Ten years after the end of the war [WWI], French troops were still occupying the Rhineland, and reparations payments were still outstanding. In August 1928, Stresemann [German chancellor] finally persuaded France to consider early withdrawal and to authorize a new review of reparations. In February 1929 an American banker, Owen Young, headed an international board which in August submitted its assessment to a conference at The Hague. The plan was to give the German economy a chance to expand by allowing reparations to be spread over the next thirty years, and the date settled for the evacuation of the Rhineland was June 30, 1930. [Hayman, p. 391. Italics are my emphases.]
Streseman died early in October 1929, and at the end of the month the Wall Street crash precipitated an international crisis. During the winter, unemployment in Germany reached the point at which the state’s insurance scheme could no longer pay benefits. …Mein Kampf was selling a steady fifty thousand copies a year. With unemployment rising, morale sinking, extremist demagogues and uniformed thugs active in the streets with truncheons and collecting boxes, membership in the Nazi party rose from 120,000 in 1929 to 800,000 in 1931. Members were contributing 300,000 marks a month, which few of them could afford, to a party that was acting less in their interests than in those of the large-scale capitalists, some of whom were helping to finance it. [pp. 381-382]
‘There are not two Germanies, a bad one and a good one, but only one, in which the best qualities have been corrupted with diabolical cunning into evil. . . . The evil Germany is the good one in misfortune and guilt, the good Germany perverted and overthrown.’
His biggest grudge against humanity was that the civilized countries hadn’t merely failed to scotch the growth of Nazism but had encouraged it. ‘My resentment about this I shall take with me to the grave.’
The Magic Mountain, however, begun before the First World War, was finished and published in 1926, some time before the rise of Hitler. The Magic Mountain is the first work of Thomas Mann’s that I have ever read, and coming to it with little idea of what I would find, I was surprised to find myself laughing out loud in later chapters, even given some of the book's heavy themes of death, decay, and corruption. When you look at a portrait of Mann, he hardly looks like a humorist (and I don’t mean to suggest that he was some kind of German Mark Twain — hardly!), but he found much in human life and civilization ridiculous. When spiritualism overtakes the residents of the Sanitorium Berghof, for example, or when the charismatic Dutchman Mynheer Pieter Peeperkorn (modeled in part, at least physically, on the author’s friend Gerhart Hauptman) holds forth at a picnic by a thundering waterfall, declaiming and gesturing to an audience that can’t hear a word he is saying, a reader feels that Thomas Mann was having a wonderful time poking fun. If you’re a traveler, you may be interested in this New Yorker piece about other travelers making a pilgrimage to find the setting of the novel.