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What are you reading, Prof Sommer?

Thomas Sommer is the Scientific Director of the Max Delbrück Center, and he heads the research group "Intracellular Proteolysis". His reading tip is dedicated to a novel written in 1936 by a German author in exile. The book describes the fate of a mime in the dictatorship.

In the thicket of tasks, I unfortunately don't get to read literature very often. But in a conversation with a good friend the other day, I had to think of one of the most impressive books for me: "Mephisto", by Klaus Mann, first published in 1936.

Prof. Dr. Thomas Sommer, Scientific Director of the MDC (interim)

It is about an actor during the National Socialist era who actually has a left-wing attitude, but at the same time is incredibly ambitious. In the conflict between his ambition and his political convictions, he decides to come to terms with the Nazis in order to get on with his career. His approach is successful, and so the actor navigates the period of the Third Reich without offering any resistance. He believes he has gone into inner emigration. In doing so, he does not realize that he is corrupting himself, taking advantage of his actions and that he is one of the dictatorship's profiteers.

The book deals with the people in the Third Reich in a unique way and shows how many people acted in this totalitarian regime at that time. From my point of view, it is one of those books that you have to have read. When you realize what was going on in this character, when you understand his vanity, his fascination in dealing with the powerful and his unscrupulousness, you understand how someone in such a situation can slip into unscrupulous opportunism.

It is amazing how highly topical the book still is today. It reminds you again and again not to close your eyes.

Klaus Mann "Mephisto - Roman einer Karriere", Rowohlt Verlag