The Villa “Am Sandwerder 5”

Literary Colloquium Berlin

by Barbara Kobek
translated by Sonja Schillings


The house Am Sandwerder 5 in the Wannsee district, built by the architects Kayser & von Groszheim in 1884/85, is the seat of the Literary Colloquium. Like all “old” houses, it has a colorful past. The first houses of the “villa colony Wannsee” were built in 1874. Until its sale, the “Haveldüne” (Havel dune; at the bank, the premises plunge 25 m) belonged to the property of Prince Friedrich Karl of Prussia (1828-1885). Around 1896, the street running alongside the Haveldüne was named Friedrich-Karl-Street, and, in 1933, it was renamed “Am Sandwerder” (At the sand ait; “sand ait” is the old name of the island Schwanenwerder/swan ait).

The first to settle in on the compound acquired by the building officer Robert Guthmann were his sailing pals, the “Jolly Seven”, who resided at the gardener’s house. When building contractor Guthmann placed his “downscaled renaissance palace” there (Georg Braasch), the “Jolly Seven” quit the field and established a domicile in the sailors’ house at the Wannsee.

After Guthmann’s death in 1924, his grandson and heir Hans Georg von Morgen let the house to the banker Dr. Ernst Goldschmidt, a cousin of Carl Zuckmayer’s mother. The playwright wrote his Merry Vineyard at the “castle at the Wannsee”, as he called it. He also described the manison as “a horrible old crate in the style of an imitated knight’s castle”, but he praised the view and the surrounding landscape. Julius Posener said about the villa: “Steeple and gable are over-orchestrated. Modesty is the last word to describe this villa. Once you have accepted that, the house is persuasive.”

In 1932, the villa was let to the banker Ernst Possel. In 1934, von Morgen sold the family property to Prof. Rosin, who emigrated to England in 1935, and could only dispose of the house after a recovery lawsuit in 1953. It was sold by him to Ms. Wanda Höxter, the manager of the hotel “Casino Hotel at the Wannsee” which had established at the house after the war. Before Ms. Höxter, there had been several owners between the years 1938 and 1953. The most spectacular project of this time took place under the supervision of one of the acquirors, Councilor Röben of the navy’s high command. The navy developed a “One-Man-Torpodo” at the house.

The Casino Hotel raised the disapproval of the neighbourhood, and as the building became increasingly rundown, the owner sold the property to the state of Berlin in 1960. There was a variety of different suggestions for institutions to be installed here, but the senate did not have the means to realize any of them. Therefore the Literary Colloqium Berlin (LCB), “endowed by the Henry Ford Foundation, borne by the state of Berlin”, could move into the house in 1962.

Ever since, culture has been called for and supported at the address Am Sandwerder 5. The LCB was founded by Prof. Walter Höllerer after the building of the wall in 1961, and registered as a nonprofit association in 1963. “He is the most exceptionally gifted collector of people, inflamer of talent, agitator for the present” (A. Mugsch about Höllerer). Objectives of the LCB are: distribution and promotion of German and international literature, presentation of Berlin’s literature at home and abroad via writers’ meetings, literary awards, authors’ training, scholarships, translation funding, international writers’ exchange, publications, film portraits and public events. The Alfred Döblin prize and the Berlin literature prize have been awarded at the LCB for years. The writers of the famed Group 47 were the first to hold a meeting in the house, rather rundown after having stood empty for two years, in a city that was walled in, a threatened island due to the Cuba missile crisis – Soviet strafers droning above the Wannsee. In this setting, “they fought until sparks flew” (Höllerer), “battlesome conversations” (Grass), “rancors, rivalries” (Peter Weiß). These were creative disputes.

But even if they did not necessarily love each other, they all loved the Haus at the Wannsee. Whenever some senators “considered” a sale of the property (as it did happen in 1982 and 1994), they protested together with other authors, publishers, critics, literary scientists, and institutes worldwide against this “misguided thought”. Particularly as the financial cost of all literary institutions of Berlin combined represents less than 0.5 % of the cultural budget.

The renovated villa became a guest- and working house for authors, translators, dramatists, film makers, and grant holders. The names of those who stayed here during the 35 years of LCB history, and who represent literature of world rank, are impossible to enumerate. Pars pro toto: John Steinbeck, John Dos Passos, Friedrich Dürrenmatt, Uwe Johnson, Umberto Eco, Pavel Kohout, Cees Noteboom, Toni Morrison.

The “Poet’s place” at the Wannsee has become part of literature. The novel “The Guest House”, written by several authors, Gerhard Falkner’s “Iron Heart Letters”, Demir Özlü’s novel “Hallucination in Berlin” and the poems of Jürgen Becker all erect a monument in the house’s honor. In “Golden fruit. Encounter with people, gardens, and houses” (1955) Johannes Guthmann, one of the original builder’s son, lovingly recalled the artistic contribution of his parents to the premises’ design.

Therefore we have come full circle – with Carl Zuckmayer, the literary history of the house by the sea began.

From: Zehlendorf. Yearbook 1999.
Ed. by Heimatverein für den Bezirk Zehlendorf (1886) e.V.,
Bezirksamt Zehlendorf von Berlin