The Buddenbrookhaus Muesum
Experience world Literature at the site of the action!
The Buddenbrookhaus in Lübeck’s historic centre
“My childhood was cherished and happy. I grew up in an elegant townhouse, that my father had built, and enjoyed a second home in the old family home from the eighteenth Century, with the saying ‘Dominus providebit’ on the Rococo façade, which my paternal grandmother occupied alone, and which today is an object of foreign curiosity, as the ‘Buddenbrook-Haus’” Thus emerged the birthplace Lübeck and the Haus at Number 4, Mengstraße in the memoirs of Thomas Mann, recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature.
On sunny days, the brick walls of the Marienkirche, where, as per the family tradition, Heinrich and Thomas Mann were baptised, can still be seen reflected in the high windows of the house.
The ornate facade of the Buddenbrookhaus, originally from 1758, reveals much about the self-confidence and the wealth of its bourgeois inhabitants, but little of the eventful history of the house in its journey to become one of the most extraordinary Literature museums worldwide; a novel which one can walk through.
Behind the five windows of the second floor of the house, in the ‘Beletage’, the “dining room with the figures of gods” and the “landscape room” wait for visitors as a part of the permanent exhibition ‘Buddenbrooks – the Novel of a Century’. It is a one-off staged union of reality and poetic fantasy. “One sat in the landscape room on the first floor of the spacious old house… The strong and elastic wall coverings, … delicately coloured, much like the thin carpet which covered the floor; an idyll in 18th Century style with happy winemakers, busy field-workers, nicely beribboned shepherdesses who held clean lambs on their laps or kissed shepherds tenderly.”
In this exhibition, Thomas Mann’s nobel-prize winning novel ‘Buddenbrooks’ (1901) becomes a piece of literature to be physically experienced. Whoever reads, sees – whoever sees, reads. With the reprint of the first edition of the book in your hand, you can emerge yourself in the setting of Buddenbrooks, in the everyday life of the merchant family from Lübeck.
On the tables, on the harmonium, on the Lübeck Gazette from 1981, on the sofa; numerous small tags with the page numbers of the text. In this way, reading is brought about – the inner eye reads, but the experience is very tangible – the props become talking furniture, the text becomes the room. At once, numerous storylines and characters of the novel are consolidated in one setting. And standing at the window, looking down into Mengstraße, the clattering on the cobbles completes the illusion of being immersed in another world, in the Lübeck of the turn of the 19th Century. Only once a year, at Christmas, are the white sheets, which symbolise the approaching move shortly after the death of the Frau Consul, taken down, and the rooms are aglitter with Christmas brilliance.
And ‘Christmas at the Buddenbrooks’’ is more than just pretty lights and the charm of tinsel. With plum pudding and Rotspon – a wine from Lübeck – the celebration at Buddenbrooks with the Manns is the most important family gathering of the year.
But not to be forgotten: the history of the novel, its genesis, its production, the scandal it provoked in Lübeck, the Nobel Prize for Literature which it won in 1929 and not least its worldwide reception, which continues to this day – from translations to the stage adaptations, radio plays and films. Enough space is dedicated to these aspects of the novel in the exhibition, that alongside aesthetic enjoyment, the exhibition also offers cultural-historical context from which the novel arose.
Only a few original pieces have been handed down, a few pieces from the family estate – the font, or the cup celebrating the family firm’s 100 year jubilee – which provide a point of contact to the real Mann family, and connect real life with the literary work. Apart from where these items are concerned, the principle of established reality dominates.
And thus is the mental image conjured up in the permanent ground floor exhibition “The Manns – a family of writers” completed. The ‘Windsors of Germany’ stand out in their uniqueness, their internationality, but also in their fractured psyches.
Six stations provide a chronological report of the international heritage, the literary and personal departure from Lübeck, the different ways of life, the as much collective as personal suffering under Germany and tell of the individual farewells, as well as hinting at the traces of the “amazing family” in the present day. Numerous photos, film footage and sound recordings make for a detailed portrayal of a twentieth Century rich in historical events and its effects on the life of Heinrich (1871-1950), Thomas (1875-1955), the second generation Erika (1905-1969), Klaus (1906-1949), Golo (1909-1994), Michael (1919-1977), Elisabeth (1918-2002), Monika (1910-1992) and last but not least the living Manns (Frido), and invite the visitor to grapple with the Mann family, a production plant of writers.
In the Buddenbrookhaus there is more to see than just one family, who are still fascinating to this day, or an unparalleled literary oeuvre. And this, despite the fact that Lübeck didn’t always have it easy playing host to the dynasty of writers. In the 1920s, for example, the house, which was sold by the Mann family in 1891, initially became a ‘Buddenbrook bookshop’, but had to lose the reference to the novel under the rule of National Socialism. When Thomas Mann visited Lübeck in 1953, he was photographed with his wife Katja in front of the facade of the otherwise completely destroyed house. And then it took another 40 years, until the start of the 1990s, until the initiative of a literary museum within Buddenbrookhaus experienced success. In 2000, the museum, which has since received many awards, was furnished with its splendid rooms in the »Beletage«.
In the shop, all of the deliverable works of the Mann family are available for purchase. Thus await the discoveries of many stories behind the facade of Number 4, Mengstraße. Come in and discover a fascinating piece of world literature Made in Germany.