Exhibit Opening: “Checkpoint California”

20th Anniversary of the Villa Aurora
Ambassador John B. Emerson
June 11, 2015

Foreign Minister Steinmeier,
Harald Eisenach,
Dr. Markus Klimmer,
Ms. Annette Rupp,
Ladies and gentlemen,
Fellows and friends of the Villa Aurora,

As many of you know, I am from Los Angeles.  There are at least nine other people here this evening who can share and feel with me the magic of the ambiance of the Villa Aurora back in my home town.  Novelist Thomas Mann called it “a castle by the sea.”  It is a Spanish style mansion set above Sunset Boulevard, overlooking Santa Monica Bay, with a sweeping view of the Pacific Ocean from Malibu to the Palos Verdes Peninsula.  Even if you haven’t spent any time there – like the nine artists, all former Villa Aurora fellows, whose works are part of this “Checkpoint California” anniversary exhibit – you can perhaps imagine the magic of the location.  I think it is wonderful, by the way, that one of the programs arranged around this exhibit is designed to inspire children and young people to do some “California Dreaming.” That is something that I can highly recommend for people of all ages, by the way, but at the Embassy, we think it is particularly important to reach out to young people.

The Villa Aurora is the former home of writer Lion Feuchtwanger and his wife, Marta.  In the years during and after World War II, the intellectual gatherings at the villa included readings and concerts, not to mention stimulating conversations and discussions that sometimes turned to gossip, and even, according to reports, parlor games.  Charles Laughton, who spoke no German, and playwright Bertolt Brecht, who spoke little English, collaborated on projects and formed an enduring friendship.  Marlene Dietrich turned Hausfrau, putting on an apron and dishing up hearty German fare.  Now, that must really have been magic!

Today the house is a cultural landmark in LA and a tribute to a literary movement that was brutally suppressed by Hitler, but flourished in exile in Los Angeles.  Villa Aurora brought together Christians and Jews, conservatives and liberals – exiles in paradise – who shared a bond of tolerance and a new language in a new country,

Keeping that spirit of cultural interchange alive, Villa Aurora was re-born 20 years ago, as a place for young European writers, composers, filmmakers, and visual artists to investigate questions of cultural identity and experience the challenges of living “in exile” and being “different.”  At the Embassy, we have had the pleasure of working with several of the artists on our own exhibit projects.  This has included the American artists who have been able to profit from similar opportunities through the Forum Berlin.

Both the Villa Aurora and Forum Berlin programs are supported primarily by the German government, with generous backing from friends and sponsors.  We thank you.

For me, both programs are examples of Germany’s determination not to bury its Nazi past, but to build a tolerant Germany in which that past can never be revived.  The sincere dedication to that goal is one of the things that has impressed me most about this country.  And the artistic expression and the relationships that have been formed over the last 20 years are uniquely symbolic of that commitment.  They are also a fitting tribute to the memory of the Feuchtwangers and all those who were forced to leave Nazi Germany.  On a scrap of paper encased in glass at the villa, Feuchtwanger wrote: “I am a German writer.  My heart beats Jewish.  It’s my thoughts that belong to the world.”

In that spirit, we are all citizens of the world.

Congratulations and thank you to all those who have made the last 20 years of the Villa Aurora such a success.  A special thank you to all the fellows for their work – and in particular, of course, the artists who are a part of this exhibit.