Posts Tagged ‘Klaus Mann’

Klaus Mann: The Turning Point

September 25, 2018

41zmqD9SlKL._AC_US218_This post also begins with a confession: many years ago, I tried to read a novel by Thomas Mann, and gave up. Then I had to read one as part of my master’s degree: Death in Venice bored me. Nevertheless, I was attracted to his son Klaus’ autobiography when I came across it in a bookshop in 1987 and bought it. Finally, I read – most of it…

There’s an awful lot of self-indulgent rambling in the 600+ pages, as well as a huge amount of name-dropping, a great many of which names have completely fallen off anyone’s radar by now. So, it’s not an easy read, and I found myself skimming certain sections; I also took a two-week break from it, but then decided I’d better get on.

Mann is interesting in his description – and realisation, with hindsight – of just how much intellectuals, and intelligent people generally, were looking the wrong way all the time in post-First World War Germany, whilst anarchy reigned in politics and public life, and the far right was rumbling away, first in the background and then much more overtly and confidently, and this made uncomfortable reading in these times. I found myself beginning to understand the German feelings of betrayal in 1918, and the idea, so effectively used by Hitler and the Nazis, that they hadn’t lost the war.

Mann is clear about not wanting to succeed as a writer by hanging onto his father’s (or indeed his uncle Heinrich’s) coattails, but there is no denying that it helped a lot. The breathlessness of his youth and travels comes across very well, and I was interested to learn of his friendship and travelling with Annemarie Schwarzenbach, whose travel journals I have dipped into. At times I had the impression of reading about the German equivalent of the British Bloomsbury group, with all the interconnected names and relationships.

Mann was gay, but nowhere does his sexuality or its effect on his life receive overt attention in his writing, perhaps understandably from the times. I was shocked by his, and his friends’ near-obsession with suicide, and how many of them, including Mann himself, took this option.

Chronicles of life within Germany during the time of the Nazis I have always found interesting, because I strive to understand how such a death-focused and poisonous ideology could have gripped an entire nation, and Mann’s account is no exception. The fact that for so long intellectuals just could not take the Nazis seriously, expressed total incredulity towards them, is revealing: Mann describes sitting at the next table to Hitler and his cronies in a Munich cafe a year or so before they came to power, and the description of the would-be führer troughing through one strawberry cream tart after another makes him seem utterly ridiculous…

Mann and his family left Germany very quickly after the takeover; his vehement anti-Nazism (and that of his sister Erika, who I have written about here) is never in doubt; he ended up striving to enlist in the US army even before he had been naturalised an American citizen, and his account of Germany in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War is also very illuminating, especially about the sordid compromises very rapidly made by the Allies with the remnants of the old regime, and the way suddenly every German had secretly been an anti-Nazi all along…

Overall, for our time, the book is far too long and rambling, and I did find myself skimming sizeable sections, but I’m glad I bothered, for the various illuminating sections I’ve mentioned which I’ve fitted into my overall jigsaw of those times…

 

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Travel: youth vs age

September 20, 2018

I’m in the middle of reading Klaus Mann’s (son of Thomas Mann) autobiography; in his early twenties he travelled quite widely, fairly randomly, with an open mind and a free spirit. I was reminded of myself at that age; I’ve been travelling again recently – in my sixties – and I also found myself thinking about the differences in my experience then and now.

In my twenties I was carefree and poor. As a student, I saved my pennies and a hundred quid would sustain me abroad for a month in the summer vacation, once I’d got myself across the Channel; then I’d hitchhike wherever the whim and my lifts took me. I travelled light: tent, sleeping bag and rucksack with a few clothes and basic kit was enough. I met lots of different and interesting people who gave me lifts to all sorts of places, and some of whom were generous as well to a not-very-well-off student. I saw a decent amount of France, Germany, the Low Countries over several summers. I fell in love with Provence, and the Loire Valley, and Hessen in Germany. I treated myself to a different cheese every day, as well as cake and ice-cream.

In my sixties, as back then, my time is my own and I can go where I please, but I crave – and probably need – rather more comfort, using basic hotels for overnight stops and renting studios and holiday apartments for longer stays; obviously I drive and I take rather more kit with me nowadays: phone and tablet keep me in touch with home – never bothered about that in the old days! – and I take music and books with me, and a selection of maps and guidebooks… as a student I allowed myself one doorstopper of a novel for my entertainment in the evenings, by candlelight, in my tent. I still treat myself to a bottle of beer in the evening. And what I want to see is still the same: I go for places with a history, and an atmosphere, that I can explore in a leisurely fashion, taking as much time as I like. There’s nothing like spending a couple of days wandering around a town or city for really getting the feel and atmosphere of the place, and I think of all the places I’ve done that – Carcassonne a couple of years ago, where I deliberately got up early to walk the place and take photos before it was swamped by hordes of tourists; Lübeck, GdanskLeipzig, Arles very recently, and I’ve lost count of the amount of time I’ve spent over the years walking the streets of Paris just to see what would turn up around the next corner.

So, organised tours are not really for me: too quick, and being marshalled off to the next place before I’ve got to grips with where I am today is not for me. I like to be able to spend ages wandering around looking for the perfect spot for photographs, and I like to be able to get up early for a photo session before a place gets crowded out with tourists. Yes, I know I’m one, too!

When I was younger, I think I stored up mental impressions, along the lines of, “I really like this place, I’ll have to come back one day!” whereas now it’s all rather different. Without being too maudlin, there is more of a sense of, “Well, let’s enjoy this place because I might not see it again…” And there is a developing perspective, from all the stunning places I’ve seen (and I’m not that widely travelled, as I don’t fly) that humans have made beautiful and wonderful things and live in such a beautiful world, so why are we ruining it, and treating our fellow humans so abominably? It makes me rather sad, really.

And there are almost no hitchhikers any more: they vanished in the mid-1980s, as I recall, with the advent of cut-price coach, train and air travel, and sadly, as a driver I’ve never been able to repay all the kindness I was shown back in my student days; I can count the number of people I’ve picked up on the fingers of one hand…

This is getting just a little ridiculous

January 31, 2018

Is there anything better about what I do, compared with watching TV every night, binge-watching box-sets, playing computer games for hours? Am I any the better or wiser for all this hoovering up of knowledge? Surely I’m just frittering my life away like everyone else does?

What got me this evening was realising that I have a reading list longer than the rest of my life, and it’s growing; occasionally I joke with friends that I’m saving this or that activity or place to visit ‘for my next existence’, and it has become no joking matter. Currently I’m re-reading Je suis de nulle part, a sort of biography of Ella Maillart (see my last post) by a contemporary admirer of hers. It’s reminded me I need to re-read Oases Interdites, her account of travels in China and India in the 1930s, and then also News From Tartary by Peter Fleming, as the two made the same journey together and wrote different and equally fascinating accounts of it. Then, as Maillart travels to Afghanistan with her friend Annemarie Schwarzenbach, I fell the need to re-read her account of the same journey, and also several more books of hers that I haven’t yet read; so far I’ve resisted the temptation to order them all…

And then it turns our that Maillart knew Erika and Klaus Mann; I read Erika Mann’s fictionalised account of the gradual Nazification of her homeland last year and wrote about it, then took Klaus Mann’s autobiography down from the shelf – bought in 1987 and still unread! But now I want to read that, and, of course that reminded me of Stefan Zweig, and I have been wanting to go back to his autobiography for a while now…

You can see how I might be starting to feel that this is becoming ridiculous. Then I will set all these books up in a pile waiting to tackle them, read a couple and get side-tracked onto something else, and eventually have to put the rest of then away for another time. I’d already mentally made a couple of plans for which book I’ll take away with me to read on my Ardennes walking holiday in April, and will have to revise those plans.

Sometimes, I imagine giving up reading for a year to see what it would be like. One day, perhaps. Meanwhile, I need to calm down and come back to my senses: lying on the sofa with a good book, Bach or Chopin playing, and a bottle of good beer to drink… there’s not much better to do at this time of year.

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