The preservation of the Nietzsche House as a memorial site dates back to 1960. Over the past decades, a more international public has visited, increasing the need for a multilingual presentation. In response, a modern exhibition design, incorporating a digital aspect, has been developed and implemented. This redesign integrates the spirit of the Nietzsche House with the need to provide up-to-date, easily understood information.
The exhibition rooms have been refurbished in a uniform design, with the same background of discreet turquoise as in the original Zarathustra books. The display cases are arranged chronologically based on Nietzsche’s life. Treasures, such as first editions and a small, regularly changing selection of valuable original manuscripts from the impressive Rosenthal-Levy collection, are on display. The individual objects are briefly described, with lengthier descriptions available in four languages in a brochure and on a mobile website. Panels throughout the house provide information about basic concepts and key ideas in Nietzsche’s thinking.
In 1991, the Foundation was able to acquire the furnishings that the young philology professor had ordered in Naumburg for his first home in Basel at Spalenthorweg 48. He kept this furniture with him as he moved from home to home until he left the University of Basel in May 1879. The bourgeois solidity of this furniture stands in sharp contrast to the marked simplicity of Nietzsche’s upstairs room, a contrast which reflects Nietzsche’s interior route from respectable university professor to ‘hermit’ and ‘fugitivus errans’ (as he saw himself). The documents and photos in this room document Nietzsche’s ten-year professorship at the University of Basel and at the Mentelinshof ‘Gymnasium’, what he was reading and his social contacts.
The room located at the back of the ‘Professor’s Study’ is devoted to the Nietzsche translator and editor Oscar Levy. Born in Stargard, Pomerania in 1867, Oscar Levy left Germany as early as 1894, in protest against the growing nationalism of his homeland, emigrating to England to work as a medical doctor. A passionate reader of Nietzsche, Levy published and financed the first complete English edition of Nietzsche’s works in 18 volumes between 1909 and 1913. He was an extremely attentive and exacting intellectual, who spoke out about current political events in a number of publications. In 1921, he was banned from the UK with his wife and daughter as a “former alien enemy” and then lived in Germany, France and Switzerland. He was only allowed to return to the UK in 1938, and he died there in 1946.
In 2004, Oscar Levy’s daughter, Maud Rosenthal-Levy, decided to leave her father’s valuable library with a focus on ‘pre-fascism’ to the Nietzsche House, where it is now exhibited with some of the furnishings from Levy’s study. Visitors will also find documents, photos and objects about Oscar Levy’s life and career, including his text “Die Exkommunizierung Adolf Hitlers – Ein Offener Brief” (The Excommunication of Hitler – An Open Letter) from June 21, 1938.
This room, which contains a major part of the House’s own research library, is available to House guests whenever the Museum is not open to the public. Museum visitors can also study documentation on Mazzino Montinari and Giorgio Colli, the two Italian scholars who made the important decision to publish a new historically critical complete edition of Nietzsche’s works at the beginning of the 1960s.
The research library also contains the original armchair that Nietzsche acquired for his Basel home and that he gave to his doctor, Rudolf Massini, when he gave up his professorship in Basel in 1879. The Nietzsche House Sils-Maria Foundation acquired the chair for the museum a few years ago
The upstairs room in the Durisch house, which Nietzsche rented for seven summers (1881 and 1883-1888), has been kept in its original, simple condition. The furnishings are from Sils’ oldest hotel ‘Alpenrose’, where the philosopher often had lunch.
To the left of the window, you can see a piece of wallpaper with a pattern that Nietzsche selected and paid for himself in the summer of 1883. It is no coincidence that both the tablecloth and the wallpaper are in shades of green. In this case, too, the philosopher himself chose the fabric. Nietzsche devoted much attention to the “things that surround us” which determine our day-to-day life, as he knew how they directly affected body and spirit.
The philosophy professor Paul Deussen, who visited Nietzsche in Sils Maria in September 1887, described his friend’s room in his memoirs: “The next day, he led me to his lodgings, or, as he said, into his cave. It was a simple room in a farmhouse, three minutes from the road: Nietzsche rented it during the season for one franc per day. The décor was as simple as one could imagine. On the side stood his books which I mostly still remembered from earlier times; then came a peasant-style table with a coffee cup, eggshells, manuscripts and toilet requisites in a colorful jumble extending to the unmade bed, via a boot j-jack with a boot jammed on it.”
In the upstairs corridor and on the steps to the lower floor, visitors will find an extensive exhibit of writers’ photos and texts about Sils and the Upper Engadine. Many of these writers came to the valley in the footsteps of Nietzsche, others were attracted by the unique landscape, which inspired their writing. They include Theodor W. Adorno, Alfred Andersch, Walter Benjamin, Gottfried Benn, Paul Celan, Jean Cocteau, Friedrich Dürrenmatt, Anne Frank, Max Frisch, Hermann Hesse, Karl Kraus, Erika, Klaus and Thomas Mann, Gerhard Meier, Robert Musil, Rainer Maria Rilke, Kurt Tucholsky
Virtually no other philosopher has so strongly influenced the visual arts – both modern and post-modern – as Friedrich Nietzsche. His exceptional popularity in the European art scene comes as no surprise if we think of the high importance this philosopher again and again accorded to art. In a fragment from the summer of 1885 (posthumous fragments), Nietzsche wrote:
“ In the main, I think artists know more than all of the philosophers up to now: they never lose sight of the main track on which life runs, they love the things of ‘this world’ – they love their own senses.[…]”
Since 1978, the Nietzsche House Foundation in Sils-Maria has offered artists whose work is related to the region or to Nietzsche’s thinking an opportunity to realize small exhibits at the Nietzsche House, generally they last for one year, from summer to summer (see also “Archive of past special exhibits”).