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April 2003

House of Bards

-and artists: Villa Waldberta is a haven for writers, painters, poets and translators

A “friendly cuckoo clock monster” is how the German newspaper Die Zeit once described the exterior of Villa Waldberta. Indeed with its fretted eaves, balconies and turret the building, situated on a hillside by the village of Feldafing on Starnbergersee, is delightfully kitschy and an unlikely location for a cultural center, which is exactly its current function. Since the early 1990s this eccentric-looking house has been used as a venue for readings, seminars, discussions and exhibitions. And perhaps more importantly it has served as a guesthouse for authors, poets, translators and artists selected by the Kulturreferat der Landeshauptstadt München (The Culture Relations Office of the City of Munich). Once candidates have been selected, they are given a grant and invited to spend a few months living and working at the villa.

The building, which has been home, albeit temporarily, to many well-known writers and artists, is itself not uninteresting. Built in 1902 by a property developer from Munich, the first occupant of any note was a Dutch newspaper and art book publisher, Albert Wilhelm Sythow, and his wife Waldine (their first names were combined to create the name Waldberta). In 1926 it was bought by Bertha Koempel and her husband, a German-American couple who lived in New York but liked to spend the summer months on Starnbergersee. At the end of World War II it may have been used as a hospital and after the cessation of hostilities was requisitioned for a time and became the headquarters of the DP (displaced persons)-camp, which was installed in Feldafing by the Americans after the war. Outliving her spouse by 14 years, Bertha Koempel died in 1966 and bequeathed Waldberta to the City of Munich, though with the proviso that the building be used for cultural or social purposes and that, insofar as this was possible, the interior and exterior remain unaltered. The next resident was Willi Daume, the president of the International Olympic Committee. Daume lived in the villa from 1966 until 1972, during the preparation of the Munich Olympic Games in 1972. Later the building was used as a Montessori training and recreation center until, in 1983, the City of Munich decided to carry out renovations. The administration of Villa Waldberta was then handed over to the Culture Relations Office, so that its facilities could be offered to artists, and in 1991 the current program of scholarships was introduced.

The Villa Waldberta foundation provides funding (€ 1,000 per month) as well as housing and work space (apartments and a studio) for five artists at a time for a period of one to three months. At the end of the artists’ stay their work is exhibited. Writers are generally introduced to the public by a reading in the villa or more often in Munich institutions such as the Literaturhaus. Potential candidates are selected from a range of disciplines, including painting, photography, sculpture, drama and writing. A jury and an advisory commission are responsible for making the final decision. To qualify, nominees must live outside Bavaria. Four of the five scholarships are awarded to writers, and one to artists. Naturally, artists who have already made a name for themselves are not considered for scholarships, as they are not in need of promotion. However, many former residents have, in time, become well known.

One former guest of Villa Waldberta, the British writer Andrew Miller, was awarded the “Impac Dublin Prize” in 1999 for his work Ingenious Pain (1998), an adventure story of the rise, fall and redemption of an extraordinary man, whose lack of compassion is physical—he can’t feel pain. Another award-winning writer and former resident of Villa Waldberta is 2002 Nobel Prize Winner for Literature Imre Kertesz. Born in 1929 in Budapest, the Jewish author is best known for works that draw on his experiences as a teenager in Nazi concentration camps. It’s no surprise either that current Villa Waldberta resident Christine Koschel, a poet and German translator of writers such as Oscar Wilde and Sylvia Plath, knows Imre Kertesz personally. Although Koschel knew Kertesz before her arrival at the Villa Waldberta, their common connection within literary circles is exactly what the foundation of Villa Waldberta aims to cultivate.

During the year, Villa Waldberta hosts seminars, readings in English and German, a number of art and photo exhibitions as well as an annual summer party (Sommerfest). A listing of the upcoming events can be found in the Literaturblatt München, accessed online at To request invitations to Villa Waldberta events contact

Contact: Verena Nolte, Villa Waldberta
Kulturreferat der Landeshauptstadt
München, Höhenbergstrasse 25, 82340
Feldafing, Tel. (0 89) 23 32 87 18

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