“Throughout the world it has become precarious to take democracy for granted“, wrote Thomas Mann after the rise of National Socialism and the end of the Weimar Republic. After living in France and Switzerland, Mann found refuge and a home in the United States. During his time in the U.S., he comprehensively addressed questions of democratic renewal, freedom, and exile in his literary works, lectures, and essays.
From 1942, Mann lived for ten years in the house “Seven Palms” on San Remo Drive. It was here, that he broadcast his appeals via the BBC to Germans during the war under the title “German Listener” and wrote his famous novel “Doctor Faustus”. He became the most famous German voice in exile.
After Mann and his family left the house, the property deteriorated for over forty years and was eventually put up for sale. An international campaign led by Nobel Prize winning author Herta Müller, drew attention to this potential loss of cultural and literary heritage and the potential disappearance of a historically important memorial for German exile literature.
With the support of Germany’s Minister of Culture, Monika Grütters and Frank-Walter Steinmeier, then Minister of Foreign Affairs, the German Foreign Office acquired the building for almost 13 million Euros and invested in extensive renovations.
"The struggle for democracy, the struggle for a free and open society is what will continue to unite us, the United States and Germany," Frank-Walter Steinmeier said. The opening was "also a wonderful moment for friendship between our countries in these stormy times"
According to Berthold Leibinger, one of the many donours, the project is an “important contribution to German-American understanding. The latter is more necessary than ever.”
Rare booksellers, Brad and Jen Johnson of Johnson Rare Books & Archives, members of the Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America (ABAA) and affiliates of the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers (ILAB) were actively involved in the re-opening of the Mann library.
Brad Johnson wrote after the opening: “These are such troubling times, and so much of the tension seems unnecessary and a repetition of unfortunate moments in our past. Though Steinmeier's address was optimistic in tone - he spoke poignantly and with more than a little humor - I was profoundly saddened. This country, which offered the Mann family refuge from Nazism, also forced him to flee once again during the rise of McCarthyism. I am thankful that the German government has invested so much in preserving the history of the exiles who made California their home. It's an important story both here and in Germany, and an investment in our friendship.”
The Thomas Mann Villa will now be used as a place of culture, commemoration and cultural exchange. A fellowship programme for 2019 has just been announced and an extensive list of events can be found online.
When in Los Angeles, the Mann villa will be well worth a visit.
To visit the villa and the library, more information can be found here: THOMAS MANN HOUSE