Remembering Manni Brun

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In January, this community lost a woman to whom it owes a great deal. Marianne (Manni) Brun passed away on January 6th.

Manni and her husband Herbert, who was a professor of music composition, came to the university in 1963. Manni, the daughter of prominent Jewish actors in Berlin, fled Germany in 1933. In her earlier years in the US, she lived on the East Coast and in Los Angeles. She and her parents returned to Germany in 1948. After her return to Europe, she worked with the famous left-wing playwright Bertolt Brecht, in Switzerland and then in East Germany. After that she moved to Munich in West Germany, where she worked in radio and the theater. Politically, she was an advocate for a united, disarmed, and neutral Germany.

I came to know Manni shortly after coming to teach at the U of I in 1965. In her early  years in Urbana, Manni was employed in a  a number of positions at the U of I, while at the same time earning a BA via correspondence from Antioch College, and then an MA in social change from what is now the University of Illinois, Springfield.

After two years as the assistant to the head of the Urban and Regional Planning Library here at UIUC, she helped found and served as the Director of the Artist-in-Residence Program at Unit One in Allen Hall. She remained in that position until 1986. There she taught courses, including one entitled “Designing a Society.” As stated in her official obituary that appeared in the News-Gazette, that technique “invited participants to share intelligent imagining of a new social order by first specifying fundamental features to be changed, and by researching the world and logic. The technique…was to work backward from the specifications to deduce required conditions as consequences, instead of working forward from currently given conditions to figure out what specifications are reasonable.” Some of the discussions in the class sessions were published in 1985 as “Designing Society: Marianne Brun and Respondents” (Princelet Editions).

Manni was not only an intellectual, teacher, and artist. She was also a fighter for social justice, and in this world that really does mean fighting for a radically different society. As already stated, she advocated a very different vision for Germany. But her perspective was a universal one. She was devoted member of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF). I can’t remember whether I first met Manni at Unit One, where I sometimes participated in courses and events, or in meetings of our Ad Hoc Faculty Committee on Vietnam, an anti-Vietnam war group. But I was immediately struck by her dedication to peace and social justice. She was a tireless worker on behalf of both of those things. And she was still active in the arts. I remember seeing her coaching young actors who were part of what became, and remains, an established school in CU, the School for Designing a Society.

After retirement, Manni began to spend more time in Berlin, where she advocated a Germany that would look very different from both East and the West Germany. In the 1990s, I was collaborating with Professor Wolf-Dieter Narr of Free University in Berlin and travelled there several times. During one of those trips, I called Manni and she invited both Narr and me to lunch in a Berlin restaurant that she favored. Narr is a prominent political scientist, but also a human rights activist who had served on the Russell Tribunal that had investigated the US war in Vietnam. A shy and reticent man normally, he was demonstrably completely taken with Manni’s brilliance and her commitment to peace and justice. I already knew and appreciated those things about her.  The new insight I gained was her knowledge and love of her native city, Berlin, which she had experienced as a young person in some of its most culturally vibrant days. I think that in her heart, even when she was with us in Urbana, Manni was always was a Berliner.

That notwithstanding, she made significant contributions to the political, educational, and cultural life of Urbana-Champaign. Perhaps the most lasting of those are her curricular contributions and the Artist-in-Residence Program, which persists at Unit One at the U of I, and the School for Designing a Society, that continues to attract very bright young minds to our community. Some of  those minds stimulated the creation of our own Independent Media Center, of which this newspaper is a component. Manni Brun’s passing is a great loss, and she will be sorely missed by those who knew her here.




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