Earlier this year I recorded my trip to Theodor Storm’s home town of Husum, but I never told you what happened after that. I travelled from the North Sea coast to the Baltic Coast. To Lübeck, the home town of Thomas Mann, where a visit to Mengstrasse 4, the former home of Mann’s grandparents, is obligatory for German litlovers. Why? Because that is where the Heinrich and Thomas Mann Centre is situated. Well, that may be it’s official name, but it is better known as the Buddenbrooks House, being the house Mann immortalised in his debut novel.
I made a beeline for the second floor. For it is dedicated to the novel, Buddenbrooks, in a way that is, as far as I am aware wholely unique. Two rooms are presented as the Buddenbrooks’s sitting and dining rooms.
They were sitting in the “land-scape room” on the first floor of the rambling old house in Meng Street, which the firm of Johann Buddenbrook had acquired some time since, though the family had not lived in it for long. The room was hung with heavy resilient tapestries put up in such a way that they stood well out from the walls. They were woven in soft tones to harmonise with the carpet, and they depicted idyllic landscapes in the style of the eighteenth century, with merry vine-dressers, busy husbandmen and gaily beribboned shepherdesses who sat beside crystal streams with spotless lambs in their laps or exchanged kisses with amorous shepherds, These scenes were usually lighted by a pale yellow sunset to match the yellow coverings on the white enammelled furniture and the yellow silk curtains at the two windows.
For the size of the room, the furniture was rather scant. A round table, its slender legs decorated with fine lines of gilding, stood, not in front of the sofa, but by the wall opposite the little harmonium, on which lay a flute case, some stiff arm chairs were ranged in a row round the walls, there was a sewing table by the window, and a flimsy ornamented writing-desk laden with knick-knacks. (Translation H T Lowe-Porter)
The tapestries in this room had a sky-blue background, against which, between slender columns, white figures of gods and goddesses stood out with plastic effect, The heavy red damask window-curtains were drawn; stiff, massive sofas in red damask stood ranged against the walls, and in each corner stood a tall gilt candelabrum with eight flaming candles, besides those in silver sconces on the table. Above the heavy sideboard, on the wall opposite the landscape room, hung a large painting of an Italian bay, the misty blue atmosphere of which was most effective in the candle-light. (Translation H T Porter Lowe)
Look more closely and you will see individual artifacts tagged with the the numbers of the pages in which they make individual appearances if you will. Unfortunately the labels don’t detail the relevant edition. Still I’ll include the photos here, for anyone who may be reading Buddenbrooks at the moment. Let me know when you track down the relevant passage.
The permanent interactive exhibition on the ground floor details the life and times of Heinrich and Thomas Mann, and made me understand that Buddenbrooks, like many debut novels, contains many autobiographical elements. For instance, the Mann family originated from Rostock, and many of Hanno Buddenbrook’s experiences were based on those of the author, such as his torment during his school days at the Katharineum.
The museum’s mission statement is to encourage readers to pick up read or re-read the works of the Manns. I can report a case of mission achieved, because right now, I am deep into what must be my 5th or 6th reading of Buddenbrooks, and I am loving every word all over again.
It’s where my journey during German Literature Month VII will begin. Have you made any plans yet?