November 29, 2009

Manfred Gnädinger, Museo del Aleman/Museum of the German

this picture and some others (july 2006) 
courtesy of the author of the website Man de Camelle

Early years

Not much is known about the early years of Manfred Gnädinger. He was born in 1936 in the community of Boehringen in Germany (some sources say it was Dresden, 1940). He had other brothers and sisters and his mother died when he still was young.

It is said that as as youngster he was interested in spiritual matters. He may have had artistic ambitions, but did not go to an art school.

I do not know if there was a specific reason why in the early sixties Manfred decided to leave Germany and settle in Camelle, in the Coruña area, facing the Atlantic, at that time a rather isolated community. Probably it had to do with a desire to be away from the materialistic, industrialized world and live a more natural life, a desire that was not uncommon among young people those days.

The villagers may have thought he was a pilgrim, on his way to Santiago, and gave him hospitality like Galicians are used to do. Maybe they were suprised that Manfred did not intend to go to Santiago, but preferred to setlle in their community.

It is said 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 she went for another man.

It is not quite clear why, but Gnädinger’s life took a suprising new direction. He decided to say goodbye to 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 harbour (I inderstand he bought the plot from the local authorities for a symbolic amount).

In that cabin without running water and electricity he went 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.

A very, very special hippy of the sixties.

picture from the website turismo en Galicia

Creating an environment

And an artist too.... 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 mr Gnadinger’s notebooks.

picture courtesy of the author of the website Man de Camelle

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 continued through the seventies, eighties and nineties of the former century.

picture website Man de Camelle

Pollution of the coast

Things changed dramatically in 2002. The oil tanker Prestige when sailing along the Galician coast run into problems, 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, locking the door with a sign that everybody should keep out. After a number of days, people became worried, they went into the cabin and found him 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 this website (most texts in spanish).


After Man 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.

The cabin and the creation currentl (2009) are still extant. A fence has been erected with a signpost asking people to respect the site. A foundation has been formed by friends of the museum, who are active in promoting that measures are taken to preserve the site for the future.

In july 2009 the Galician parliament decided to start a project to study all aspects of such a preservation. (Here is an interview in Spanish with mr Creus, who will do the research).

Meanwhile the house is in decay.  Here is a picture (dec 2010) from the spanish website Homenaxe a Man, with the caption in Galician

  (...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 has been announced that on december 27 and 28 there will be a demonstration in Camelle to protest against the inactivity of authorities to take measures to protect the site.

Since no action has been taken. The site is detoriating.

Some documentation/more pictures
* Website Man de Camelle with pictures and the story in french and english.   
* An animated short movie, made by Juan Carlos Abraldes (2006, 8"); rather special in its composition and message. 
* Man, home sen paz (man without peace), a movie (2010, 78") by Simón Vázquez and David Formoso (had its première on december 28, 2010, in Camelle, 8 years after the 2002 disaster)
* Homenaxe a Man, website in galician, with recent pictures and documentation about the activities of the Asssociation of Friends
* The site got a scholarly review in: Jo Farb Hernandez, Singular Spaces. From the Eccentric to the Extraordinary in Spanish Art Environments, Seatlle (Raw Vision, SPACES, San José State University), 2013. ISBN 978-0-615-78565-3

first published nov 2009, revised jan 2011, jul 2011dec 2011, nov, dec 2013

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?