Sunday, 30 November 2014

Casa Rossa - Villa Behring on Capri

It is a truism that you can come across unexpected reminders of home in the strangest of places. In this case, whilst looking for a store that sold the makings of a pasta lunch to cook back at our apartment on Capri, I noticed this arresting bright red house on a small courtyard ( the Piazza Cesare Battisti in fact):
Villa Behring on Capri by Andie Gilmour

It appears to be just a 'digital centre' supplying phone and internet-connectivity, but it has a marble plaque above the shuttered shop window:
Villa Behring on Capri by Andie Gilmour

Von Behring is a name familiar to me from working near the  Charité hospital in Berlin. He was the discoverer and manufacturer of a diphtheria vaccine towards the end of the nineteenth century, by which he saved many thousands and thousands of lives (especially children) and received the Nobel Prize for medicine in 1901. He married the director of the Charité's daughter Else Spinola on 29th December 1896. Looking further into their story I find that for their marriage and honeymoon Emil was granted extended leave by the newly formed Education Ministry of Imperial Germany and the couple spent a few months here in this villa which they had bought.

Even more surprising, another plaque commemorates that between March 1909 and February 1911 the Russian writer and bolshevik activist Maxim Gorkyalso lived here (as in Gorky Park, Moscow, and the Maxim Gorky Theatre, Berlin, both named after him). Indeed, in July 1910 an exiled Vladimir Lenin was a guest here of Maximum Gorky. Gorky was apparently running a school for Communist Party leaders and activists from this house, which was also known as Villa Spinola (after Frau von Behring) at the time. Given its Communist associations, it is quite appropriate that the house should be such a striking red colour.
Villa Behring on Capri by Andie Gilmour

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