which the con­sent of the Office for the Pre­ser­va­tion of His­tor­ic­al Monu­ments was obtained, as well as the ten­ants and own­ers, Bav­aria Parkgar­a­gen GmbH and Bay­erische Hausbau.

The install­a­tion itself was car­ried out by Flori­an Froese-Peek in col­lab­or­a­tion with Albert Coers.

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„Warming up“ Salvatorplatz – memorial to the Mann family

The Sal­vat­or­platz in Munich, where the memori­al to the Mann fam­ily is to be erec­ted, is „pre-warmed“ and activ­ated: stu­dents from the Thomas-Mann-Gym­nas­i­um and the middle school on Peslmüller­strasse, Pas­ing phys­ic­ally explored the square on March 6, 2024, where they formed, among oth­er things. a liv­ing chain around the area where street signs and lights will stand in memory of the mem­bers of the Mann fam­ily. And that in the rain! The action is part of a pro­gram to teach art in pub­lic spaces in schools, led by Bar­bara Dabanoglu.

Photo: Jad­ranka Kosorcic

Weighty information – additional signs for the Mann family

In addi­tion to the street signs with the names of the Mann-familiy from Munich, boards have been com­pleted that provide inform­a­tion about the mem­bers of the fam­ily and are placed below the signs.
Addi­tion­al inform­a­tion is there­fore an integ­ral part of the monu­ment.
The texts were cre­ated in col­lab­or­a­tion with the Cul­tur­al Depart­ment of the City of Munich, Pub­lic His­tory Depart­ment. They provide brief bio­graph­ies of Thomas, Katia, Klaus, Erika, Golo Mann and Elisa­beth Mann. The Munich build­ing depart­ment took over the tech­nic­al imple­ment­a­tion. Until now, these signs were only avail­able for Thomas, Klaus and Erika Mann. In this respect, it made sense to me to provide all Munich street names with such signs and to add ones for Katia, Golo and Elisa­beth Mann.
The signs are made of enamelled met­al and are there­fore quite heavy com­pared to their size (15 x 45 cm). Reas­on to place the signs on a bath­room scale – and test the weight of the names and information.

„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“.

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. 

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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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.

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 .