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.

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. 

Competition

On April 10, 2019, Munich’s City Coun­cil voted to real­ize artist Albert Coers’ design for a monu­ment in hon­or of the Mann fam­ily at the Sal­vat­or­platz (Sal­vat­or Square) in Munich. Coers’concept, entitled Streets Names Lights, was selec­ted by an expert jury with­in the frame­work of a com­pet­i­tion for Art in Pub­lic Space organ­ized by Munich’s Cul­tur­al Depart­ment. Coers was one of eight inter­na­tion­al artists invited to sub­mit a pro­pos­al (Clegg & Guttmann, Albert Coers, Annika Kahrs, Michaela Meise, Michaela Melián, Olaf Nic­olai, Timm Ulrichs, Paloma Varga Weisz).
The monu­ment is expec­ted to be com­pleted by the end of 2023.

The erec­tion of a memori­al to Thomas Mann was first ini­ti­ated by the City Coun­cil in 2015: “The Munich cit­izen and import­ant author Thomas Mann deserves a vis­ible place of hon­or in the city which he made the cen­ter of his life. He lived here for a very long time, mar­ried here, built a house. He wanted to stay here.” 

Since then, the scope of the memori­al has expan­ded to include his fam­ily: “In addi­tion to Thomas Mann’s his­tor­ic­al sig­ni­fic­ance for Munich, it has become clear that the them­at­ic focus must not be lim­ited to Thomas Mann alone. An artist­ic appre­ci­ation of the Nobel Prize win­ner without regard to his fam­ily con­text would be an exclu­sion of many inter­est­ing facets. For a broad­er, per­man­ent artist­ic upgrad­ing of pub­lic space, the lit­er­ary sig­ni­fic­ance of the entire Mann fam­ily must now be taken into account.” (com­pet­i­tion brief)

Monika, Michael, Golo, Katia, Thomas, Elisa­beth, Erika, Klaus Mann, 1927, Mon­acensia Archive 


Loc­a­tion

The site for the monu­ment, Sal­vat­or­platz, is situ­ated in the imme­di­ate vicin­ity of the Lit­er­at­urhaus (Lit­er­at­ure House), one of Munich’s cent­ral addresses for lit­er­at­ure and lit­er­ary exchange. The square is loc­ated in the old town between the Lit­er­at­urhaus, the Sal­vat­or­gar­a­gen (a land­marked park­ing gar­age from the 1960s) and the Sal­vat­orkirche (Sal­vat­or Church) to the southeast. 

The Manns and Munich

The idea of erect­ing a monu­ment to Thomas Mann and his fam­ily at a cent­ral loc­a­tion in Munich has its roots in the import­ance of the city for the fam­ily – includ­ing the family’s ambi­val­ent rela­tion­ship to it – as well as the fact that the fam­ily has not yet had the pres­ence it deserves in the vis­ible cul­ture of memory.

Born in Lübeck in 1875, Thomas Mann came to Munich as a young man in 1894 and lived here for over 30 years. Here he met his wife Katia Pring­sheim and here is where their chil­dren – Erika, Klaus, Golo, Monika, Elisa­beth and Michael – were born. Most of Mann’s lit­er­ary works were writ­ten here.

After the Nation­al Social­ists seized power in 1933, the Mann fam­ily was forced to emig­rate and lived in exile for almost twenty years – first in Europe, then in the USA. The family’s villa in Munich’s Poschin­gen­straße was con­fis­cated and Thomas Mann expropriated.

In 1952, Mann finally returned to Europe, to Switzer­land – a return to Munich was com­pletely out of the ques­tion for him. Already in decay, his former res­id­ence was torn down by the City of Munich with his per­son­al con­sent. Thomas Mann’s estate was bequeathed to the ETH (Swiss Fed­er­al Insti­tute of Tech­no­logy) in Zurich. The extens­ive lit­er­ary her­it­age of his chil­dren Klaus, Erika, Michael, Monika and Elisa­beth Mann is archived in the Hildebrand­haus of the Mon­acensia (lit­er­ary archives and research lib­rary) in Munich’s Bogen­hausen neighborhood.