Katia man

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Engagement photo of Katia Pringsheim, 1905
Katia and Thomas Mann, 1929

Katharina Hedwig "Katia" Mann (born Pringsheim; * July 24, 1883 in Feldafing near Munich ; † April 25, 1980 in Kilchberg near Zurich ) was the wife of the German writer Thomas Mann and mother of Erika , Klaus , Golo , Monika , Elisabeth and Michael Mann . As the only daughter of the mathematics professor Alfred Pringsheim and the former actress Hedwig Pringsheim , b. Dohm, she grew up with four brothers in extremely wealthy and liberal backgrounds.

In Thomas Mann's works, there is a strong relationship to Katia Mann in several figures. In addition, his wife's spa stay in Davos, Switzerland , inspired him to write the novel The Magic Mountain (1924) and the story Die Betrogene (1953). In 1974 Katia Mann published an edited narrated account of her life under the title My Unwritten Memoirs .


Katharina Pringsheim (called Katia, later husband) was the only daughter besides the four sons Erik (1879–1908), Peter (1881–1963), Heinz (1882–1974) and her twin brother Klaus (1883–1972) of the mathematics professor Alfred Pringsheim and his wife Hedwig Pringsheim . Her father came from the rich Silesian merchant family Pringsheim . Her mother was the daughter of the well-known writer and women's rights activist Hedwig Dohm , née Schleh (actually Schlesinger). Her grandfather Ernst Dohm's family also had their roots in Silesia and, like the Schleh family, were originally of Jewish origin. However, the Schleh family of manufacturers in Berlin had converted to the Protestant faith in 1817 and the Dohm family in 1827 . The Pringsheim family was also of Jewish origin; Katia's father described himself as non-denominational and had all of his children baptized Protestants. Nevertheless, he and his descendants were considered Jews according to the National Socialist race laws and were therefore persecuted.

All of Katia Pringsheim's siblings took up academic careers. Her twin brother Klaus was, among other things, professor of composition in Japan . Peter made a name for himself as a professor of physics . Heinz was a doctor of archaeologist ; later he also successfully switched to music. The firstborn Erik, a lawyer , fell out of favor with his father because of his lavish lifestyle and died at the age of 29 under mysterious circumstances in Argentina .


Childhood and youth

Friedrich August von Kaulbach: Children's carnival from 1888, left Katia Pringsheim
Palais Pringsheim in Arcisstrasse

Katia Pringsheim and her siblings grew up in extremely wealthy and liberal circumstances. The Munich villa at Arcisstraße 12, in which the family lived from 1890, had an area of ​​1500 square meters and, in addition to the servants' wing, music hall and library, had electricity, which was still rare for private houses at the time. Until the end of the 1920s, the villa was considered a social center of Munich. The permanent guests included well-known personalities from politics and society such as Walther Rathenau and Fanny zu Reventlow as well as cultural greats such as Else Lasker-Schüler and Hugo von Hofmannsthal . There were regular invitations to various occasions, and the Pringsheim children took part early on. Your appearance at a costume ball was captured by Friedrich August von Kaulbach in the picture Children's Carnival . Thomas Mann owned a reproduction of the picture before he met Katia. Katia, described as strikingly pretty, was also portrayed by Franz von Lenbach .

Franz von Lenbach: Portrait of Katia Pringsheim , 1892
Friedrich August von Kaulbach: Portrait of Katia Pringsheim , 1899

The parents placed high demands on their children's education. While her brothers were attending grammar school, Katia began taking private lessons from the age of seven and was the first woman to graduate from high school in Munich in 1901. Since women were excluded from the state Abitur examination up until then, Katia had to take a pre-examination as a so-called private student in order to be able to take the examination of the Royal Wilhelms-Gymnasium . The Munich University, where her father taught, granted her permission to attend lectures on application. It was not until 1903 that women, and thus also women, were able to study regularly in Bavaria. Katia Pringsheim was one of the first so-called active students and was mainly interested in natural science and mathematics, but also attended lectures in philosophy.

In spring 1904 she met Thomas Mann, seven years her senior, through mutual acquaintance Elsa Bernstein . In an exchange of letters with his brother Heinrich , he later openly admitted that in order to win Katia Pringsheim for himself, he had “shown an incredible initiative in word and deed”. It is very likely that Katia Pringsheim's family background also played a role in his choice. In his autobiographical novel Royal Highness from 1909 he describes this phase of his life. Katia Pringsheim initially reacted dismissively. "I was [...] not that enthusiastic [...] I was twenty and felt very comfortable and funny in my own skin, also with my studies, with my brothers, the tennis club and everything, was very satisfied and actually didn't know why I should be leaving so soon. ”Her family was also skeptical of Thomas Mann. Although he had his first successes as a writer with his debut novel Buddenbrooks , published in 1901 , her father wanted his daughter to have a husband with a more solidly civil profession. Thomas Mann's homosexuality , which was only later publicly speculated about with the publication of his novella Death in Venice, is unlikely to have played a role in this doubtful attitude .

In November 1904 Katia Pringsheim finally consented to the marriage. The couple married on February 11, 1905 in Munich.


First years

The setting of the Mann-Villa Poschi on the Bavaria-Filmgelände in Munich
Thomas Mann, 1905

Katia and Thomas Mann moved into an apartment not far from Katia's parents' house that Alfred Pringsheim had furnished for them. Their first daughter was born in November 1905. Six children, Erika (1905–1969), Klaus (1906–1949), Golo (1909–1994), Monika (1910–1992), Elisabeth (1918–2002) and Michael (1919–1977) were born within fifteen years . In 1907, Thomas Mann's income had increased so much that a weekend house could be built near Bad Tölz next to the city apartment in Munich . In order to be able to finance the living for his steadily growing family, Thomas Mann regularly went on long reading trips. From 1910 onwards, the Mann family, which had meanwhile grown to six, lived in Mauerkircher Strasse 13 in two connected four-room apartments. In 1914 they moved to their stately, lovingly called Poschi villa at Poschingerstraße 1 in Herzogpark, along with the staff (cook, chambermaid, nanny, and later also a chauffeur) .

In the summer of 1911 Katia Mann developed lung problems and in 1912 went to Davos for a cure with the diagnosis of "closed tuberculosis " . In fact, her complaints may have had a different origin, because later x-rays showed that she could never have had tuberculosis. In her autobiography My Unwritten Memoirs, she noted: "It was the custom that those who could afford it were sent to Davos or Arosa."

In the years that followed, her sanatorium stays in the high mountains were repeated regularly, often for months. Her letters from Davos and Arosa , where she spent part of her cure in the forest sanatorium , inspired Mann to write his novel The Magic Mountain . Meanwhile, their children stayed in Munich and were looked after by nannies. Klaus Mann about this time: "In months and half years like this, the moody ladies ruled us almost without restriction, because our father, although he was seeing, had nothing of [...] educational furor about him."

Whether Katia Mann's complaints were a psychosomatic illness, as many suspect, has not been conclusively clarified. Various sources make it clear that she was left to her own devices when it comes to household and upbringing issues, which suggests she was overloaded. At the end of the 1916/1917 school year, Klaus Mann's certificate said: "The father, the writer Thomas Mann, never asked about his son, but the mother repeatedly, who apparently is responsible for bringing up the children," and Katia Mann's mother should have said about the son-in-law as early as 1906 that he was “a real pimperling” who “can't take much.” Katia Mann ensured the desired silence in the house. "If laundry was hung outside in the garden, he closed the windows of the study and drew the curtains."

First World War and Weimar Republic

Katia Mann with her six children in 1919 (from left to right: Monika , Golo , Michael , Katia Mann, Klaus , Elisabeth and Erika )

Katia Mann experienced the First World War with her family in Munich. Thomas Mann had been declared unfit for military service, but his income was declining, which is why domestic staff had to be laid off. The country house in Bad Tölz was sold in 1917 for a war loan.

The summer villa in Bad Tölz , photo from 2004

In order to provide the family with enough food and coal during the war years, she was often out and about in Munich for hours. With six children, the post-war years did not get any easier due to the general economic and supply situation. During the war, Thomas Mann had expressed himself nationally in his essay Thoughts in War , and for this reason fell out with his brother Heinrich. His income, especially the income from foreign book sales, enabled the family to continue to enjoy a comparatively good standard of living. Katia Mann, however, complained during another stay at the spa: “I have so much time here to think about it, and then I sometimes think that I have not adjusted my life completely and that it was not good, it was so exclusively for you and the children deliver."

Thomas Mann with Erika, Katia and Klaus, 1929
Katia and Thomas Mann in front of the Hotel Adlon in Berlin , 1929

The school performance of the children did not meet expectations. With the exception of Elisabeth, all of them had to leave the public high schools before graduation and switched to private schools, often boarding schools. In 1923 Klaus dropped out of school entirely and initially became a theater critic. Erika did not pursue the desired academic career either, but began training as an actor in 1924 after graduating from high school with difficulty. In 1926 she married her fellow actor Gustaf Gründgens , but the marriage only lasted until 1929.

During this time Katia Mann regularly accompanied Thomas Mann on official trips. As early as 1920 he was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Bonn, in 1926 the Lübeck Senate appointed him professor, and in 1929 he received the Nobel Prize for Literature for his work Buddenbrooks . Mann used part of the prize money to pay off the debts of his children Klaus and Erika after their trip around the world. In addition, the construction of the summer house in Nida , which is still maintained today as a Thomas Mann cultural center , on the part of the Curonian Spit belonging to Lithuania, and two cars were financed, and the rest was built.

In a chronicle of the Weimar Republic she is listed in the chapter Women of famous men .

Hitler took power and exiled Switzerland

Thomas Mann in 1937, photo by Carl Van Vechten
Katia and Thomas Mann in Sanary-sur-Mer in 1933, photo by Annemarie Schwarzenbach

The Mann couple found out about the Nazis' seizure of power in 1933 while on a holiday in Arosa . Thomas Mann had turned against National Socialism with his appeal to reason , a speech he gave in 1930 in Berlin's Beethovensaal, and Erika and Klaus had also argued in January 1933 at the premiere of their political cabaret Die Pfeffermühle as in favor of the National Socialists shown "hostile to Germany". The ensemble members had to go into hiding to avoid arrest. Erika and Klaus Mann warned their parents by letter and telephone not to return to Germany. Klaus Mann went to Paris on March 13, while Erika gathered up her father's Joseph manuscripts and left for Switzerland , where she gave Thomas Mann the manuscripts that had been saved from her parents' home in Munich. The house in Munich was confiscated in the same year and a protective custody warrant was issued against Thomas Mann.

As a place of refuge, Thomas and Katia Mann initially chose Sanary-sur-Mer in southern France, until they finally settled in Küsnacht , Switzerland, for the next five years . With the exception of Klaus, who was working on founding the magazine Die Sammlung , which was financed by Annemarie Schwarzenbach , in Amsterdam , the entire family had now gathered there. Some of their household effects had been brought to Switzerland via detours. Thanks to investments abroad, their livelihoods were still secured. Thomas Mann resumed his reading tours in 1934, and Katia Mann accompanied him to the USA several times . In 1936 their German citizenship was revoked, but except for Erika, who had married the English poet WH Auden in 1935 , the members of the Mann family were now Czechoslovak citizens thanks to good relations with President Edvard Beneš . The withdrawal was a severe blow for the Mann couple, but Katia Mann's family difficulties were even more severe: Erika, Klaus and Michael had already had alcohol and drug problems at that time, Monika suffered from depression and wrote "fatal" letters to Katia, such as Thomas Mann noted in his diary. In 1938 Klaus came to Zurich for rehab after his drug use got out of hand.

American years

Princeton University , New Jersey

In March 1938, the German troops marched into Austria . The situation of Jewish refugees had also worsened within Switzerland, and despite Thomas Mann's prominence there was little hope of a shortened naturalization process. In this uncertain situation, a teaching position at Princeton University, mediated by Thomas Mann's wealthy patroness Agnes E. Meyer , offered the opportunity to leave Europe. On September 17, 1938, Katia and Thomas Mann embarked with Elisabeth in Southampton on the steamer Nieuw Amsterdam for the USA and were enthusiastically received there. “The reception was shocking [...] we've never seen anything like it. In a sense, it is lucky to be safe here, but personally I would rather be closer to the events. ”As with every move, it was up to her to prepare the new house according to Thomas Mann's habits. "Exact restoration of the desk, every piece [...] exactly in its place as in Küsnacht u. already in Munich. ”he noted with satisfaction just a week after their arrival in Princeton . In Molly Shenstone , the wife of the physicist Allen G. Shenstone, Katia Mann found the friend of her life.

Katia Mann's wish to be closer to the events was also based on concerns about her parents, who were still in Germany and did not arrive in Zurich until October 31, 1939, one day before the borders were closed. Klaus followed his parents and Elisabeth permanently to the USA. Erika was the first of the family to officially immigrate to the United States in 1937. The others initially refused to emigrate. Golo returned to Zurich in the summer of 1939, and Michael settled in London after his wedding in March 1939 . Monika had stayed in Europe and also married in London in March. After the outbreak of World War II , Katia Mann tried to get all family members into safety in American exile. Michael reached New York unmolested in January 1940 by ship Britannic , and Erika flew back to the United States in October 1940 after a war report on the massive bombing of The Blitz for the BBC London. Golo went to France as a war volunteer in May 1940 and was interned there. After a dramatic escape on foot across the Pyrenees, he first reached Lisbon with Heinrich Mann and his wife Nelly as well as the Werfel couple . From there they embarked on the Nea Hellas and disembarked on October 13, 1940 in New York. Monika's ship, the City of Benares , was sunk by a German submarine in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean on the night of September 18, where her husband Jenö Lányi had lost his life. She herself was the last of Katia Mann's children to arrive in New York on October 28, 1940.

Thomas Mann House, Pacific Palisades (2006)
Klaus Mann as a US sergeant in Italy, 1944

Katia Mann's father died in 1941 and her mother died in exile a year later in Zurich. She received both death notices in California , where they had moved in April 1941. Thomas Mann had signed a writer's contract with the Warner Brothers film company , which enabled them not only to support their children financially, but also to maintain a large property at 1150 San Remo Drive in Pacific Palisades, including staff. Katia Mann took over the interior design of the house together with the interior designer Paul Huldschinsky . Katia Mann was also responsible for recruiting the staff, but the staff changed very frequently during the ten years in Pacific Palisades.

Katia Mann had meanwhile become a two-time grandmother: through the birth of Fridolin "Frido" (born July 31, 1940), son of Michaels, and of Angelica Borgese (born November 30, 1940), daughter of Elisabeth, who in 1939 gave birth to the Italian Giuseppe Antonio Borgese had married. Shortly before her 59th birthday, Antony Mann (born July 20, 1942) was followed by her third grandson, again a son of Michael. In the same year the US entered the war. Erika, Klaus and Golo volunteered for the American army despite Katia Mann's disapproval and served in Europe until the end of the war. Both sons had become American citizens in 1943, Katia and Thomas Mann were not granted American citizenship until June 1944, while Erika had not received it despite an application.

In April 1946, Thomas Mann had a lung operation, and Katia Mann wrote back home: "A lung operation like this is a serious operation under all circumstances and doubly serious in old age." A cancerous tumor had been removed from the man over seventy. He recovered so well from the operation that they were able to go on a lecture tour to Europe a year later. Erika, professionally unsuccessful, returned to her parents' house in 1948 to support Thomas Mann “[…] as secretary, biographer, estate guardian […]”. She also accompanied her parents on another lecture tour to Europe in 1949, during which news arrived in Stockholm that Klaus had committed suicide with tablets on May 21 in Cannes . "My pity inwardly for the mother's heart and for E. He shouldn't have done it to them," wrote Thomas Mann in his diary on May 22nd. Several attempts had already been made before the suicide. Only Klaus' brother Michael attended his funeral.

Katia Mann had already had an operation on the uterus in 1942, and another operation on the abdomen followed in 1950. Shortly afterwards, the grandmother of four - her granddaughter Dominica Borgese (born March 6, 1944) was born before the end of the war - had her breasts tightened at almost 67 years of age. But she didn't have much time to relax. In Chicago she visited Elisabeth, who was in a serious marital crisis, and also stood by Michael, whose marriage and music career threatened to fail due to an unfortunate affair with Yehudi Menuhin's sister , Yaltah Menuhin. And Erika, deeply shaken by the death of her brother, slipped further into her drug addiction. “It pains me that Erika annoys and depresses her beloved mother, and even irritates her with her great bitterness.” In 1951, given the changed social and political climate of the McCarthy era , the first considerations were to return to Europe.

Return to Switzerland - Thomas Mann's death

The house at Alte Landstrasse 39, 2009; At the entrance there is a plaque with the names and dates of the Mann family

In mid-1952, Katia and Thomas Mann reached Zurich and temporarily rented a room in Erlenbach near Küsnacht. Golo and Erika had traveled ahead of them. Elisabeth had moved with her family to her husband's home in Florence . Borgese died of a stroke in 1952, and Elisabeth temporarily returned to her parents. While interest in the writer Thomas Mann had gradually waned in the USA, in Switzerland, Germany and Italy he was again showered with honors and lecture requests that had to be coordinated.

In 1954 Katia Mann, after long efforts, found a house in Kilchberg on the west bank of Lake Zurich , Alte Landstrasse 39, which met Thomas Mann's ideas, "definitely pleasant and enjoyable, not challenging, but decent and comfortable." Was his verdict. In July 1955, Thomas Mann complained to Katia about pain in his leg for the first time in the Dutch seaside resort of Noordwijk . He died in her presence on August 12, 1955 in the Cantonal Hospital in Zurich of complications from arteriosclerosis . Thomas Mann was buried in the Kilchberg cemetery.

Last years

Katia Mann stayed with Erika, who looked after Thomas Mann's estate and Klaus' literary legacy, in the Kilchberg house. Erika also accompanied Katia Mann to the rarer public appearances because, unlike her daughter, she still preferred to stay in the background. In an article on her 75th birthday in the Badener Tagblatt on July 24, 1958, it was stated that she “does not belong at all to the [...] peacock fluffing type of the writer's wife” . Socially, with Thomas Mann's death, things had calmed down around her, but she was not lonely in the last decades of her life. Golo had given up his chair for politics at the Stuttgart University in 1965 and, as a freelance historian, made the Kilchberger Haus his main residence. Elisabeth also traveled regularly from Tuscany, where she worked as a writer and journalist. Monika had settled on Capri and, like Michael, rarely came to visit. The latter had started to study German in the USA, but left his sons with Katia Mann in Switzerland. Frido, her favorite grandson, lived there until he finished his music studies.

The Kilchberg family grave

In November 1962, after the ten years required for this, the American Katia Mann became a Swiss woman. Previously, like every applicant, she had to prove a sufficiently good knowledge of the country's history and studies. After several traffic accidents, her driving license was revoked in 1964. She had been an enthusiastic motorist since the early 1930s , but although technically “a brilliant driver, she occasionally scared us through excessive trust in God.” In 1969 Erika died of a brain tumor and was buried in the family grave in Kilchberg. And after her husband and two children, Katia Mann lost another important person in 1972 with her twin brother. "Those who live that long have to survive many," she stated in the year of her ninetieth birthday. 1975 was the twentieth anniversary of Thomas Mann's death, and Katia opened his diaries after the blocking period had expired. Michael did the main preparatory work for the publication at his mother's request. On New Year's Eve 1976/1977 he died of a combination of alcohol and barbiturates . He was buried next to his father and sister. His death was kept a secret from his mother, who had since suffered from senile dementia and thus survived her third of six children.

Katia Mann died on April 25, 1980 at the age of 97. She was buried in the Kilchberg family grave.


Marcel Reich-Ranicki described her in an obituary as “A literary historical figure, […] - in a row with Goethe's Christiane and Schiller's Charlotte, with Heine's Mathilde and Fontane's Emilie.” There is a strong reference to Katia Mann in figures the following works:

In his book about Thomas Mann and his people , published in 1990 , Reich-Ranicki goes on to explain Katia Mann's role: “By mediating between Thomas Mann and the environment, between his work and everyday life, she made his work possible and with it is one of the often underestimated women to whom Germany owes an infinite amount ”. Numerous biographies have now appeared about Katia Mann, which posthumously give her great public recognition.

“I actually kept my whole, all too long, life strictly private. I never stepped forward, I didn't think it was fitting. I should always write my memories. To this I say: In this family there has to be someone who doesn't write. The fact that I am now getting involved in this interview is entirely due to my weakness and good-naturedness. ”(Katia Mann, 1973). From this interview with her son Michael and Elisabeth Plessen emerged the comprehensive life report Katia Mann: My Unwritten Memoirs , which appeared in 1974.

Gottfried Bermann Fischer , Thomas Mann's publisher, said in a letter to Katia Mann in 1935: “I know how much it is thanks to your strength and indefatigability that Thomas Mann was able to create and complete his great work. In relation to everything that had to shake his unstable and sensitive nature so deeply, you were the keeper and protector who, through clever activity, compensated for the brutal impact and restored the balance. "He was referring to the conclusion of the Joseph tetralogy , the Thomas Mann in exile in Switzerland and the third volume of which was published in 1936 by Bermann Fischer's newly founded Wiener Exilverlag. Katia Mann finds herself here in the person of Rachel, a young woman who described the man as “pretty and beautiful” and in whom “spirit and will, cleverness and bravery turned into the feminine worked behind this loveliness”.


Testimonials and biographies

Other sources


Web links

Commons : Katia Mann  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Thomas Mann / Heinrich Mann: Briefwechsel, p. 30
  2. Katia Mann: My Unwritten Memoirs, p. 28
  3. Uwe Naumann: Klaus Mann , Rowohlt, Reinbek 2006, p. 9
  4. Klaus Bergamin: Time of being sick - time of healthy. Davos from 1860–1950 , 2013, p. 28
  5. Klaus Mann: Child of this time, p. 22.
  6. Donald A. Prater: Thomas Mann, p. 296.
  7. Peter de Mendelssohn: The Magician, p. 1550
  8. ^ Letter from Katia to Thomas Mann, Oberammergau, June 16, 1920, Thomas Mann Archives
  9. “In a touching way she keeps the poet away from the horrors of everyday life. So his Munich home has the free, light atmosphere he needs. In this respect Ms. Katia can be compared to Mann Ms. Elsa Einstein, Albert Einstein's wife . ”In: Kurt von Reibnitz (published anonymously): Gestalten around Hindenburg. Leading figures of the republic and today's Berlin society. Reissner, Dresden, 3rd edition 1930, p. 80
  10. Irmela von der Lühe : Erika Mann , pp. 102-104
  11. ^ Thomas Mann: Diaries, entry from March 9, 1937
  12. ^ Letter from Katia Mann to Ida Herz, New York, September 25, 1938, Thomas Mann Archives
  13. Thomas Mann: Diaries, entry from October 7, 1938
  14. ^ Inge and Walter Jens: Mrs. Thomas Mann. “There is no doubt that Katia's letters to Molly Shenstone included not only affection but also passion.” P. 227
  15. ^ Francis Nenik, Sebastian Stumpf: Seven Palms. The Thomas Mann House in Pacific Palisades, Los Angeles . Spector Books, Leipzig 2018, ISBN 978-3-95905-180-4 .
  16. ^ Francis Nenik, Sebastian Stumpf: Seven Palms. The Thomas Mann House in Pacific Palisades, Los Angeles . Spector Books, Leipzig 2018, ISBN 978-3-95905-180-4 , pp. 130-131, 240-269 .
  17. ^ Letter from Katia Mann to Ida Herz, Chicago, May 6, 1946, Thomas Mann Archives
  18. Thomas Mann: Diaries, entry from January 26, 1948
  19. Thomas Mann: Diaries, entry from May 22, 1949
  20. ^ Francis Nenik, Sebastian Stumpf: Seven Palms. The Thomas Mann House in Pacific Palisades, Los Angeles . Spector Books, Leipzig 2018, ISBN 978-3-95905-180-4 , pp. 271-272 .
  21. Thomas Mann: Diaries, entry from January 16, 1951
  22. Thomas Mann: Diaries, entry from May 15, 1954
  23. Erika Mann: My father the magician. P. 274.
  24. ^ Letter from Katia to Genia Starer, Kilchberg, January 13, 1973, Thomas Mann Archives.
  25. ^ Frankfurter Allgemeine , April 29, 1980
  26. Marcel Reich-Ranicki: Thomas Mann and his own, p. 237
  27. Gottfried Berman Fischer / Brigitte Bermann Fischer: Correspondence with authors, p. 55
  28. Thomas Mann: Joseph und seine Brüder, Vol. 4, p. 228
This version was added to the list of articles worth reading on December 28, 2006 .