Culture meets holiday
„Googling“ your culture and history using a tablet computer from the comfort of your own couch is certainly a practical way to learn about new things. But it’s quite something else to experience it yourself on a journey of discovery where you view buildings and locations that bear mute witness to both wonderful and terrible occurrences. This is truly the case with the Thomas Mann Museum, located in the small Lithuanian village of Nida on the Baltic Sea.
Thomas Mann discovered Nida quite by chance in 1929 during a stay at a Baltic health resort. The local press reported his visit on August 25 of that year. He immediately fell in love with the up-and-coming village and its magnificent natural surroundings. His fascination is hardly a surprise: The village is located on the Curonian Spit, a long, narrow, curved sand-dune point of land that is almost 100 kilometres long but only 380 meters wide at its narrowest point. Today, its territory belongs mostly to Russia, and it has been a UNESCO world heritage site since the year 2000.
A few months after his first visit, Thomas Mann was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. This gave him the financial means to build a summerhouse in Nida. He located it on a hill whose name, when translated, means mother-in-law, and used it extensively in the years between 1930 and 1933. Mann described why he was so attracted to Nida: „This fantastic world of shifting dunes, the birch and pine tree groves with grazing moose between the lagoon and the Baltic, the wild beauty of the beach – all this struck such a chord in us that we decided to build a permanent residence at this remote location.“ Enjoying a wonderful view of the lagoon close to the Baltic in which the family bathed daily and ringed by fragrant forests, Thomas Mann worked on „Joseph and His Brothers“ and corresponded with friends, publishers and translators.
Due to the political turmoil in late 30s Germany and the acute risks to the safety of Thomas Mann and his family, the carefree days at the summerhouse on the Baltic soon came to an abrupt end. In 1939, Mann’s summerhouse was confiscated by the Nazis, renamed „Elchenhain“ and used as a hunting lodge. Later on, there were even plans to tear it down, but luckily these were never realized. In 1967, it was reopened as a memorial to Thomas Mann and in the 1990s extended to include a cultural centre.
Today, tourists enjoying a delightful holiday between the lagoon and the Baltic can visit the museum to admire rooms that have been restored according to the architect’s original plans. They will also experience first-hand the fascination that this location held for Thomas Mann and his family.