THE MAGIC MOUNTAIN
An ordinary young man was on his way from his hometown of Hamburg to Davos-Platz in the canton of Graubünden. It was the height of summer, and he planned to stay for three weeks.
It is a long trip, however, from Hamburg to those elevations—too long, really, for so short a visit. The journey leads through many a landscape, uphill and down, descends from the high plain of southern Germany to the shores of Swabia’s sea, and proceeds by boat across its skipping waves, passing over abysses once thought unfathomable.
From there the path, which until now has followed grand, direct routes, turns choppy. There are stopovers and formalities. At Rorschach, a town in Swiss territory, you reboard a train that takes you only as far as Landquart, a small station in the Alps, where you must change trains again. After standing for a while in the wind, gazing at a rather uncharming landscape, you climb aboard a narrow-gauge train, and the moment the small, but uncommonly sturdy engine pulls out, the real adventure begins, a steep and dogged ascent that will never end, it seems. The station at Landquart lies at a relatively low altitude; but now your route takes you on a wild ride up into real mountains, along tracks that squeeze their way between walls of rock.
Hans Castorp—that is the young man’s name—found himself alone in a small compartment upholstered in gray; with him he had an alligator valise, a present from his uncle and foster father—Consul Tienappel, since we are naming names here—a rolled-up plaid blanket, and his winter coat, swinging on its hook. The window was open beside him, but the afternoon was turning cooler and cooler, and, being the coddled scion of the family, he turned up the silk-lined collar of his fashionably loose summer overcoat. On the seat beside him lay a paperbound book entitled Ocean Steamships, which hehad perused from time to time earlier on his trip, but which now lay neglected, the cover dirtied by soot drifting in with the steam of the heavily puffing locomotive.
Two days of travel separate this young man (and young he is, with few firm roots in life) from his everyday world, especially from what he called his duties, interests, worries, and prospects—separate him far more than he had dreamed possible as he rode to the station in a hansom cab. Space, as it rolls and tumbles away between him and his native soil, proves to have powers normally ascribed only to time; from hour to hour, space brings about changes very like those time produces, yet surpassing them in certain ways. Space, like time, gives birth to forgetfulness, but does so by removing an individual from all relationships and placing him in a free and pristine state—indeed, in but a moment it can turn a pedant and philistine into something like a vagabond. Time, they say, is water from the river Lethe, but alien air is a similar drink; and if its effects are less profound, it works all the more quickly.