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USA, Los Angeles: Exil-Villa von Thomas Mann
A computer-generated image of the restored Thomas Mann HouseImage: picture-alliance/dpa/rebuild.ing

German president opens Thomas Mann House in LA

Stefan Dege with dpa / ad
June 18, 2018

The German government purchased the former US residence of Nobel Prize laureate Thomas Mann to save it from demolition. German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier is in California for its opening ceremony.


Two years ago, the Californian villa formerly belonging to Nobel Prize laureate Thomas Mann was to be sold and demolished; the news caused outcry among German authors, publishers and artists.

President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, then Germany's foreign minister, and the commissioner for culture and the media, Monika Grütters, backed the idea of having the building located at 1550 San Remo Drive bought by the German state in order to turn it into a meeting location and memorial site. 

Dubbed the "white house of exile" by Steinmeier, the acquisition of the villa cost around nearly $13 million (€11 million).

President Frank-Walter Steinmeier
It is Steinmeier's first trip to the United States since becomingGermany's president, a largely ceremonial postImage: picture alliance/CITYPRESS 24

On Monday, President Steinmeier, accompanied by numerous fellow campaigners, arrived in Los Angeles to visit "his" work for the opening ceremony of the restored house.

In his speech, the German president emphasized the close ties and similarities between the US and Germany, despite all the current tensions. 

"The struggle for democracy, the struggle for a free and open society is what will continue to unite us, the United States and Germany," Steinmeier said. Inaugurating the Thomas Mann [House] in California during "these tumultuous times also marks a wonderful moment in the friendship between our two countries," he added.

The Nobel Prize-winning author of works including Buddenbrooks, The Magic Mountain and Joseph and His Brothers fled to Switzerland when the Nazis came to power in 1933, moving to the US in 1938.

The villa in which Mann once lived is located at the western edge of Los Angeles. With its 489 square meters (5,263 square feet), it's not particularly large, but nevertheless filled with history.

During his exile, the writer commissioned architect Julius Ralph Davidson, from the city of Breslau, Silesia (now Wroclaw, Poland), to construct the building in which he then lived from 1942 to 1952. He became a leading figure of exiled German intellectuals. "Germany is wherever I am," he told his supporters.

Read more: Thomas Mann was disappointed by America's populism

Thomas Mann
German author and Literature Nobel Prize laureate Thomas Mann lived in exile in the US from 1938 to 1952 Image: picture-alliance/dpa/Bifab

A residence for scholars

The building was renovated over several months for around $5 million. It is to welcome artists and intellectuals through as residency program.

Its first guest will be German actor Burghart Klaussner (The White Ribbon), followed by Berlin-based sociologist Jutta Allmendinger, Thomas Mann researcher Heinrich Detering, as well as micro electronics engineer Yiannos Manoli. Another selected fellow was  journalist Sylke Tempel, who however died during a storm in Berlin. 

USA, Los Angeles: Exil-Villa von Thomas Mann
A computer-generated image of the restored Thomas Mann HouseImage: picture-alliance/dpa/rebuild.ing

Allmendinger told DW that she saw her fellowship as "a huge gift," and she hopes to serve as an "ambassador of Germany in American civil society" during the months she will be living and traveling in the country. 

The Freiburg-based expert for micro electronics Manoli wants to promote German culture and science during his fellowship: "I'm looking forward to exchanging views with research colleagues," he said.

Conserving Thomas Mann's home office

During the restoration, it was important to find a "healthy compromise between the respect for the original substance, and the needs of a modern cultural house," said the program director of the Thomas Mann House, Nikolai Blaumer.

The villa was the home of Thomas Mann, his wife Katia and their six children. Now, the four fellows will share the main part of the villa while a fifth resident can be accommodated in the guest house at the pool.

The historical building has undergone thorough restoration. The building's structure has been maintained, but the interior is completely changed.

On the upper floor, there are several smaller rooms that serve as bedrooms. On the ground flour, there is a huge living room with large windows looking onto the garden.

The only room that has been kept is the building's historical core, Mann's former study. That's where the Literature Nobel Prize laureate and Hitler opponent wrote his wartime speeches for the BBC, entitled "Deutsche Hörer!" (German listeners!).

A second German state residence in Los Angeles

Only a few miles away from the Thomas Mann House, there's another artist residence that has been financed by Germany since 1995.

The Villa Aurora, a building that also serves as a German-American cultural meeting ground, used to be the home of German-Jewish novelist Lion Feuchtwanger, who also went into exile during World War II.

Today, the German film world celebrates its Oscar parties in the writer's former residence.

The official inauguration of the Thomas Mann House marked an important stop during German Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier's trip across California. 

On Tuesday, he's expected to give the opening speech at the accompanying conference "The Struggle for Democracy" at the Getty Center. Thomas Mann's grandson, Frido Mann, who lived in the house as a child, is expected among the ceremony's guests.

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