In Pečovnik, on the outskirts of the city of Celje and on the left bank of the Savinja River, sits the house in which Alma Maximiliana Karlin (1889–1950), a world traveller with a transnational identity, a polyglot, a theosophist and a writer, spent her last years. The house is an extraordinary historical monument which was renovated and opened for the public in 2014 as the Alma Karlin Memorial House. It is also the home of the exhibition Alma M. Karlin’s Lonely Journey, prepared by Barbara Trnovec, the curator at the Celje Regional Museum, which takes visitors through the different life periods of the house’s famous cosmopolitan resident.
Alma Maximiliana Karlin was born in Celje into a bourgeois family: her father was a major in the Austrian army, her mother, a teacher. In 1908, she left for London where she found a job in a translation office and studied languages. In 1914, she graduated from the Royal Society of Arts in 8 languages. In 1919, she embarked upon her famed travels around the world, which last continuously for 8 years. For a woman travelling alone, travelling at that time was something exceptional, even outrageous. She returned to Celje in 1927.
Upon her return, she taught, still travelled a lot, gave many lectures at home and abroad, wrote for various magazines, even her own literature. From 1921 and 1937 alone, she published 22 books in Germany, Great Britain, Switzerland and Finland. Swedish writer Selma Lagerlöf (1858–1940), the first female writer to win the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1909, even proposed her for a Nobel Prize. On one of her lectures in Stockholm in the early 1930s, Alma met the painter Thea Schreibner Gammelin (1906–1988) with whom she was bound by a lasting friendship, probably also by a lesbian relationship. In 1934, Thea, her “soul sister”, came to live permanently in Celje and they remained inseparable until Alma’s death. After World War II, they moved together into a small house in Pečovnik, today’s Memorial House.
The house was probably built in the 19th century as a rock vineyard cottage. Today, there are some valuable interior paintings above the windows and in the hall made by Thea Gammelin in the 1960s. The paintings represent St. Francis in flowers, St. Daniel among the lions and presumably Richard I of England in jail.
In the early 1990s, the Institute for the Protection of Cultural Heritage of Slovenia, Celje Regional Office gave an initiative for the reconstruction of the house. In the coming years, the Municipality of Celje proclaimed the house a cultural monument and began to renovate it. The Ministry of Culture, the Academy of Fine Arts and Design and the Celje Secondary School of Civil Engineering and Environmental Protection all participated in the reconstruction, as well as numerous construction companies. Today, the house is managed by the Celeia Celje Institute. It hosts many cultural events, also the festival Summer in Celje.
One can visit also The Alma M. Karlin »Journeys« Exhibition at the Celje Regional Museum.