As most culture-thirsty travelers would confess, the greater LA area is most certainly not on anybody’s go-to-list. From the endless traffic inching through shabby downtown neighborhoods, compressed by lingering and listless smog, veiling this less-than-picturesque city in a muggy cloud of "bla". Even the Hollywood sign – this phallic symbol of cinematic achievement – appears merely minuscule in the hazy distance. Nothing, it seems, would entice the cultural treasure seeker, to pursue this city to satisfy their educational curiosity – nothing, except maybe a wedding invitation to the Pacific Palisades.
Nestled in between lush hills with ocean view on one side and the muted LA panorama on the other, the Palisades seem to be built on a different continent entirely. Geographically, this piece of heaven is only a stone's throw away from the Hollywood glitz down the road, but unlike it's big brother, the Palisades have taken a slightly different developmental turn. Sure - there is still a ton of glitz, but there is brain, too.
It is here, between plentiful greenery and ocean breeze, where elite intellectual escapees Thomas Mann, Bertolt Brecht, Arnold Schoenberg and Lion Feuchtwanger formed their temporary enclave from 1942-1952. Mann began writing his thoroughly famous masterpiece “Dr. Faustus” in these Brentwood hills. Some of the novel's content is based on Mann’s LA neighbor, Arnold Schoenberg, whose 12-tone music compositions had brought him fame back in Europe. Feuchtwanger’s home, the Villa Aurora, became the central meeting point of this German community attempting to recreate the intellectually stimulating breeding ground these men had left behind. However small in scale, "Weimar by the Sea", as the community was frequently referred to, helped these brainy refugees to wait out the end of the Nazi era.
To this day, Arnold Feuchtwanger's palazzo serves the same purpose: when his widow Marta sold it to the German government after his death, the Villa Aurora opened its doors as an artistic retreat for established and emerging writers, to hide away in this intellectual sanctuary for some time, before returning to their homeland with gusto - and a finished literary project in hand.
And to this day, some like it better here than others: lyricist Brecht had compared LA simply and poignantly to “hell”. Thomas Mann, on the other hand, thrived in the mild and far-away climate, so different from his stern Teutonic roots: “I was enchanted by the light, by the special fragrance of the air, by the blue of the sky, the sun, the exhilarating ocean breeze.” He may have never made his way down the hill...
As I am sitting on snow-white stow-away chairs, witnessing an elaborate evening wedding set against the Pacific panorama, traffic safely tucked away behind bushes at the bottom of the hill and out of sight, the silky August breeze in my hair and a mellowing cocktail in hand, I fully grasp the cerebral divide this city embodies like no other. Just minutes after the bride and groom have promised their forever-love with heart-warming verses, one of the flawlessly powdered bridesmaids gushes excitedly in the bathroom room stall while pushing the flush: “This is the perfect LA wedding”. Indeed!