As most of you probably know, after hearing innumerable impassioned expositions and rants on the topic, I am a fan of German author Thomas Mann–born 1875, died 1955, author of 1,000-page novels about syphilis-ridden composers and crazy sanatoriums in the Alps.
And guess where he lived for some 30 years of his life? Munich, of course! As I found out, Dr. C. is also rather a Thomas Mann geek (For instance, as we were eating our enormous breakfast in the hotel lobby–smoked salmon, eggs, cream cheese, meats, fresh fruit, hot bread, coffee–he leaned over and whispered, gesturing at the loud group on the other side of the room, “Isn’t this exactly like the Magic Mountain?? And check it out, there’s the bad Russian table…..”–a give-away, for sure). Anyway, he was kind enough to take me on a Thomas Mann tour of sorts. Check it out:
Mann lived with his family on the above street from 1914 until he was forced to flee to America in 1933. The surrounding area was beautiful and quiet, all tall shady trees and paths overlooking the Isar river:
Alas, his house, now a private residence, was being restored and we weren’t able to get a view of the whole thing. Here’s one shot, however:
Here are a few of the surrounding homes, to give some idea of the neighborhood. It was all completely classy and up-scale–I had forgotten how well-off Mann was at this time, after his first novel Buddenbrooks achieved best-seller status.
And one more time…..the house is in the background, on the right.
It is easy enough to guess where we went next–Nordfriedhof (North Cemetery), the place where Mann’s most famous (and most amazing) novella Death in Venice begins. Imagine!
First here are the opening paragraphs of Death in Venice, for those unfamiliar with it…..
GUSTAVE ASCHENBACH–or von Aschenbach, as he had been known officially since his fiftieth birthday–had set out alone from his house in Prince Regent Street, Munich, for an extended walk. It was a spring afternoon in that year of grace 19–, when Europe sat upon the anxious seat beneath a menace that hung over its head for months. Aschenbach had sought the open soon after tea. He was overwrought by a morning of hard, nerve-taxing work, work which had not ceased to exact his uttermost in the way of sustained concentration, conscientiousness, and tact; and after the noon meal found himself powerless to check the onward sweep of the productive mechanism within him, that motus animi continuus in which, according to Cicero, eloquence resides. He had sought but not found relaxation in sleep–though the wear and tear upon his system had come to make a daily nap more and more imperative–and now undertook a walk, in the hope that air and exercise might send him back refreshed to a good evening’s work.
May had begun, and after weeks of cold and wet a mock summer had set in. The English Gardens, though in tenderest leaf, felt as sultry as in August and were full of vehicles and pedestrians near the city. But towards Aumeister the paths were solitary and still, and Aschenbach strolled thither, stopping awhile to watch the lively crowds in the restaurant garden with its fringe of carriages and cabs. Thence he took his homeward way outside the park and across the sunset fields. By the time he reached the North Cemetery, Nordfriedhof, however, he felt tired, and a storm was brewing above Föhring; so he waited at the stopping-place for a tram to carry him back to the city.
He found the neighbourhood quite empty. Not a wagon in sight, either on the paved Ungererstrasse, with its gleaming tramlines stretching off towards Schwabing, nor on the Föhring highway. Nothing stirred behind the hedge in the stone-mason’s yard, where crosses, monuments, and commemorative tablets made a supernumerary and untenanted graveyard opposite the real one. The mortuary chapel, a structure in Byzantine style, stood facing it, silent in the gleam of the ebbing day. Its façade was adorned with Greek crosses and tinted hieratic designs, and displayed a symmetrically arranged selection of scriptural texts in gilded letters, all of them with a bearing upon the future life,such as: “They are entering into the House of the Lord” and “May the Light Everlasting shine upon them.” Aschenbach beguiled some minutes of his waiting with reading these formulas and letting his mind’s eye lose itself in their mystical meaning. He was brought back to reality by the sight of a man standing in the portico, above the two apocalyptic beasts that guarded the staircase, and something not quite usual in this man’s appearance gave his thoughts a fresh turn.
We were in the English Gardens the previous evening, which are absolutely gorgeous. But check out the pictures below. The stone carver across the street:
The Byzantine Mortuary Chapel:
The door of the chapel facing the street:
The carved quotations Aschenbach reads:
…And the mysterious stranger Aschenbach sees leaning against it, who prompts his whole infamous journey to Venice!
Alas, I do not have red hair, and had forgotten my sun hat. Dr. C. and I both decided, however, that if we did see a shifty red-haired man with bad teeth, we were going to run.
And finally, a few pictures of the surrounding area and graveyard itself, which is just the sort of place I would want to walk if I was a disenchanted and over-worked genius author.
So yes, it was quite an afternoon. And the great, beautiful Mythos that is German art and literature became that much more real.