November 29, 2009

Manfred Gnädinger, Museo del Aleman/Museum of the German

Early years

Manfred Gnädinger (1936-2002) was born in a well to do family in the community of Radolfzell am Bodensee in Germany. He had six other brothers and sisters. His mother died when he was 14 years old.

As a youngster he may have had artistic ambitions, but he hasn't got an art education..

In the early 1960's Manfred decided to leave Germany and settle in Camelle, in the Coruña area in Spain, at that time a rather isolated community facing the Atlantic. Maybe he had a desire to be away from the materialistic, industrialized world and find another, more simple way of life, a desire that was not uncommon among young people those days.

In Camelle he got a room in the house of a spanish lady who was german from origin and still could speak the language. There are pictures showing Gnädinger as the young emigré, neatly dressed and clean shaven. He went to mass on sundays. 

And he fell in love with a spanish young lady, but this became a disappointment, because she went for another man.

Maybe that's why Gnädinger’s life took a surprising new direction. He decided to turn away from the comfortable aspects of western life and to start a new, more natural, ecological and vegetarian life. He constructed himself a small cabin of some 2x3 meters on the beach of Camelle, near the jetty that protects its harbor (I understand he bought the plot from the local authorities for a symbolic amount).

In that cabin without running water and electricity he began to live in his own way, feeding himself with food he procured from the sea and with vegetables he cultivated in his own garden, walking barefoot and dressed in just a loincloth, exercising a lot by swimming far into the ocean and jogging daily. 

Creating an environment

In and around his cabin he created his own artistic environment. He made sculptures from stones and rocks that were around and from all kind of washed up material that could be found on the beach. 

Cabin and creations became a museum. It could be visited by tourists, who had to pay a small fee to look around and had to make some drawing in one of Gnädinger’s notebooks  It has been reported  that after his death a thousand of such notebooks have been found.

He became known as the Aleman of Camelle (the German of Camelle) and generally was spoken of as Man. Although he was rather eccentric, apart from a single incident the villagers in general seem to have accepted his way of life and looked at him as one who belonged to the community.

This situation persisted during the 1970's, 80's and 90's, until it changed dramatically in 2002.

Pollution of the coast

Sailing along the Galician coast,the oil tanker Prestige run into problems, it broke into two and lost tons of oil. The sea and the beaches were heavily polluted and Man’s plot, creations and cabin were ruined, covered with a thick layer of black raw oil.

Emotionally shocked, Man locked himself up in his cabin with a sign on the door that everybody should keep out. After a number of days people became worried, entered the cabin and found Man dead.


His death aroused much publicity in the spanish newspapers. He was described as the first human victim of oil pollution. An overview can be found on the website Man de Camelle (most texts in Spanish).

Gnädinger was buried at the local cemetery. Ten years later his mortal remains were cremated. The urn with his ashes for years stayed at the cemetery, but on January 27, 2018 this urn, in accordance with Gnädinger's last will, was relocated to a place near his site. Family members attended the ceremony.

Future of the site

After Man had passed away the government has not been very active in taking measures to preserve the site for the future, although it has been reported that Gnädinger had legated money to the state to keep the site intact.

At the time the firts version of this post was published (2009) the cabin and the sculptures were still extant. A fence had been erected with a signpost asking people to respect the site. A foundation had been formed by friends of the museum to promote measures to protect the site.

In july 2009 the Galician parliament decided to start a project to study all aspects of such a preservation and an interview with Juan Creus who would do the research was published.

Meanwhile the house gradually fell into decay as can be seen on below picture (dec 2010) from the website Man de Camelle:

  (...así é como está a casa de MAN o día 28 de decembro de 2010, o DÍA DOS SANTOS INOCENTES; día do seu pasamento, alá polo ano 2002, 8 anos despóis)
(this is what Man's house looks like on december 28th, 2010, the day of the Holy Innocents, the day of his death, back in 2002, 8 years ago)

One year later, at the end of 2011, it was announced that on december 27 and 28 there would be a demonstration in Camelle to protest against the inactivity of authorities to take measures to protect the site.

For many years no action was taken by the authorities. The site was deteriorating.

A permanent exposition of Man's legacy

In june 2015 however in a building on the Rua Muelle 9 in Camelle a permanent exposition of Man's legacy was opened, which included Man's notebooks and other personal items. photographs and other documentary material, thus giving visitors an idea of Man's life and works.

In 2017 a restoration project was announced

In march 2017 the local authorities had approved the restoration of Man's house, a project prepared by the architects Juan Creus and Covadonga Carrasco. A first action included a selective cleaning of the interior of the house, as well as the rocky terrain around the house. Also a drainage from the outside would be made to allow the rapid evacuation of rainwater. 

It was also announced that the paintings made by Man would be restored so that they can be preserved for later periods.

In december 2017 the cabin has been restored.

Documentation/more pictures
* Website Man de Camelle with pictures and the story in french and english.   
* Man, home sen paz (man without peace), a movie (2010, 78") by Simón Vázquez and David Formoso. This film had its première on december 28, 2010, in Camelle, 8 years after the 2002 disaster
* The site got a scholarly review in: Jo Farb Hernandez, Singular Spaces. From the Eccentric to the Extraordinary in Spanish Art Environments, Seattle (Raw Vision, SPACES, San José State University), 2013. ISBN 978-0-615-78565-3A short version of this review on SPACES website (added nov 2013)
* Yaysis Ojeda Becerra, “I cerchi di Man, il ‘figlio di Nettuno’” (The circles of Man, 'son of Neptune' in Rivista dell’Osservatorio Outsider Art, nr 17, spring 2019 (p. 114-121),Video

* A video (You Tube, 1'21") by Serflac gives an impression of the situation of the site and the sculptures in October 2011

first published nov 2009, last revised  april 2019

Man (Manfred Gnädinger) 
Museo del Aleman 
Camelle, Galicia, Spain 


  1. Henk... what a truly incredible story ! and tragic ending... how terrible that fate should deal such a blow to such a person.
    Thank you as always for bringing us such visions of noble human qualities, an artist aspiring to a better way of life, a higher level than crass consumerism. Yes, a very touching story...

  2. Hello dear Henk, it had been a long, very busy but always eager to visit and discover a new extraordinary story. It seems like the shadow of the industrial development did pursuit Manfred for all his life. It is terribly ironic that it was the consequence of an accident derivated from human activity what finally put an ended on his pilgrimage. Certainly the disappointment of realize that it would be impossible to isolate himself from such that pollution and rumble of human kind should have been an unbearable beat to his soul. Regards and congratulations for such a great story again.

  3. Hello Owen and Alberto,
    Thanks for your comments. It can be seen as very tragic that someone who wants to abstain as much as possible from the consumptive and climate disturbing features of western society, sees his life and work destroyed by the fuel that society depends upon. I took me some time to compose this post, because of the many commentaries and the mingling of fact and fiction. All the best, Henk

  4. One's heart can't help but feel for man. so sad after all those years living his desired life and dream.
    Has camelle now recovered from this oil spill to it's fomer beauty? or does it's legacy linger?