LÜBECK, Germany -- The latest sensation from the literary lion Thomas Mann is more than a century old and runs over 500 characters, not pages, long.
In one of a trove of 81 recently discovered postcards, Mr. Mann rhapsodized to his older brother, Heinrich, about yogurt, "tasty and lightly laxative," and fretted over the healthiness of decaffeinated coffee. Zippy, chatty and refreshingly accessible, the messages soften the image of a titan of letters known for lengthy and difficult masterpieces like "The Magic Mountain" and the family saga "Buddenbrooks."
A batch of the postcards, written between 1901 and 1928 and found by Heinrich's grandchildren among his daughter's effects, scroll down a giant flat-screen monitor here at the Buddenbrookhaus museum, set in the speech-bubble shape familiar from text messages. As officials prepare to expand the museum next year, they are wrestling with the question of how to make this Nobel-winning author of weighty tomes approachable to coming generations weaned on Twitter messages and status updates.
The prototype is just a brisk stroll away, past the brick Gothic marvels of this Hanseatic city at the Günter Grass-Haus, spotlighting another Nobel laureate. There, visitors vote on a touchscreen for possible coming exhibitions about Mr. Grass, author of "The Tin Drum" and at 85 still a magnet for controversy. "Sexuality" and "Grass as soldier" tied for the top spot on a recent afternoon. "The poet Grass" was last.
"In Germany, people experience museums passively," said Jörg-Philipp Thomsa, head of the Grass museum, while demonstrating how to operate a giant tablet computer the size of a kitchen table.
Pictures of Mr. Grass grew, shrank and swiveled beneath Mr. Thomsa's fingers as he searched for the Smurfs, the cartoon characters. The little blue fellows, he explained, were there because they represented the Polish labor movement Solidarity in Mr. Grass's novel "The Rat." Also, children like them.
"The goal is to awaken interest in Grass's work, which is often seen as difficult," Mr. Thomsa said.
But the latest gadgets are only one piece of the puzzle. For many readers, the sense of connection to the work and the author is the ultimate draw, like taking a walking tour of Dublin locations that Joyce featured in "Ulysses."
"There has to be something about the place, something extraordinary you can't find on the Internet," said Holger Pils, head of the Buddenbrookhaus. "The need for the experience of the place is growing because everything else is two-dimensional."
In some ways the Manns are perfect for a gossipy, confessional era. The brothers are like a German version of the Brontë sisters with a dash of Cain and Abel, nonviolent but still rivalrous. The family history includes prosperity and power, a fall from grace, sibling strife, suicide and scandal. "The Blue Angel," adapted from Heinrich Mann's novel "Small Town Tyrant," is a cinema classic that made Marlene Dietrich a star.
Germans remain particularly fascinated by "Buddenbrooks," a goliath of German literature, like "Middlemarch" in Britain or "War and Peace" in Russia. The novel chronicles the decline of a merchant family based on the Manns. Most of the action in the book plays out in a fictional version of the house on Mengstrasse where the author's grandparents lived, now home to the museum.
The baroque facade of the old patrician house still faces St. Mary's Church, where, in the book's opening pages, "the wind whistled in the nooks around its massive Gothic corners." On a recent winter evening, guests gathered in the vaulted cellar, nibbling on red and white meringues like ones described in the novel, to listen as an actor with a deep, soothing voice read the book's famous Christmas scene.
They paid 65 euros, or about $86, for dinner and a tour of landmarks from the lives and works of the brothers.
"The characters in the novel are strongly bound to the real people, the reality of this great literature," said Thomas Katschewitz, 52, as the tour stopped to drink mulled wine and listen to an organ grinder play in front of the brothers' old school.
For a city of 212,000, Lübeck has an exceptional literary tradition. The main public library is nearly 400 years old. Bernd Hatscher, the library's director, showed off a copy of the "Rudimentum Novitiorum," a history of the world with vividly colored maps printed in Lübeck in 1475.
Lübeck was home to the 19th-century poet Emanuel Geibel, whose poetry volume ran through 100 editions just during his lifetime; the novelist Ida Boy-Ed, an early supporter of the young Thomas Mann; and the radical Jewish writer Erich Mühsam, killed by the SS at the Oranienburg concentration camp. Lübeck suffered significant damage in World War II bombing raids, including to the Buddenbrookhaus, but its literary reputation has not ebbed.
On a recent afternoon, Hans Wisskirchen, an expert on Thomas Mann and the director of all Lübeck museums, was wearing white gloves as he handled a postcard bearing a 5-cent German Reich stamp from 1904. "Send my greetings to Dr. von Hartungen," Thomas wrote to his brother at the Riva sanatorium, in what was then the Austro-Hungarian Empire. To Mann fanatics, the reference conjures scenes from "The Magic Mountain," a work inspired in part by the doctor and his healing refuge.
Educated Germans are familiar with the works of the brothers; their disagreement over World War I, which Heinrich opposed; and their generally chilly relationship. The unveiling of the postcards made the evening news and the newspapers, in part because it came as rather a surprise to see the supposedly stuffy Thomas going on about slippers and dentists. Some of the bad blood between Thomas and Heinrich ("The myth of the eternal, fraternal strife," as the daily Stuttgarter Zeitung put it) might need a bit of revision as well.
The postcards are one of the cornerstones of plans to revamp the museum and attract more visitors; 55,000 to 60,000 currently arrive each year. With the help of $400,000 from the federal government, the City of Lübeck bought the house next door to expand the museum. A conference is planned for February that will include people from the worlds of culture and architecture but also new media.
"The question is how do I combine the place with the digital reading world?" Mr. Wisskirchen asked. "Literature is different from reality, but great art, great authors and a great location come together here. You ought to be able to experience this in a completely different manner."
Compared with the interactive computers at the Günter Grass-Haus, the biographical texts on the ground floor of the Buddenbrookhaus seem static. Upstairs, silver tinsel and white lilies decorated the Christmas tree, and a puppet theater on the table was set for the final act of Beethoven's opera, "Fidelio," exactly as Thomas Mann described it in the novel.
Bettina Fenner, 45, a teacher in Lübeck who took part in the recent tour and dinner, said that despite all the changes since the Manns were growing up in Lübeck, her teenage students still found the book relevant. "After all," she said, "everyone has a family history."
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.