Didem Doğan

Life stories from Petrópolis: Santos Dumont and Stefan Zweig

In the area 70 kms. from Rio and behind the wooded mountains is an imperial city: Petrópolis, which means Emperor Pedro’s city, captivated the royal family with its great climate and became an imperial city with a summer imperial palace in the 19th century. This city, which later on also attracted artists and intellectuals, still bears the traces of two surprising life stories.

Dumont who developed winged airplanes which were the first prototypes of modern light air craft was the son of a wealthy family that owned wide coffee plantations in Mines state of Brazil. In his biography he maintains that the passion to fly struck him on long afternoons he spent in these fields watching the fabulous and endless Brazilian sky. His imagination was further fueled by the works of Jules Verne. He moved over to France with his family when he was 17 and spent the larger part of his life there. He made the first successful motorised flight in Europe in 1906. He committed suicide by hanging himself at the age of 50 in Brazil where he came back as an older man, probably spurned by the depression which perhaps was caused by the awareness that the airplanes he developed were later used in wars.

This is another story we did not expect to hear while travelling around this small city in a horse-pulled cart. This time it is the story of a European intellectual who settled here; Stefan Zweig, the Austrian novelist, screen writer and biographer, and journalist. The most famous novelist of the world in 1920s and 1930s; Zweig was the son of a wealthy Jewish family. He believed in universalism and European values, while it is an accident that his family is Jewish. His most prolific years were spent in Salzburg, Munich where he wrote dozens of novellas and biographies. Escaping the growing threat of Hitler’s regime, which burned his books, in 1934 he first settled in London, where he did not feel at ease and he travelled to New York, Argentina and Paraguay with his wife, finally finding a home in Brazil. In 1942, he planned on a dual suicide with his wife and killed himself, leaving behind him the following letter.