My wife and I were both so taken with The Glass Room by Simon Mawer that on our visit to the Czech Republic this month we made a point of visiting the Villa Tugendhat, the location (and indeed the centrepiece) of that fine novel. (See https://ninevoices.wordpress.com//?s=Glass+Room)
The Villa Tugendhat was a ground-breaking design in its time, the work of Mies van der Rohe in 1929–1930, and it’s a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site. It’s in Brno, the second largest city in the Czech Republic. Mies van der Rohe was given an unlimited budget! Of which he took full advantage …
The description of the Villa Landauer – and of its creation – in the novel seem to be exactly those of the Villa Tugendhat. We marvelled at the onyx wall, the wall of glass and its mechanism for being moved up and down, and the wonderful views through it of Brno’s Castle – all of which feature prominently in the novel. Mies van der Rohe forbade the house’s first occupants from putting anything on the walls, as does the novel’s architect, Rainer von Abt, as ornament was a crime: our guide gleefully showed us the room where the Tugendhats hid their pictures when Mies van der Rohe came to visit.
Simon Mawer has thus written his novel about the real house: it’s even set on the Villa’s actual street, Černopolní. The stories of the occupants are rather more fictionalised, though not always drastically so. So, writers, this is what you can do with location!
Our guide told us that in real life the house has played its own part in the recent history of Central Europe. She told us that it was under a tree in the garden that in 1992 the Czech Premier Václav Klaus and the Slovak Premier Vladimír Mečiar met to discuss their opposing views on the way forward for newly free Czechoslovakia, and ended by deciding to split the country into two! That tree, apparently, died not long after …
My wife and I were thrilled by our visit to the Villa. The novel had inspired us to go, and our visit made the novel even more memorable for us. You can visit the Villa but you are advised to book at least two months in advance (see http://www.tugendhat.eu/en/). Guided tours in English are available, and well worth it. The young lady who took us round was clearly in love with the building herself!