As of 2020, the Buddenbrooks House in Lübeck is closed for renovation and expansion. It is scheduled to re-open in 2023. The expansion is possible because the Lübeck Cultural Foundation (Kulturstiftung Hansestadt Lübeck) has acquired one of the adjoining houses, which will be used to double the amount of space available for exhibitions, archives and events.
The Buddenbrooks House is named after the novel Buddenbrooks by Thomas Mann (1875-1955). This huge novel, first published in 1901 when the author was 26 years old, depicts the rise and (mainly) decline of a prominent merchant family in the Hansa city of Lübeck over four generations. It tells how the first and second generations built up the family business, the third struggled to keep up appearances and the fourth acquiesced in the family’s collapse. Many of the scenes in the novel take place in this house, which belonged to Thomas Mann’s grandparents when he was growing up nearby.
Thomas Mann was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1929, mainly for Buddenbrooks.
I have forgotten when and where I read Buddenbrooks (perhaps in New York while I was still a student there), but some of the scenes have stuck in my memory, such as the description of two brothers (in the third generation?) who as children amused the family with their grimaces and witticisms, but hundreds of pages later got on everyone’s nerves as eccentric uncles with unchanged behavior.
Some of Thomas Mann’s later works required more patience and effort than I was able to muster up. I didn’t get past the first fifty pages of Der Zauberberg (The Magic Mountain), and never really got into Joseph und seine Brüder (Joseph and his brothers). But I liked his novel on the confidence man Felix Krull, and I was actually quite fascinated by Lotte in Weimar, Thomas Mann’s novel about the great German author Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. This novel tells how Goethe was visited, in his old age, by a lady he had briefly been in love with decades before, the lady who had served as the model for Lotte in Goethe’s first novel, Die Leiden des jungen Werthers (The Sorrows of Young Werther).
One of Thomas Mann’s novellas, Der Tod in Venedig (Death in Venice), was later made into an opera by the British composer Benjamin Britten (1913-1976). I saw this opera several times in Frankfurt in the year 2006 in an elaborate production by Keith Warner, conducted by Karen Kamensek, in which the baritone Johannes Martin Kränzle demonstrated his versatility by playing eight different roles.
The Buddenbrooks House in Lübeck is also known as the “Heinrich und Thomas Mann Center”, since Thomas Mann’s older brother Heinrich was also a prominent author.
Heinrich Mann’s novels such as Professor Unrat and Der Untertan contain large doses of social criticism about German society in the early 20th century. Professor Unrat was later filmed as Der blaue Engel (The Blue Angel), starring Marlene Dietrich.
While he was living in France in the 1930s (having left Germany as soon as the Nazis seized power), Heinrich Mann researched and wrote two novels on the life of the French King Henri IV (1553-1610). Publication of these excellent books was forbidden in Germany, so they were first published in the original German by the Querido Verlag in Amsterdam, which specialized in getting exiled German authors into print.
I have written elsewhere about the lost generation of opera composers, but there was also a lost generation (or two) of German-language authors who had to flee the country and whose books were forbidden or even burnt by the Nazis. After the war it took decades for these authors to start receiving the attention they deserved, and some never did.
My photos and text in this post are from 2020.
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