How German mystic transformed hamlet into a star attraction

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The Independent Online

The Oscar-winning actor Nicolas Cage is leaving Las Vegas on the hunt for a new home in a sleepy east German border town where the message of a long-dead mystic is enticing showbusiness types with its 17th-century take on spirituality.

Property dealers in Görlitz, on the border with Poland, say they have been scouting out villas and mini-castles for the actor on his instructions.

There are plenty to be had, most of them in disrepair after 40 years of Communist rule and the ensuing exodus of townspeople westwards.

Cage's love for a philosopher from the town called Jakob Böhme, who died in 1624, is apparently fuelling his desire to have a home there. Böhme is giving Madonna's favoured kabbala cult a run for its money in Hollywood, apparently attracting LA types seeking fulfilment in the US capital of plastic surgery and sincerity deficit disorders.

The star of Leaving Las Vegas and Air Con has shown such interest in Görlitz that rumours have started that he may be the town's "mystery donor". Every spring for the past eight years a cash donation of several hundred thousand dollars has arrived at the town hall with one stipulation: the money must be spent on renovating the city's historic buildings.

No one knows who gives the money; a lawyer from Munich ensures that his anonymous client's wishes are carried out. He has spent the equivalent of £2.5m on Görlitz's 4,000 listed buildings since 1995.

Whether he is the benefactor of Görlitz or not, Cage's January visit this year, coupled with reports from estate agents that he is seeking a place to buy, has earned him a mention on the region's tourism web page.

Earlier this year the actor, who has an estimated fortune of £80m, celebrated his birthday with his wife, Alice, in the presidential suite of Görlitz's Sorat Hotel. It cost him £73 for the night, including breakfast.

Ilona Fellman, the hotel manageress, said: "His management had booked the suite anonymously. We didn't have a clue who was coming. We were told to bake a birthday cake with 'Happy Birthday Nick' iced on the top and to put champagne and flowers in the room." Cage turned up for his 42nd birthday on 7 January, a long way from Long Beach, California, where he was born.

The magnet drawing Cage to Görlitz is Böhme, a former shoemaker who claimed to have had mystical experiences throughout his youth, culminating in a vision in 1600 he said he received through a beam of light. He believed this vision revealed to him the spiritual structure of the world, as well as the relationship between good and evil. After another vision in 1610, he began writing philosophical tracts, culminating in De Signatura Rerum and Misterium Magnum.

Böhme soon developed a following throughout Europe. He preached that humanity had fallen from divine grace to a state of sin and suffering, that the forces of evil included fallen angels who had rebelled against God, and that God's goal was to restore the world to a state of grace.

The local Böhme society is pleased at the reports that Cage is house-hunting in their town. Fabian Plank, head of the Görlitz culture bureau, said: "[Cage] is the biggest fan of him. Jakob Böhme is really 'in' in America right now."