Tag Archives: visual thinking

The Old Villa

I just ran across this quite interesting article and video: a mini-documentary on abandoned houses in Europe (filmed in pursuit of a book trailer for the filmmaker’s new book).

And it brought up a memory.

When I was a teen, we lived in a Bavarian mountain village, right across the street from a house just like this – a small country villa with gables and ivy, yellow-stuccoed with a red tile roof, on a large property completely overgrown with trees. It used to be the weekend country house of some rich person whose heirs were uninterested in the place and just let it fall to pieces. My neighbour’s son and his friends reportedly used to go in and set off molotov cocktails in the windows, just to hear the glass shatter, and do target practice on the jars of canned plums that were still in the cellar. (Young hoodlums! Actually, they’ve grown up to be quite respectable men. I’m not sure what that proves – nothing, probably.) That was before we lived there; so I never did hear any of the booms and crashes their vandalism would have produced. By the time we got there, there weren’t any intact windows left, and the rooms pretty much looked like the ones in the video.

We went into the house a couple of times, feeling very daring and trespass-y. Once a visiting cousin wanted to see it – I was probably twelve or thirteen then. We snuck in, trembling, through the servant’s entrance, and got about halfway up the back stairs when we thought we heard a noise from the upper floor – we turned tail and fled, terrified.  I don’t think there was anything there other than our keyed-up nerves; but regardless, I don’t think I ever did go back in after that.

However, now that I think of it, I realised something: that villa is the house I picture in my mind whenever I read a historic novel and come across a description of the rich house of the protagonist – the hallway and drawing room, particularly. You walked up the big front stairs, and into a two-story hall with a staircase going to the upper floor with the bedrooms (I only once snuck up those stairs, the first time I went in the house; later the staircase had broken down. You could still see a bed through one of the open doorways). Downstairs, to the right of the hall was the living room, or drawing room; I seem to remember it having a bow window or alcove across the room opposite the door, and on the long side large windows looking towards the street – or rather towards the trees that were obscuring it from the street at that point. The interesting thing is that the image of the layout of this house, of its front room with the bow window at the side (I think that alcove might have been large enough to have a table in), the staircase rising to the upper floor – that image is stamped on my memory, and shapes the stories I read even now, decades later.

I wonder who they were, the people who lived in that house. Some wealthy industrialist’s family from Munich probably, who spent their summer holidays in the mountains, and perhaps a weekend here or there. Houses do tell stories; and the story of that place is long gone. Sometime in the 1990s, after I had moved away, the house was torn down, the property divided up and a few nice modern holiday homes put in its place. I suppose that now it’s their turn to build their stories.

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