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The Air Cure Town: Commodifying Mountain Air in Alpine Central Europe

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  13 July 2012

Alison F. Frank
Harvard University


Does air have value? In the first volume of Capital, Marx suggested it did not: “A thing can be a use-value, without having value,” he explained. “This is the case whenever its utility to man is not due to labour. Such are air, virgin soil, natural meadows, &c.” Because it has no value, understood by Marx in this context to mean labor value, air cannot be a commodity: “Commodities come into the world in the shape of use-values, articles, or goods, such as iron, linen, corn, &c. This is their plain, homely, bodily form. They are, however, commodities, only because they are something two fold, both object of utility, and, at the same time, depositories of value.” Marx's materialist focus on human labor and industrial production made it hard for him to imagine air as a commodity—at least when he published the first volume of Capital in 1867.

Copyright © Conference Group for Central European History of the American Historical Association 2012

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2 Ibid., 54.

3 Ibid., 49 and 50.

4 Ibid., 50.

5 A total of 11,000 former revolutionaries had entered Switzerland by July 1849. Of those, only 8,350 remained in September 1849; 2,000 by January 1850; 500 by 1851; and only 235 (of whom 192 were German) in 1852. Reiter, Herbert, Politisches Asyl im 19. Jahrhundert. Die deutschen politischen Fluchtlinge des Vormärz und der Revolution von 1848/49 in Europa und den USA (Berlin: Duncker & Humblot, 1992), 226227Google Scholar; Jansen, Christian, ed., Nach der Revolution 1848/49. Verfolgung, Realpolitik, Nationsbildung: Politische Briefe deutscher Liberaler und Demokraten 1849–1861 (Düsseldorf: Droste, 2004), 75Google Scholar. Switzerland argued that, with 2.5 million residents, it was too small to absorb the refugees. Jansen, Nach der Revolution, 74–75. For more information on the lives of German exiles in Switzerland, see Helena Toth, “Emigrés: The Experience of Political Exile for Germans and Hungarians, 1849–1871” (Ph.D. diss., Harvard University, 2008).

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8 In the 1850s, of course, lung ailments that would later be called tuberculosis were known by other names, such as consumption and lung catarrh.

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10 These methods had been developed in the lower Silesian health resort of Görbersdorf by Hermann Brehmer (1826–1889), starting in 1854, but Görbersdorf lies only 1,800 feet above sea level, compared to Davos's more than 5,000 feet. McCarthy, O. R., “The Key to the Sanatoria,” Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine 94 (2001): 413CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed; Hauri, “Historical: Davos,” 21.

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16 Spengler himself relied on monthly reports of the “meteorologische Commission der Schweiz” to support his claims for Davos's favored climate. Spengler, Die Landschaft Davos, 13–15.

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18 In Japan, the equivalent work was done by the geographer Shiga Shigetaka (1863–1927). In his 1894 book, Nihon fûkeiron (On Japanese Landscape), Shiga wrote, “Once you have experienced the sublime qualities of mountains; once you have awakened to their magnificent splendor; once you have taken a deep breath of the alpine air, so fresh that it seems to cleanse your lungs; once you have allowed your thoughts to fall still and become immersed in the lonely quiet there—then your mind will become like those of the gods and sages, and you will experience firsthand the glow of divine wisdom.” Cited in Wigen, Kären, “Discovering the Japanese Alps: Meiji Mountaineering and the Quest for Geographical Enlightenment,” Journal of Japanese Studies 31, no. 1 (Winter 2005): 13Google Scholar.

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21 This has changed dramatically since World War II. Trekking and backcountry tourism are now so popular that even locations as remote as Mt. Everest suffer from tourist-induced degradation. Byers, Alton C. and Banskota, Kamal, “Environmental Impacts of Backcountry Tourism on Three Sides of Everest,” in World Heritage Twenty Years Later, ed. Thorsell, J. W. and Sawyer, Jacqueline (Gland, Switzerland: International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, 1992), 105113Google Scholar.

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25 For the sake of brevity, the lands and provinces represented in Parliament, or the Austrian half of Austria-Hungary, will be referred to here as the Austrian Empire (to distinguish it from the Republic of Austria). In the context of this paper, the concomitant blurring of the distinction between the pre-Ausgleich Austrian Empire and Austria-Hungary is acceptable.

26 Gröger, Roman-Hans, “Das Südbahnhotel am Semmering—ein besonderer Aspekt der Südbahn,” in Mit Volldampf in den Süden. 150 Jahre Südbahn Wien-Triest, ed. Artl, Gerhard, Gürtlich, Gerhard, and Zenz, Hubert (Vienna: Österreichisches Staatsarchiv, 2007), 405419Google Scholar.

27 This trend does not seem to apply to the Dinaric mountain range of southeastern Europe. Prominent Croatian sociologist Dinko Tomašić is representative of a common, but not universal, scorn for the shepherds of the Dinaric range, whose communities had “bred outlaws, guerilla fighters, mercenaries, military leaders, dynasts, and political terrorists.” Tomašić, Dinko, “Personality Development of the Dinaric Warriors,” Psychiatry 8 (1945): 449CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed, as cited in Kaser, Karl, “Peoples of the Mountains, Peoples of the Plains: Space and Ethnographic Representation,” in Creating the Other: Ethnic Conflict and Nationalism in Habsburg Central Europe, ed. Wingfield, Nancy (New York: Berghahn Books, 2003), 222Google Scholar. Kaser compares Tomašić's mid-twentieth-century profile with a much more positive portrayal of the Dinaric Mountain population by Jovan Cvijić based on fieldwork he conducted between 1887 and 1915.

28 Four thousand out of 70,000. Burgi, H., Supersaxo, Z., and Selz, B., “Iodine Deficiency Diseases in Switzerland One Hundred Years after Theodor Kocher's Survey: A Historical Review with Some New Goitre Prevalence Data,” Acta Endocrinologica 123 (1990): 577590Google ScholarPubMed; Merke, Franz, Geschichte und Ikonographie des endemischen Kropfes und Kretinismus (Berne: Huber, 1984)Google Scholar.

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46 “Eine Blitzwallfahrt nach Maria Zell,” Lambach, May 17, 1907, newspaper clipping (the title of the newspaper is unfortunately not included), with marginalia in Othmar Wonisch's hand. Stiftsarchiv Sankt Lambrecht, St. Lambrecht, Austria, unlabeled carton: Mariazell. Note: this quotation proved difficult to translate. “Pfefferland” was used idiomatically to indicate a place far, far away—but it was also a play on Cayenne, the capital of French Guyana, where France maintained a penal colony from the mid-nineteenth until the mid-twentieth century.

47 This advertisement can be found in a special advertising section appended to Berlepsch, Hermann Alexander and Kohl, Johann Georg, Switzerland and the Principal Parts of Southern Germany (Leipzig: H. A. Berlepsch, 1873)Google Scholar.

48 According to historian of Japan, Kären Wigen, “Whether through the Boy Scouts in Britain, the heimat movement in Germany, or the American hiking clubs that multiplied after the Civil War, rugged country was increasingly cast as a place to fortify both physical strength and native-place pride—and, by implication, to enhance young people's fitness for imperial rule.” Wigen, “Discovering the Japanese Alps,” 4. For a list of appropriate alpine curatorial across several continents, see Lindsay, The Climatic Treatment of Consumption, 55. While his focus is on water cures, Eric Jennings's Curing the Colonizers: Hydrotherapy, Climatology, and French Colonial Spas gives a sense of the geographic dispersion of spa towns across the globe, taking his readers from the mountains of Guadeloupe, to Tunisia, Madagascar, and Réunion Island. Jennings, EricCuring the Colonizers: Hydrotherapy, Climatology, and French Colonial Spas (Durham, NC, and London: Duke University Press, 2006)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

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62 Abram, Kurhaus Meran, 9. Meran continues to advertise the medicinal benefits of its “Grape Cure.” (accessed April 1, 2007).

63 Meyer-Ahrens, “Balneologische Spaziergänge,” x.

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65 “Diese behagliche, erquickende Luft bewährt sich Allen und gesonders Brustleidenden als heilsam.” Staffler, Johann Jakob, Das deutsche Tirol und Vorarlberg, topographisch, mit geschichtlichen Bemerkungen, vol. 2 (Innsbruck: Felician Rauch, 1847), 618Google Scholar. Staffler notes that Meran had 219 houses and 2,440 residents, 626.

66 Kurort Meran, 43–44.

67 Ibid., 45–51. In the 1820s, Meran had 2,400 residents. Abram, Kurhaus Meran, 7.

68 Abram, Kurhaus Meran, 9.

69 Kurort Meran, 42; Baedeker, Karl (Firm), Südbaiern, Tirol und Salzburg. Österreich, Steiermark, Kärnten, Krain und Küstenland. Handbuch für Reisende, 23rd ed. (Leipzig: Verlag von Karl Baedeker, 1888), 277, 93Google Scholar. Why hoteliers would boast of ozone-rich air is something of a mystery. Experiments in 1851, 1854, and 1863 showed that ozone adversely affected breathing, caused chest pains, irritated mucous membranes, and killed small animals (including mice and rabbits) exposed to ozonized air for one hour. Rubin, Mordecai, “The History of Ozone: The Schönbein Period, 1839–1868,” Bulletin of Historical Chemistry 26, no. 1 (2001): 48Google Scholar.

70 Baedeker, Südbaiern, Tirol und Salzburg, 276.

71 Ibid., 93.

72 All advertisements can be found in a special advertising section appended to Berlepsch and Kohl, Switzerland and the Principal Parts of Southern Germany.

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75 Baedeker, Südbaiern, Tirol und Salzburg, 264–5.

76 Bäder-Almanach, 59–60.

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78 Ibid., 49.

79 Blackbourn, “Fashionable Spa Towns,” 12.