Thomas, Günter & Willy

Lübeck’s Nobel Prize Laureates introduce themselves

Work worthy of the Nobel Prize

Visit Lübeck, a city with only 220.000 inhabitants boasts three Nobel Prize Laureates. All three personalities are closely associated with the city. Their works and their labours can be experienced and traced in the three museums dedicated to them in Lübeck’s Old Town. The three establishments see themselves as places of lively engagement with the works of Lübeck’s Nobel Prize Laureates. Besides the permanent exhibitions, thematic shows, concerts and series of discussions invite visitors to experience and assess the work of these outstanding men of Lübeck in a new context. Find out more about the inspiring lives of Thomas Mann, Günter Grass and Willy Brandt.

© Buddenbrookhaus


Thomas Mann bequeathed his home town a literary monument in 1901 with his novel “Buddenbrooks: The Decline of a Family”. The proud patrician family of the Buddenbrooks who came to money and power through the grain trade, is almost entirely wiped out within the space of three generations. In 1929, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature for his epoch-making novel. However, not all the people of Lübeck were happy with this work as some of the “similarities with living persons” turned out to be anything but flattering. In business circles, the young author was cursed as a traitor and distant relatives even took out ads in the newspaper in which they disowned him as a family member. Today, people in Lübeck are very proud of their Nobel Prize Laureate. The major significance of Thomas and Heinrich Mann and further representatives of the family can be seen in the fact that the historical Buddenbrook House is currently undergoing conversion and is being considerably extended. Until 2028, the interim exhibition, “Buddenbrooks in Behnhaus” is the new destination for fans of Thomas Mann from all around the world.

My ambition is to show that Lübeck as a town, in terms of its cityscape and character, countryside, language and architecture plays a role not only in “Buddenbrooks” although it indubitably forms the backdrop to the novel, but that it is to be found throughout my writing, from beginning to end, having a formative, dominating influence upon it.

Thomas Mann, "Lübeck as a spiritual form of life” (1926)

Born Ernst Karl Frahm, he became Willy Brandt – SPD politician, former Mayor of Berlin, German Chancellor, committed European who fought for reconciliation between East and West and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate. One image that is engraved in people’s collective memory all round the world is the memorable sight of Brandt kneeling at the Warsaw ghetto memorial 50 years ago. Brandt grew up as the son of working class parents in Lübeck’s St. Lorenz Süd district. He remained attached to the town of his birth throughout his life. In 1971, Willy Brandt was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his policy towards the East, and one year later he was made an honorary citizen of Lübeck. Excitingly staged with multimedia and interactive elements, Willy Brandt’s political life and the eventful history of Germany and Europe are brought to life in the Willy Brandt House where you can also learn more about the atmosphere in society and politics as well as the lifestyle in the Federal Republic of Germany in those days.

© Lübecker Nachrichten / Hans Kripgans


My roots in Lübeck were clearly in the milieu of the workers’ movement and not in the tradition of the old families. But there is no doubt that the history of the city with the seven spires also shaped a person of my type who from the perspective of the old families came out of nowhere – or from chaos?”

Willy Brandt, “Links und frei” (On the Left and Free) (1982)

© Thorsten Wulff


“Thomas Mann, Gdansk and Willy Brandt“, that was Günter Grass’ reply to the question of why he settled near Lübeck in 1987. For him, the Hanseatic city was a kind of second home town, replacing Danzig, the town of his birth which he had to leave at the age of 17. The literary proximity to Thomas Mann and the Buddenbrook House inspired him, but above all, his attachment to his old friend and fellow traveller Willy Brandt was a significant reason behind his decision to opt for Lübeck. Günter Grass was a writer, graphic artist and sculptor rolled into one and in 1999 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature for his life’s work. Go to Glockengießerstraße in Lübeck and visit the Günter Grass House! The museum has been a forum for literature and the fine arts since 2002. Immerse yourself in the artist’s creative process, his words and his imaginary worlds! Here, the artist's creative process and his worlds of words and images can be experienced from the most diverse perspectives. The detailed and lovingly designed colonial goods shop in the entrance is reminiscent of Grass's novel "The Tin Drum" as well as his parents' shop in Gdansk.

Anyone who constantly tries to say the final thing cannot get beyond platitudes.

Günter Grass

Nobel Prize Laureates - relevant moments

Thomas Mann is born at Breite Straße 38 in Lübeck as the son of an established merchant family. At the time, his father was the Senator for Economic Affairs and Finance. The house of Thomas Mann’s birth was demolished in 1904. A memorial stone commemorates the building at the heart of the Old Town.

Thomas Mann leaves school which he always hated as he said himself: “Even in high school, I was as lazy as a sack of potatoes: lazy, stubborn and full of dissolute scorn for everything, hated by the teachers at that venerable institution ...”

The novel "Buddenbrooks - Verfall einer Familie” (Buddenbrooks - The Decline of a Family) by Thomas Mann is published. The first edition in two volumes is barely noticed. It isn’t until the second edition is published in a single volume in 1903 that a breakthrough occurs and Thomas Mann becomes famous.

Herbert Ernst Karl Frahm, later Willy Brandt, is born at Meierstraße 16 in Lübeck. His mother was not married at the time. This illegitimate birth is seen at the time and indeed also decades later as a blemish.

Günter Grass is born in Gdansk. He grows up as the son of a merchant family in modest circumstances. As a child, Grass is an altar boy and later he attends secondary school.

Thomas Mann is awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. The jury justifies its decision, stating that over the course of the years, the work had won ever more widespread recognition as a classic work of contemporary literature.

Willy Brandt flees first to Denmark and later to Oslo where he works as a journalist. In 1947, Brandt moves to Berlin. From 1957 - 1966, he guides the fortunes of the city as its mayor. In 1933, Thomas Mann also fails to return to Germany from a lecture trip. In 1938, he reaches the US via several staging posts. He doesn’t return to live in Europe – Switzerland, in fact – until 1952.

Thomas Mann visits his home town of Lübeck with his wife Katja where he is made an honorary citizen in a ceremony in the Town Hall. Only a few weeks later, Thomas Mann dies in the Canton Hospital in Zurich.

"Die Blechtrommel" (The Tin Drum) by Günter Grass is published and catapults Grass into the ranks of the most important German-speaking authors of the 20th century. At the same time, the book stirs up a political scandal. The novel is a worldwide hit and is translated into 20 languages. In 1979, Volker Schlöndorff directs a film based on the main section of the book with David Bennent in the starring role as Oskar Matzerath; Grass writes the film script.

Willy Brandt is elected as the fourth Chancellor in the history of the Federal Republic of Germany. The SPD and FDP parties form a coalition government.

Willy Brandt travels to Warsaw for the signing of the Treaty of Warsaw. Laying a wreath at the memorial to the heroes of the Warsaw ghetto uprising, Willy Brandt spontaneously kneels, asking with this gesture for forgiveness on behalf of his country for the crimes of the Germans in the years of National Socialism.

Willy Brandt receives the Nobel Peace Prize. The Committee justifies its decision by stating that Brandt had reached out to initiate a policy of reconciliation between former foes.

Willy Brandt resigns as Chancellor as a result of the Guillaume affair.

Günter Grass chooses a former paper mill in Behlendorf near Lübeck as his studio and place of residence.

On the day the wall falls, Willy Brandt travels to Berlin. At a rally in front of Schöneberg’s town hall, he says that now what belongs together will grow together.

Willy Brandt dies in his house on the Rhine.

Buddenbrook House (Heinrich-and-Thomas-Mann-Centre) is opened in the building at Mengstraße 4. The house belonged to Thomas Mann’s grandparents. Large parts of “Buddenbrooks” are enacted in this house which thus becomes the setting for world literature.

Günter Grass is awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. The Committee justifies its decision by pointing out, among other things, that Grass had portrayed the forgotten face of history in frolicsome black fables.

Günter Grass House is opened at Glockengießerstraße 21 as a forum for literature and the fine arts to mark the artist’s 75th birthday. The complex covers two narrow parcels of land in the Old Town 50 metres in length and encloses a typical medieval interior courtyard.

Willy Brandt House in Lübeck is opened on 18 December 2007, the former Chancellor’s 94th birthday, in a patrician house in Königstraße. It displays interactive stations, using numerous original documents to convey impressions of Brandt’s life, and honours his achievements on behalf of German history.

Günter Grass dies from an infection at the age of 87. His grave is to be found in Behlendorf cemetery.

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