For ten years, Adrian and his friend Serenus play with the farm animals, feast on wild berries and blossoms, swim in a pond, and hike to the top of a hill. It is an edenic picture of German country life. Yet there is something eerie about the charm of Buchel. Adrian’s father has a streak of a morbid magician. The buxom dairymaid teaches the boys gruesome folk songs. Adrian has an odd disturbing laugh. As Serenus suggests, beauty conceals poison.
Buchel is Adrian’s cradle and grave. In the care of his loving mother, he spends the final ten years of his life at his home debilitated and lost to the world.
Kaisersaschern (KI-zurz-AHSH-urn). German town to which Adrian moves to attend school, about thirty miles from Buchel. Kaisersaschern, whose name means the “emperor’s ashes”–namely those of Otto III–is a composite of several German towns but is most similar to Lübeck, Mann’s birthplace and home in northern Germany. It is a modern commercial and industrial town of 27,000 inhabitants at a major railway junction and along the river Saale, the lifeblood of the area. At the core of Kaisersaschern is the medieval: a cathedral, a castle, faithfully preserved residences, and storehouses. Behind this picturesque facade lurks the medieval spirit of irrationality, superstition, magic, insanity, torture–in a word, the demoniac. Serenus traces the political catastrophe of Nazism to the hysteria of the dying Middle Ages especially evidenced in the practices of zealot Christians. In Kaisersaschern as in all of Germany, the past is only veneered with the present. The devil tells Adrian, “Where I am, there is Kaisersaschern.” In other words, the town represents a general psychic malaise in Germany, one that infects Adrian’s mind for the rest of his life.
After schooling in Kaisersaschern, Adrian studies theology with a concentration on the devil at the university in the nearby medieval city, Halle along the Saale. In Leipzig, Adrian studies music and has his fateful encounter with Esmeralda, the prostitute from whom he voluntarily gets a venereal infection.
Schweigestill (schwi-geh-STIHL). Fictional baroque cloister converted into a boardinghouse close to the fictional town of Pfeiffering, modeled on Polling, a village among the hills of Bavaria. While living in Munich, Adrian discovers the place on one of his expeditions into the countryside. After his encounter with the devil in Palestrina, Italy, he retreats to Schweigestill in part because it resembles Buchel with a pond, a bench on a hill, a house with courtyard, and an old giant tree. The landlords are like his parents and their dog like his own.
As well as an escape into his childhood, Schweigestill also provides Adrian with a sinister retreat. For the next eighteen years, he composes his most important works in an abbot’s study similar in ambiance to the one in which the medieval Faust conjured the devil and performed his magic.
Schweigestill means to keep silent and still, to be discreet and even to conceal. It represents Adrian’s seclusion and his diabolical secret. Ostensibly for a performance of a new composition, The Lamentation of Dr. Faustus, Adrian invites thirty prominent friends and acquaintances to Schweigestill, who gather in a large formal hall with a massive table, deep window nooks, and a plaster Winged Victory of Samothrace. Instead, Adrian announces his pact with the devil. During his confession, he breaks down upon the brown square piano and never recovers his sanity or health. The devil has exacted his price.