Updated: Feb 12, 2020
Imbibe a sea of philosophy at Friedrich Nietzsche home at Sils Maria, Switzerland.
Photo courtesy: www.engadin.stmoritz.ch
Sils Maria lies sprawled atop in Graubünden’s Engadine region. Here, a pristine lake, villages and the mountains make for a unique landscape. Friedrich Nietzsche, a famous German philosopher, poet and author spent many summers (1881-1888) in Sils Maria. He claimed that the Engadin region made him feel “better than anywhere else on earth”. His stay in the Engadin region prompted his philosophy in a new direction.
The history and the life of Nietzsche is deep rooted in the Nietzsche house. In this 200-year-old, house, guests and visitors and explore the various exhibits and learn different aspects of the life of Nietzsche.
The first summer: 1881
Friedrich Nietzsche rented a modest room in the Durisch family’s house in Sils Maria for seven summers (1881 and 1883 – 88). After an unsuccessful stay taking the waters in Recoaro, Northern Italy, he “again saved myself by traveling to the Engadine” at the beginning of July 1881. “Here (…) I feel better than anywhere else on earth.” Here, in the dry sunny climate of the high plateau, the weather-sensitive philosopher found conditions which he hoped would relieve his migraine-like headaches which were often accompanied by vomiting. A strict daily schedule not only governed his work and meal times but also included “daily 5-7 hours of exercise”, long walks in the area during which he filled up the notebooks which accompanied him. His first stay already prompted a key idea which turned his philosophy in a new direction: “the idea of eternal recurrence”, the “basic concept” of “Thus spoke Zarathustra”.
The second summer: 1883
In the summer of 1883, the philosopher arrived with a “club foot” of 104 kg, 230 lbs of books. His tremendous diligence – he completed the second part of “Zarathustra” and started on the third part – created a counterweight to his growing isolation. “An unworldly, transitory, roaming kind of feeling sits deep within me – and (…) not only because of the great discomfort of my external life. I seldom hear a friendly word.”
The Upper Engadine was soon “my proper refuge and home”, “here my muses live”, Sils Maria the “spot where I hope one day to die; meanwhile it offers me the best incentive to live on.”
The landlords “are so kind to me and happy that I have returned (…) In the house itself (…) I can buy English biscuits, corned-beef, tea, soap, in fact, everything you can think of: quite convenient.” Due to his sensitive eyes he had his room wallpapered in dark green, “but it continues to be cold and very low.” He wished that he had “enough money (…), to build a kind of ideal dog house (…) a wooden house with 2 rooms, (…) on a peninsula, stretching into Lake Sils.”
The following summers: 1884-1888
Although Nietzsche found “the evenings, when I sit all alone in the narrow, low little room (…) tough going”, starting in 1884, his lunches at the Alpenrose Hotel opened up some social contacts to a group of refined ladies which continued into the following summers and remained very welcome “as an antidote and sometimes cure” for the “hermit of Sils Maria” “to escape from myself for a few hours.’’ Nietzsche’s contact with the “excellent inhabitant(s) of Sils” was largely limited to his landlord, the pastor and the village teacher.
On September 20, 1888, Nietzsche left Sils Maria for the last time, the place – as he wrote in “Ecce homo” – where “my gratitude would like to immortalize its name”.
Sils, a place of creative productivity. A significant part of Nietzsche’s work was created in Sils Maria: the 2nd and the draft for the 3rd book “Thus spoke Zarathustra” in the summer of 1883, the treatise “Beyond Good and Evil” (notes for the text in the summer of 1885), the important prefaces to earlier works (summer 1886), the pamphlet “On the Genealogy of Morals” (drafted in July 1887), finally “Twilight of the Idols” and “The Antichrist” (both in the summer of 1888).
History of the House
The nearly 200-year-old house in the heart of Sils Maria, where Friedrich Nietzsche spent seven summers (1881 and 1883-1888), was owned by the Durisch family and continued to be privately owned for many years after Nietzsche’s visits. At times, the neighboring Edelweiss Hotel used the House as staff quarters. In 1958, the building was supposed to be sold and become a commercial property, which would have entailed extensive structural changes. Luckily, this never happened. Instead a group of patrons who recognized the cultural and historical value of the House and wanted to open it to a broader public made an idealistic financial commitment, setting up the ‘Nietzsche Haus Sils-Maria Foundation’ in 1959. They purchased the House, had it carefully renovated and opened a museum there. On August 25, 1960, the 60th anniversary of Nietzsche’s death, it opened its doors to the public for the first time.
The Foundation, which continues to be responsible for the house, has three main objectives:
First, comprehensive exhibits document the philosopher’s life and work. The House is also a guesthouse, study and research center, which keeps the museum dust from settling over it. The Foundation provides scholars and culturally interested parties an opportunity to stay and do research at the House for a maximum of three weeks with the goal of promoting lively discussions among the researchers.
Third, the Foundation has regularly staged contemporary art exhibits with regional and/or Nietzsche connections since the mid-1980s. These exhibits demonstrate that Nietzsche, more than any other philosopher, has always inspired artists to productively engage with his ideas and his person.
The Nietzsche House largely owes its exhibits to generous donations. The donors include: the Oehler family (relatives of Nietzsche’s mother), Caroline Kohn (Paris/Maisons-Laffitte), Rudolf Koller (Zurich), Daniel Bodmer (Zurich), Cati Knaus (former owner of the Alpenrose Hotel in Sils). The German-British antiquarian bookseller Albi Rosenthal (1914-2004) and his wife Maud Rosenthal-Levy (1909-2007) of Oxford deserve special mention: they spent decades assembling one of the world’s most important collections of autographs, music pieces, photographs, first editions and editions signed by the philosopher.
When the Museum was opened in August 1960, Albi Rosenthal gave several items from his collection to the Foundation. Other permanent loans followed, until the entire collection was given to the Foundation in 1994.
Here is a guide to exploring the Nietzsche house:
The Friedrich Nietzsche Museum
The Five-part permanent museum- exhibit enables visitors to learn about Friedrich Nietzsche’s life and career. The First room in the Exhibit houses documents, photos and handwritten letters from his time in the Sils. A complete collection of the works which Nietzsche had published during his lifetime as well as autographed copies are also on display.
The ‘Oscar Levy Room’ is devoted to the Nietzsche translator and editor Oscar Levy. This room displays all of n’s work published by Oscar Levy. The exhibit also features some of the rare furniture of the 18th century and Oscar Levy’s Library which were given by his daughter.
The biggest highlight of the museum is Friedrich Nietzsche’s room. The room has been kept in its original and simple condition since 1888. It is believed that Nietzsche devoted attention to the “things that surround us” that determine our day-to-day life.
Staying at the Nietzsche house
The Nietzsche house is a great place for scholars, artists, students, journalists and people interested in literature and culture. The House offers modest double rooms for people to stay and experience the world of Friedrich Nietzsche. An inviting, fully equipped kitchen (self-service) provides the setting for lively discussions around the fireplace.
The research Library
Along with Nietzsche Museum, the House also contains a reference library which has now grown to more than 4,500 titles and is open to all House guests. The research library also contains the original armchair that Nietzsche acquired for his Basel home and that he gave to his doctor.
In addition to the permanent exhibits, the Nietzsche house also hosts exhibitions and events to give deep insights of the life of Friedrich Nietzsche. The museum also provides guided tours upon request in English, French, German and Italian.
The museum reopened for the public from 15th December 2019.
Information from www.nietzschehaus.ch/en/