Michael and Ingeborg’s first winter in their new house was particularly harsh. As seasoned city-dwellers they soon discovered that rural living - with its cold winters and large heating bills - was not for them. Two years later, in 1971, Michael Ende sold the lodge, but his connection with the place was by no means over. The buyers of the lodge soon decided to renege on the sale, and the following year they declared the contract null and void. As so often with Michael Ende’s court cases, he lost the judicial battle, but in 1979 he finally won on appeal.
Ingeborg was good friends with Luise Rinser, who often spoke enthusiastically about her idyllic lifestyle in sunny Rome. Eager to live somewhere more clement, Ingeborg and Michael decided to make their home on a 3000m2 olive grove in Genzano among the Alban Hills, twenty-five kilometres south of Rome. Michael Ende had spotted their new house during a 1970 visit to the villa of writer and art historian Gustav René Hocke, who subsequently became his neighbour. For Michael Ende and his father, Hocke’s The World As A Labyrinth provided the key to understanding the artistic tradition with which they aligned themselves - the mannerist tradition in art and literature.
The new villa was situated in the Valle dei Spiriti Beati - the Valley of the Saints - and Michael and Ingeborg named it Casa Liocorno or Unicorn House. Michael Ende spent most of his life surrounded by animals, and the couple soon settled in with their pets - a menagerie of dogs, cats and tortoises. Inspired by a sense of gratitude for his pleasant working environment - the proximity to Rome, the Italian lifestyle and the climate - he resolved to start work on a novel that he had been planning five years previously. At the time, he had written the synopsis for the West German broadcasting authority, which had rejected his proposal on the basis that the material was too controversial for TV. The book in question was Momo.