Saint-Barth - The camp

Michael Zimmer, A Saint Barth Story

Michael Zimmer, A Saint Barth Story



His name might not ring a bell with the younger generation but those who were around in the old days certainly remember his face and a few memories. Like many before and after him, when Michael Zimmer first came to Saint Barth in 1968, he immediately fell in love with the island. To the point of moving to Saint Barth less than a year later. He went on to create Le Camp, a place by the beach in Saint Jean that definitely has a page in the history book of the island. By design, it’s spirit of liberty, inventiveness, and conviviality, Le Camp attracted men and women from various horizons: artists, architects and free spirits, but also local personalities. This slice of Saint Barth history will be explored in an exhibit at the Wall House Territorial Museum from Friday, December 22 through February 28, comprising painting, drawings, calligraphy, and videos. Many original items, all created in Saint Barth in the 1970’s.



"The goal of this exhibit is to pay tribute to a man who helped make Saint Barth a favorite haunt for New York's intellectual high society, and to retrace his career," explains Wall House director Charles Moreau. The exhibit was organized in partnership with the Saint-Barth île d'art association, Fergus McCaffrey, and Bill Katz. Michael Zimmer was born in Heidelberg, Germany, in 1934, the youngest son in a large family of Austrian intellectuals. His father, Heinrich Zimmer, was a Sanskrit scholar and Indologist, and his mother Christiane was the daughter of poet and librettist Hugo von Hofmannsthal. Feeling the tide turning for several years, the Zimmer family managed to flee Nazi Germany in 1939 and settled in New York. Michael grew up in the West Village and went on to study architecture at Harvard. When these studies were completed, he embarked on what was to be a brief career. He soon realized that the compromises involved in such a profession were not to his liking. So, he decided to change his life.


In 1967, with his wife and infant son, Michael Zimmer left The Big Apple. Thanks to the sale of a family heirloom (‘Yo Picasso,’ a self-portrait of the famous Spanish artist), the Zimmer family has close to $300,000 dollars. Enough for the foreseeable future…  During their travels, they landed in Saint Martin in 1968. Naturally their curiosity led them to visit  Saint Barthélemy. Love at first sight, and in 1970, Michael Zimmer bought a piece of land along the beach known as Ti Saint-Jean from Henri Gréaux. For a sum that seems unbelievable today: 20,000 francs.


In the “good old” days, those newly arrived on the island were seeking simplicity, fresh air, and friendship; not at all to build a villa in concrete with a swimming pool. Michael Zimmer built Le Camp, simple cottages built on the sand, several meters from the beach, under the palm trees, with an open-air kitchen and a tropical garden. An aesthetic true to the island, in keeping with a hippie-like desire to bask in nature and disturb the environment as little as possible.


A one-of-a-kind place where Michael Zimmer invited his friends from New York: artists, architects, and designers, to work, talk, think and most of all live happily. “It was a visionary example of a “green lifestyle,” as well as “a cleverly choreographed piece of theatre that Michael directed, smoking, talking, always with a glass of rum in his hand, endlessly amusing, and usually surrounded by a bevy of awe-struck friends,” as noted in the online bio for Michael Zimmer (


But Le Camp was not only a spot for visiting New Yorkers. The doors were always open and numerous Saint Barth islanders joined the ever-changing cast of characters. Marius Stakelborough and Loulou Magras, for example, mixed with the artists passing through: Elaine de Kooning, Walter di Maria, Brice Marden, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Julian Schnabel. “The ambiance was very hippie, very relaxed, but also very intellectual,” notes Charles Moreau. The adventure would last close to 25 years. Then the island began to change, little by little.  


At Saint Barth became more of a celebrity hangout, Michael Zimmer took his leave. In the early 1990’s, he sold the land and Le Camp and flew off to the island of Grand Manan in Canada’s Bay of Fundy. There he turned a former fish-smoking house into the Sardine Museum and Herring Hall of Fame, which today is a tourist attraction. Michael Zimmer passed away on October 12, 2008, at the age of 74.


The Wall House exhibit includes works on exceptional loan from two major artists: Brice Marden and Julian Schnabel. The opening takes place Friday, December 22 at 6:30pm.




In the 1970s, Michael Zimmer built and ran Le Camp, a convivial artistic residence he built himself on the beachfront in Saint Jean. 


Journal de Saint-Barth N°1546 du 21/12/2023

Nouvelle exposition au Wall House
L'épidemie de dengue persiste