Obituary: Golo Mann (CORRECTED)
Friday 22 April 1994
Angelus Gottfried (Golo) Mann, writer and historian: born Munich 27 March 1909; Professor of Modern History, Olivet College, Michigan 1942-43; served US Army 1943-46; Professor of History, Claremont Men's College, California 1947-57; Professor of History, Stuttgart Technische Hochschule 1960- 64; died Leverkusen, Germany 7 April 1994.
GOLO MANN was a distinguished historian and commentator on current affairs, and a member of the last great European literary dynasty.
He was the second son of Thomas Mann, celebrated for novels such as Death in Venice and Buddenbrooks, the monumental saga about the rise and fall of Lubeck's Hanseatic bourgeoisie that in many respects is a portrayal of the author's own family's development from commercial acumen to artistic sensibility. His older brother Heinrich was also a famous writer, best known for Professor Unrat ('The Blue Angel'). Heinrich was the 'black sheep' of the family, but had a positive influence on the young Golo, who preferred him to his overbearing father.
Golo's youngest brother, Viktor, was a literature professor who wrote a chronicle of the Manns, Wir waren funf ('There Were Five of Us'), in which he describes how Thomas Mann wanted his sons to succeed him in his prosperous cereals business. But when they rejected commerce in favour of writing he sold his business and gave them comfortable allowances.
Golo was christened Angelus Gottfried, a name he found too imposing, so he shortened it to Golo. His childhood was dominated by his unruly elder sister and brother, Erika and Klaus, who both became writers. (Klaus committed suicide in 1949.) Their father was for Golo an intimidating figure. In his magnificent autobiographies, Golo tells how each day was strictly regulated to suit Thomas's writing habits. Mornings were devoted to writing. After lunch and a siesta, Mann would go for a walk, then deal with his extensive correspondence before dinner, which was followed by an hour of music, then bedtime.
In his immense diaries, Thomas Mann evaluates his children's abilities with dispassion: 'Golo is a problematic character.' He himself was the real problem. Erika was his favourite; she was beautiful and could amuse him with witty talk and frivolous gossip. But, even when grown-up, Golo and Klaus dreaded mealtimes with their father, to whom they had nothing to say. If either of them was faced by the terrors of dining alone with him, they would make lists of subjects for conversation.
Golo's mother came from Brazil and an entirely different background. She was a gifted musician, emotional rather than intellectual and was adored by Golo. Her influence on her husband was less strong. Golo recalled in a 1989 interview that his father was commercially minded, and said: 'As I'm the son of a good businessman, I'm concerned by the reputation of the products I offer the client. So I want to sell my novels to my public as goods of the highest quality.' Heinrich was a more popular writer, turning out a book a year that in Thomas's eyes were of inferior quality. But he wrote an excellent autobiography in 1946: Ein Zeitalter wird besichtigt ('Perspective of an Era'), in which Golo appears, affectionately portrayed. Golo's mother, Katja, sympathising with the stress Golo felt in his father's presence, enrolled him at the age of 14 as a boarder in a progressive school at Salem on Lake Constance. It helped to liberate him from traumas of life with a father of genius. However, Golo says that after his father achieved world-wide fame in 1924 with The Magic Mountain and received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1929, he became easier to live with.
Erika and Klaus Mann started writing journalism; their first stories and satirical sketches they performed in a cabaret Erika opened, Die Pfeffermuhle ('The Peppermill') - eventually shut down by the Nazis. The pair were always seen together and were known as the Terrible Twenties Twins. They kicked over the traces with Germanic thoroughness, as can be seen from their travel book (New York - Hawaii - Japan - Korea - Russia) Rundherum ('Here, There and Everywhere') a best-seller in 1927. Golo is not mentioned in it. Erika had already married and divorced the actor Gustaf Grundgens and, with Christopher Isherwood and Stephen Spender as go-betweens, had contracted a marriage of convenience with WH Auden in order to obtain the British nationality that would allow her to escape the Nazis and go to the United States.
But Golo had more serious things in mind. Visiting the Manns in 1931, Gide - an expert in the matter - describes in his Journals the vivid beauty of Golo as a young man. Golo was no butterfly, however. He went to Heidelberg to study history and philosophy and was directed by the Christian existentialist philosopher Karl Jaspers in the writing of a thesis on Hegel.
When Hitler became Chancellor in 1933, the Manns left Munich and went to Switzerland. Golo preferred France, where he taught German and history at the Lycee St Cloud and at Rennes University. After a brief stay in Prague, he joined his family in Zurich, in the house on the Kilchberg he was to make his home after the war. In 1940 he volunteered for the French army but because he was regarded as an enemy alien he was interned in French camps. He escaped and reached Marseilles, where he joined up with his uncle Heinrich, Franz Werfel and his wife, Alma, the vivacious widow of Gustav Mahler. From Port Bou, they crossed the Pyrenees into Spain, though their guide wondered if Alma would make it. Golo writes with one of his typical shafts of wit, always more French than Germanic: 'She was always ahead of the group, bounding up the mountain passes like an old nanny goat.'
Golo got on the last ship from Lisbon to the United States, where he taught history at Claremont College in California. After returning to Europe in 1957, he held the chair of political science at Stuttgart and published in 1958 his great history of Germany in the 19th and 20th centuries. Already in 1947 he had proved his ability as an historian with a monograph on Friedrich von der Gentz, and his power as a political thinker culminated in a biography of Wallenstein in 1971. He became one of Germany's most influential intellectuals, and in the Seventies had his own television programme - something his father would have disdained. He was in favour of normalising relations with the East long before the fall of the Berlin Wall; but he aroused angry reactions when he called the terrorist activities of the Baader-Meinhof gang 'a new development in the phenomenon of civil war' and demanded the closing of German frontiers to Third World immigrants.
Today, one can visit the Thomas Mann Archive in Zurich. Among the photographs on the staircase are some showing Golo with the family, nearly always standing as far as possible from his father. But when Golo returned to Zurich to escape the pressures of his growing popularity in Germany, he took up residence in the old family home on the Kilchberg, where Thomas Mann's nameplate is still on the door. Golo had refused to remove it.
Viktor Mann was an agricultural banking expert and the uncle of Golo Mann (obituary, 22 April) and not his brother as printed. Golo Mann's paternal grandmother, Julia da Silva-Bruhns, was half-Brazilian but not his mother, who was Katja Pringsheim, a member of a prominent Munich family.
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