I've just reached the point, halfway through the novel, when Hans Castorp and his cousin take a constitutional across the meadows around the Berghof international sanatorium in Davos and cannot quite believe their eyes . . . Are those tufts of snow left as the white winter blanket melts away? In fact, they're the first flowers of the year.

I was contacted late last year by Beatrice Esteve, a Swiss-Brazilian who divides her time between São Paulo and Zurich. Her mother grew up in Davos. Having spotted my name in Florian Illies' "Love in a Time of Hate", Beatrice was wondering if I could identify an early-20th-century visitor to Davos, probably one of the many members of the jet set and the intelligentsia who frequented the place in those days. I couldn't, but she did also provide a snap of Stefan Zweig in the mountains. We have been corresponding on and off since last November, and she sent me some photos taken by her family.

The picture at the top of this post shows precisely the scene that Thomas Mann describes on page 548 of the GKFA edition – the arrival of spring. In the novel, the seasons are ill-defined, subject to vagaries, underlining the sense of timelessness in the sanatorium and its patients' up-and-down battles against the disease. Spring struggles to assert itself, with setbacks and rebuffs through blizzards and cold snaps as it seeks a foothold. So here's a second pic of what winter looked like when Beatrice's mother was small, around the time "The Magic Mountain" was published:

The mountains in the background are the Tinzenhorn and the Eyla.

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