Thomas Mann in Kilchberg


Thomas Mann (1875 –1955) was a German novelist most famous for a series of highly symbolic, sometimes ironic novels and stories showing his particular insight into the psychology of artists and intellectuals. He developed themes exploring the somewhat ambiguous position of the artist as teller-of-truth yet purveyor-of-lies. Much of his work examines the eternal mysteries of love and death. His writing was probably at its most popular in the middle of the last century, but no survey of significant European writers of the modern era would be complete without reference to his works.

In 1905, he married Katia Pringsheim, the beautiful daughter of a well-known Jewish family of intellectuals. Something of a scholar herself, she sacrificed her studies in physics in order to take up her responsibilities as a wife and mother. They had six children: Klaus, Erika, Golo, Monika, Elisabeth and Michael. The physical demands of the children and running a large household, together with the secretarial burden of supporting her husband’s writing, may explain why she was admitted to a sanatorium in Davos, Switzerland in 1912. Thomas Mann joined her there and gathered valuable material for what is probably his best-known novel, The Magic Mountain (1924), which is set locally. This period of respite deepened the feelings of both Thomas and Katia for Switzerland, feelings which would lead ultimately to his choosing his final resting place in Kilchberg, as you can see in the pictures.

Mann’s literary career blossomed throughout the 1920s and culminated in the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1929, not least for his first major novel, Buddenbrooks, which was translated into numerous languages and had established his literary reputation.

In 1933, Mann, whilst out of the country, was warned that the political situation in Germany made it impossible for him to return. He took refuge first in Switzerland and it was to Küsnacht, just across the lake from Kilchberg, that he fled. You can see the town on the opposite shore through the rooftops and trees in the accompanying pictures. His love for Switzerland was deep-rooted; one of his grandmothers was Swiss and he had chosen nearby Zurich for his honeymoon in 1905. By 1934 he has vowed that he would be buried in Switzerland and the photographs show that the community of Kilchberg honoured that wish for him at the end of his life.

Following a period in the USA during and after World War 2, Thomas Mann and his family returned to Switzerland and settled in beautiful Kilchberg. Then, as now, it was a quiet and relaxing community, conveniently situated near Zurich with excellent transport links via the S-Bahn from Kilchberg railway station. His substantial and attractively-situated villa overlooks Lake Zurich. This, his final home, was both comfortable and large enough to accommodate his family. Indeed his widow and then his son lived here until 1994. Thomas and Katia enjoyed the views, entertaining guests on the panoramic balconies whenever the weather permitted. Thomas Mann enjoyed this retreat for only a little over a year before his final illness. The dates of occupancy of the villa by the family can be seen on the informative plaque affixed to the gatepost. The property is a private house and not open to the public.

He passed away as a result of the circulatory disease atherosclerosis in 1955 and was buried in the Kilchberg Village Cemetery. In this calm and reflective burial ground can be found the simple, but imposing stone block memorialising Thomas Mann and his wife Katia. Their names are carved in clear capital letters and their dates engraved in authoritative roman numerals. In front of this memorial are found plaques commemorating four of their children, Erika, Elisabeth, Monika and Michael. Each of these tablets can be seen in the pictures accompanying this article. Golo, Mann’s third son, a popular, though sometimes controversial historian, is not buried in the family plot, but has a handsome individual grave and gravestone nearby, also pictured.

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